Future: A Lean-Drinking, Chart-Topping Franchise

By now the refrain to the song “Mask Off” has become a meme, its own caricature of facile trap lyricism. Over a flute sample, Future raps, “Percocet, Molly, Percocet. Percocet, Molly, Percocet.” Critics say, “all he’s doing is rapping drug names.” Fans respond, “So what?”

The song is wildly successful with even more plays on Spotify than “Jumpman.” Evidently, people don’t mind simplicity or the lack of subtlety in some of Future’s music. They like his hard-hitting beats, fun lyrics, and brazen, unapologetic style. This is evident from Future’s albums “HNDRXX” and the self-titled Future topping the charts one week after the next – a world first. How did this rapper rocket to fame? Many like his lyrics and his story is fairly straightforward. But how to interpret Future as a phenomenon is more complicated.

Cartoon by Lo Wall

Future’s 2015 album, DS2, defines him as an artist: intransigent in his drug-filled, partying ways. The second track, “I Serve The Base,” is so titled to promise fans that his music is for them, not for critics, nor a more radio-friendly, mainstream audience.

In a similar vein, the title also means that he deals freebase cocaine. As the track gathers momentum he raps, “They tried to turn me into a popstar and they made a monster,” and the strident, distorted Metro Boomin beat abets the message with thumping 808s and grimy synths.

The title of the album is an acronym for “Dirty Sprite” — a recreational drug concoction, also known as “lean,” made by mixing cocaine syrup with sprite . DS2’s album art depicts purple dye swirling in plumes and dispersing through a clear liquid, a creative representation of the title. Uncompromising and lewd, DS2 remains Future’s most successful album, and without apology the tracks celebrate Future’s lifestyle: opiates, weed, booze, women, but mostly opiates.

You can hear the opiates’ influence not only in the lyricism – he raps about lean in nearly every song – but also in his signature “mumbling” voice. He raps with the exasperated, lethargic bliss of a man who is high on opiates and doesn’t care to hide the fact.

Though the decision to release two albums back to back was probably more of a business ploy than spontaneous artistry, “HNDRXX” and Future are strong releases with distinctive character. Future, released February 17 of this year is more hype and indignant. “Rent Money” opens the album with righteous lyrics backed by a brooding choir sample that give the track a dark, biblical atmosphere. Future weaves fluidly from one flow to the next, switching up the melody every two bars. “High Demand” harkens to the headspace of “Trap ******” of DS2, barred out and sleepy.

“HNDRXX”, however, is much more R&B. Many of the tracks sound a lot like “Low Life,” especially “Coming Out Strong,” which features The Weeknd. With dreamy synths, rolling hi-hats, and a catchy chorus by The Weeknd, the song epitomizes the best of the album and a poppy Future.

A range of relationships exists between fans and Future. To some, Future is fun. His overconfident lyrics, hard-hitting beats, and hype delivery bring life to a party or workout. To others, Future’s music is rebellion. To these fans, Future might not be an exemplar of lifestyle choices, but he represents self-confidence in a society ridden with self-doubt and anxiety. His music and his success are a reminder that being yourself is more important than being agreeable.

And finally to some, Future’s story is an inspiration. Growing up poor in Atlanta, often with little to eat, Nayvadius Wilburn wouldn’t accept the emasculation and injustice of working minimum wage, so he dealt drugs. “Selling dope all my life, I can’t do minimum wage,” he sings in “Used to This.” From a disenfranchised, marginalized youth who’d been given nothing by society, Future has become a powerful, wealthy, and respected man of status. “Come and f*** with me, baby I’m a franchise.”

To open a curated Spotify playlist (The Best of Future by Sam Imhoff), including songs mentioned in this article, follow this link: https://open.spotify.com/user/1265157941/playlist/2zLQiDCc07DWfou2TSeeTV


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