Status Ain't Hood

Status Ain’t Hood: Future’s New Album Is Fucking Incredible

There is so much happening in rap right now, so much to talk about. There’s last night’s still-reverberating Twitterpocalypse. There’s the whole new network of who hates who, those little now-public feuds working like spiderweb cracks in rap’s windshield. There’s the absolutely stunning, uplifting Chance The Rapper performance I witnessed on Sunday night in Chicago, a coronation of sorts. There’s the simple joy I felt on Saturday night, sloshed and happy in a backyard full of rap critics. (This is something I hope everyone gets to experience one day. If you’re a dork about something, you should try to find yourself a backyard full of the best dorks in the world at whatever you’re a dork about, and you should sing “Classic Man” with them.) But all that stuff is going to have to take a backseat, because there’s a new masterwork in town, a new album that demands respect and attention. If things had shaken out differently — if promos had gone out ahead of time, if it had leaked a little earlier, if I hadn’t spent the whole weekend at a music festival in Chicago — Future’s DS2 would’ve been a Premature Evaluation, or Album Of The Week, or some such thing. As it is, we are going to have to use this weekly rap space to celebrate all things Future, to marvel at the turn this man’s career has taken.

The Future of 2014 sure didn’t look like he was living a failure’s life. He and Ciara looked like two perfect people who had come together to make another perfect person and then name that person “Future.” And while I didn’t think Honest, the album that was supposed to push Future to rap stardom’s upper echelon, was a great album, it was certainly a good one. It didn’t have the mesmeric intensity of Pluto and the mixtapes that preceded it, but it spread Future’s melodic gifts in more directions, and most of those directions suggested cool new places his music could go. But then, the album didn’t do the commercial things it was supposed to do. (In its first week, it only barely outsold Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic, and that album went on to completely lap it, sales-wise.) Its reception didn’t justify all the big-tent compromises that Future had made. And then Future got caught cheating, broke up with Ciara, and recorded “Pussy Overrated” about her. It was a bad scene.

But Future handled all those unfortunate circumstances the best way he cold — artistically, anyway. He dug deep into his old mixtape sound, linked up again with the producers who’d helped him find his sound, and almost entirely stopped bringing in big-name collaborators. The troika of mixtapes that followed in the next few months — Monster, Beast Mode, 56 Nights — reestablished him as a dark, feverish street-rap iconoclast, and they stripped away all the pop elements he’d spent the previous few years adding on. I had to retrain my ear to really hear those things. They were snaky and sinister and elusive, and they had none of the obvious hooks I’d come to expect from Future. But they had legs. They did away completely with his major-label sound and turned his old mixtape sound into something heavier and more chaotic. They were scattered and angry and intense. By now, assorted random mixtape tracks have become serious underground hits. They needed time to sink into our collective bloodstream, but once they got there, they went to work.

With DS2, Future has taken all the ideas that were flying through those mixtapes and translated them expertly into album form, streamlining them into something more cohesive and focused. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine a more formally pure Future album coming out on a major label. Only a few of the mixtape tracks reappear, and they all make sense where they are, especially the huge “Fuck Up Some Commas,” which makes for a triumphant album closer. There’s only one guest: Drake, who pretty much has to show up on every high-profile rap album these days, and who does a neat impression of Future’s flow on “Where Ya At.” More importantly, Future has stuck with his core production braintrust — Atlanta all-stars Metro Boomin, Southside, and Zaytoven — and pulled some feverish, nervy work from them. DS2 is a full-immersion album, not the kind of thing you can absorb a track at a time. It builds a whole universe out of horror-movie keyboard tones and soul-damaging 808 thuds. The beat for “I Serve The Base” is made out of intricately constructed noise, while the beat for “Rich $ex” is everything that Yung Lean’s collaborators have been trying and failing to do. It’s the sort of sonic environment that you can get lost in, which is exactly what Future does.

“Best thing I ever did was fall out of love,” Future says on penultimate track “Kno The Meaning,” by way of explaining how the album came into being in the first place. No person has ever said that and meant it. And the Future of DS2 doesn’t sound free and unencumbered. He sounds lost and uncentered and angry. DS2 is very much a drug album, and he’s not talking about mind-expansion-via-acid, the way A$AP Rocky did on At.Long.Last.A$AP. Instead, this is an album about chasing oblivion, about finding the place where your feelings disappear. A minute in, he’s explicitly telling Ciara, or whoever else, that he prefers codeine to love: “Bitch, I’ma choose the dirty over you / You know I ain’t scared to lose.” He talks about sex enough that it’s hard to imagine he’s not using it as revenge. The first line he raps on the album is “I just fucked your bitch in some Gucci flip-flops / I just had some bitches, and I made them lip-lock.” One song is about getting back to the business of fucking groupies, and another is about doing Percocet with strippers. Drugs and sex blur together on the album until they’re basically the same thing. And not even the idea of money, nearly every rapper’s favorite topic, can pull him out of his self-destructive spiral. “Blood On The Money,” maybe the album’s best song, is about cleaning blood and cocaine and heroin off his stacks of cash. It’s a bleak album, and it’s not even vaguely concerned with cultivating sympathy in its audience.

So DS2 is Future’s back-to-basics album, and it’s also his heel-turn album. In pro wrestling, when a good guy turns bad, he explains that his old smiling, waving-at-kids persona was fake, that he couldn’t keep up the charade of trying to please an audience he never respected. Often, this is the moment the wrestler finds his voice, when he discovers some internal motivation. DS2 is the sequel to Dirty Sprite, a tape Future released back in early 2011, but it directs its sneer at ideas and structures that would’ve probably baffled the 2011 Future. It’s the album where Future lets the world know that he’s done trying to make it happy. And in doing so, he’s found his voice — or maybe he’s found it again, or maybe his voice is just darker now. It’s a mean and often risible album. But even its most objectionable moments never compromise its power.

Back when Kanye West released 808s & Heartbreak in 2008, I found myself loving the music but recoiling from the sentiment. Here we had an immensely powerful cultural figure lashing out at his ex, a civilian with no way to publicly respond, developing a whole new musical language to talk about what a bitch she’d been. It was a supreme dick-move of an album, and I held that against it. Nearly seven years later, the music has endured, and the dickishness has faded; I can’t get mad about it anymore. The specifics of Kanye’s situation don’t matter anymore; what matters is the soul-desolation that he found ways to convey. On certain days, it’s my favorite Kanye West album. DS2 works in much the same way. Future’s ex is a public figure who’s perfectly capable of clapping back, but he’s still meaner and grosser and nastier than Kanye ever was. He’s more explicit about smothering his brain in cough syrup, too. He’s made an album just as full of acid and isolation as 808s, and one that’s nearly as musically compelling. It’s a towering chunk of bad faith, a masterpiece of assholism. It’s an album you can hear at 7 on a Tuesday morning and suddenly feel like you’re blackout drunk on Friday night. It’s a great album that’s all about feeling terrible.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. YG – “Twist My Fingaz”
YG goes full ’90s G-funk over a volcanically funky Terrance Martin track and calls out every other halfway-popular West Coast rapper for needing Dr. Dre’s patronage. I hope you all get a chance to see what it looks like when rap bloggers C-walk to this song because that shit is hilarious.

2. Young Thug – “I Need Chickens”
I’ve heard Young Thug do a lot of different things, but before this song, “ominous slow-burn” was not one of them. Mike Will Made-It’s beat is all simmering tension, while Thug’s frantic ad-libs are the threat of sudden, explosive release. Fingers crossed that Thug will stay out of prison and get to make more like this.

3. 2 Chainz – “Watch Out”
Doing a Young Thug impression has allowed 2 Chainz to unlock a whole new level of goofiness. Also, a spare, nagging FKi beat like this is perfect for him. It would be perfect for Thug, too.

4. Chief Keef – “What The Fuck Is Y’all On” (Feat. Juicy J)
So let me get this straight: Chief Keef is considered so dangerous in Chicago that he can’t actually go home. He’s in a state of permanent exile? And he’s so hated and feared, at least in certain corners of the establishment, that he can’t throw a remote benefit show to help the family of a 1-year-old whose death did not involve him in any way? His hologram self isn’t even allowed in Chicago to raise money for the family of a dead baby? You start hearing some shit like that, and the darkness of the kid’s music starts to make a whole lot more sense. This is a banger, incidentally.

5. Black Eyed Peas – “Yesterday”
This is so stupid and so great. The constant and expensive samples! The clipped propulsive sample! The part where Will.I.Am says that after “Dre Day” he signed to Ruthless — which is true but which means that he heard that song and then signed up with the guy who got dissed all over it! The nonsensical lyrics! (“The master peanut’s a pistachio”?) The part at the end where they say they’re taking you to the future? Taboo’s Chuck D impression? The general heresy of the entire concept? Yes, this is an egregious Erykah Badu ripoff, but call me when Badu makes something this fearlessly stupid.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO