Quick programming note: Lil Wayne’s Sorry 4 The Wait 2 came out two days ago, and I haven’t even had time to process it yet because I’ve been trapped in Björkworld. (That’s also why this column is a day late this week.) I’ll consider Sorry 4 The Wait for next week’s edition, when we’re maybe not quite so drowned in riches.
Future and Ciara seemed so good together. They were (and are) both beautiful people with voices like distant cyborgs. They had real musical chemistry on tracks like “Body Party” and “Anytime.” They had a baby together and named the baby Future. But around the time the baby was born last year, Future was reportedly cheating with his hairstylist while he was on tour. The couple went through a very public breakup, and Future immediately linked up with fellow public-breakup villain Wiz Khalifa and make a deeply risible track called “Pussy Overrated.” It might’ve been interesting if Future had made some music that explored where he was emotionally at at the time, but instead, he made Monster, a just-OK mixtape that was mostly about partying. But it sounds like things have finally caught up with his music. Future’s life circumstances are part of what’s fascinating about Beast Mode, the mixtape he just made with Atlanta producer Zaytoven. This isn’t a breakup record; Future barely acknowledges it in his lyrics. Or at least I don’t think he does; his lyrics are even tougher to make out than usual, muttered craggily through layer upon layer of Auto-Tune. But that muffled quality is part of the deal. The Future of Beast Mode sounds like a man adrift, cut off from everything that was keeping him together. And Future is really good at sounding like a man adrift while still making catchy, exhilarating rap music.
Beast Mode is a knowingly minor piece of work: Only nine tracks, less than half an hour, just two guests, absolutely no songs that threaten to become hits. Instead, it works as a whole cohesive piece, a meditation on a certain mood. The mood in question: Balling out of control even though you know it isn’t making you happy, going into a weird hedonist funk where you’re constantly high and fucking and spending money but never letting any joy creep into your voice. I don’t know if that’s Future’s intention with the tape, or if I’m reading too much into his public private life, but that’s the effect. “Just Like Bruddas” is supposed to be a dedication to his friends: “I been with the gang because they love me how I am / Shit ain’t been the same, the talking ’bout me on the ‘Gram.” But the thing about the song that resonates is the way Future starts out with that faraway hoarse crooning over Zaytoven’s weird adult-contempo pianos, singing about chewing on Xanax bars and being on his way to Mars. Elsewhere, his party-life boasts are barely coherent: “A million dollars, take a sneeze on a bitch,” “Fuck around with me, I fuck twin sisters.” On “Peacoat,” a song that’s mostly about how much he enjoys the titular garment, he mutter-sings, “Pull out my dick and I pee on her,” apparently unconcerned about any splatter he might get on his peacoat. He sounds far gone, untethered.
But it’s a testament to Future’s craftsmanship that that pervasively zonked delivery does not stop him from delivering ridiculously entertaining rap music. There’s a deeply ingrained melodic force in the way Future uses his voice. Everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like a hook, even if what he’s saying is just an impenetrable gargle, or even if what he’s saying is “I pull out my dick and I pee on her.” On opener “Oooooh,” he’s hiccuping high-speed clumps of verbiage, staying deep within the pocked of the beat even if you can only pick out, like, every third word. (Guest Young Scooter, never the clearest enunciator, sounds like a damn newscaster in comparison when he shows up.) On “Aintchu,” he brings back Juvenile’s old “Ha”/”U Understand” cadence and invites Juvenile to do it alongside him. “Lay Up” finds Future effortlessly switching up deliveries, switching flows every couple of bars and fluidly moving between singing and rapping. “Peacoat” is catchier than a song with a “pee on her” line should legally be allowed to be. Even on the ill-advised ballad-sounding songs, Future knows what the fuck to do with the music he’s been given.
About that music: Zaytoven very much earns his equal billing with these nine tracks. Six or seven years ago, Gucci Mane rose to king-of-Atlanta status thanks to what he could do to Zaytoven’s tense, elastic tracks. Zaytoven’s plays catchy, simple melodies, melodies that could come from kids’ songs, on cheap-sounding synths, and the itchy and simple and propulsive result is, more often than not, a thing that sticks with you. When he’s working with rappers like the Migos, Zaytoven beats can work as springboards. But on Beast Mode, his beats manage to anchor the out-of-his-head Future without pulling him back. There are plenty of tinny music-box melodies on Beast Mode, but Zaytoven also thickens his sound when he has to. The bass is vast and inviting. The snares and hi-hats programming is busy and complicated, but everything arrives at the exact right instant. There’s a lot of piano improvising: Florid Billy Joel tinkles on “Just Like Bruddas,” hotel-lobby jazz runs on “Where I Came From,” bluesy embellishments on “No Basic.” And for whatever reason, Zaytoven feels like the exact right musical partner for Future right now. I hope they keep making music together.
Beast Mode arrives just after Ciara released her triumphant, badass breakup single “I Bet,” the song where she sounds less robotic than ever. Future can’t compete with that, or relate to it. He’s off in another universe now. Musically, at least, it’s a good place for him. Part of what made Honest, Future’s last album, good rather than great was how linear and straightforward it is. That could’ve been because of hit-hungry label pressure, but it also could’ve been because he was in a content place. He wouldn’t be the first artist to do his best work when he’s miserable and self-destructive.
Download Beast Mode at Livemixtapes.