Future’s Honest: A Track-By-Track Walkthrough

April 24, 2014

Chris Randle is a writer from Toronto who has written for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Comics Journal, Social Text, the Village Voice an...

To say that Future is rap’s strangest young male star right now might not be saying all that much. As music sales of all kinds dissipate into the aether, it seems to be making the dwindling number of big record companies more and more conservative, content to approach a promising weirdo like Young Thug only when there’s already popularity for the leveraging—especially since certain potential signees, having gained a cult from one hot mixtape, question the necessity of any major-label deal at all.

Reared on Outkast, Future came by his idiosyncrasy organically (older cousin Rico Wade was part of Atlanta’s original Dungeon Family). His experimentation takes an accessible form, emotive and rousing. The most prominent technique is frequent but deliberate use of Auto-Tune: his raspy singing-rapping keeps drifting in and out of impossible computer-enhanced focus. In the music video for fiancée Ciara’s life-affirming “Body Party,” a song Future co-wrote, he comes on like the love interest from some ‘90s teen movie, or an android replacement who just discovered human feelings: “They don’t call me the Future for no REAson.”

Whether “Same Damn Time” or “Tony Montana,” Future initially commanded attention with pace-quickening action movie rap, but their inclusion on his debut album Pluto two years ago functioned as historiography; the focus was vulnerable ballads and cosmic imagery. You hear a lot of bragging in pop music. That’s sort of what “You Deserve It” was, but it wouldn’t have spawned a hashtag/catchphrase/ethos if Future weren’t blustering at himself alone, bruised, consoling: “All this pain can’t even rappin’ / Sometimes I feel like I wanna sing.” Since then, he’s been prolific enough to create a sense of intrigue around the next LP—would it resemble his imperious guest spot on this street rap hit, or that song he gave to Rihanna?

All of them, as it happens. Until the latter’s deferment, Honest was originally going to be a guitar-heavy album called Future Hendrix, which might account for its liminal quality: not messy, exactly, just wavering between various possibilities, produced meticulously yet without finality. It’s compelling in a way that doesn’t always make sense. Maybe that’s why I decided to take it track-by-track.

1. “Look Ahead”
Ooh, a sample of Malian music—this is like peering into a parallel universe where K’naan is a good rapper. Actually, what’s interesting is how Amadou & Mariam collaborated on the source material with Santogold, as if the snippet heard here were being patched from one coat to another…

2. “T-Shirt”
Nayvadius learned about DIY screenprinting and it’s really paying off for him!

18. “Karate Chop” (Remix) (ft. Lil Wayne)
Metro Boomin, the producer of “Karate Chop,” is 20 years old, which makes it all the more annoying that the darkly phantasmal work he did with Future (those synth guitar whines) got overshadowed by thirtysomething Lil Wayne’s idiotic Emmett-Till-related punchline. At least we’ll always have his patron rhapsodizing about a girl who looks like “Janet in the ‘80s.”

Chris Randle is a writer from Toronto who has written for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Comics Journal, Social Text, the Village Voice and the Awl. Along with Carl Wilson and Margaux Williamson, he is one-third of the group blog Back to the World.