When I was first introduced to Future the only rappers for me were the big ones: Big L, Big Pun and Big Poppa. Lyricists, wordsmiths, street poets, my iPod resembled the heart of a hip-hop purist. One listen to "Dirty Sprite" left me convinced that he had no future in music, pun intended. I foresaw him filling up recycle bins, not stadiums. I didn’t hear anything special, another Southern artist infatuated with expensive cars, money, double cups and girls with boyfriends. A voice coated with Auto-Tune wailing about racks and bands sounded like a doomsday to my eardrums. I heard rumors that he had ties to Dungeon Family, Rico Wade's cousin, making him extended kin to Outkast and Goodie Mob, I was in complete disbelief. How can he be Southern royalty, and yet his sound resembled something from a completely different universe?
After “Racks On Racks” became the hustler anthem of 2011 YC slowly but surely disappeared as Future continued to release music. In Atlanta he quickly became a bigger astronaut than Neil Armstrong with a prowess for singing that rivaled Jimi Hendrix. I still had doubt, a true nonbeliever that expected him to dissolve into the same one hit obscurity that is home to OJ The Juiceman and Young Leland Austin. But then he made a hit, and then another, and then another, just getting bigger everytime. I was reminded how wrong I was every time I turned on the radio.
A wireless speaker sits on a table surrounded by shot glasses and an absurd amount of alcohol. It plays music, scoring a party full of drunken conversation and even drunker Snapchats. I don’t remember the song that played before or what song came after, but the atmosphere changes once Future invites us to fuck up some commas. It’s one of those rare moments where the universe demands you move in unison. In that moment only the music matters, the song makes no sense and yet we can’t resist rapping along.
For the last few years Future has made us rap along. He enters rooms, clubs and parties with the ability to alter the entire mood without fail. He plays the role of a motivational speaker inspiring the turn up. His style has only gotten more obscure, an approach that continues to move miles away from the conventional. His stutter flow on “Shit” is still one of the most baffling approaches to a song I’ve heard since Lil B on “Grove Street Party.” He can make athematic records with Ace Hood like he's T-Pain in 2008 and then sing a love duet with Kelly Rowland like he's Nelly in 2002. The singer that doesn’t really sing, the rapper that doesn’t really rap, the hardcore trap rapper with a soft heart, he’s in a gray area that is thoroughly undefinable and yet he’s amassed one of the biggest followings in modern music.
“ I just don't worry about being accepted. You make music to change the radio, not make music for the radio” - Future, NPR interview
It's a following that doesn’t really buy albums. Future's sales are low, after a long string of commercially successful singles, the units his albums move are surprisingly underwhelming. His fans aren’t seeking music in Best Buy or spending money on iTunes, they are camped out on his Soundcloud awaiting the next upload. He has over 7 million followers on the platform, with three free projects where a majority of the songs have been played over a million times. Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights has kept the Future Hive buzzing all year. The internet has championed Future like they adopted the Migos being better than the Beatles. Future can also be the the perfect meme, a troll used to piss off conservative hip-hop heads until fans' love for Future because of Future and their love for Future because others hate him becomes indistinguishable. He isn’t compared to his contemporaries, they rather compare him to Jesus, an ongoing joke with infinite punchlines sprinkled with tidbits of sincerity. In that sense, Future is an offspring of Lil B’s influence minus the antics and curse. Based God created a phenomenon of superfans and internet comedians that say absurdities and post memes that blur the lines of trolling and obsessive reverence. Future’s cult operates in an identical admiration, but even more difficult to distinguish who is doing it for RTs and who is sincerely drinking the Kool-Aid.
Future is the perfect balance of internet deity and mainstream music's very real prince. The game's biggest artists "borrow" his sound and his influence has been spreading, there’s no “Trap Queen” or “Flicka Da Wrist” without Future’s existence. Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug are also examples of elements that Future popularized in his music. He’s arguably the first rapper that found success in bridging unusual style with the trap rap aesthetic. His recent releases showcase even more refinement, he's settling into a comfort zone. The woozy, promethazine drenched, xan induced, trance he’s tapped into has caused nothing but rejoicing. The high spirited chants that cause a surge of infectious energy combined with druggy confessions of triumphant and woes has become his stylistic signature. The same gangster that wakes up and grabs the strap will admit he’s going codeine crazy. He’s living the life of a rockstar and still unable to resist the temptation of a scandalous harlot that should be left alone. He embodies Drake’s candid, confessional lyricism, The Weeknd’s druggy R&B and Gucci Mane’s street unorthodoxy. The ultimate hybrid.
Future stopped his 2014 interview with The Guardian to admire the sound of a an editor's fingers mashing a keyboard and the blowing hum of their air conditioning. It’s the kind of zany pause I expect from a 2008 Charles Hamilton or intoxicated Kanye, more eccentric creatives and not trap stars. Almost every interview I came across proved that I misjudged Future based on his subject matter. He speaks about his music and music in general with the poetic passion of a creative minded hippy, absolutely consumed by his art. He’s a studio rat, with a rumored work ethic that has amassed over 1,000 tracks. He also doesn’t take his Dungeon Family lineage lightly, adopting their ethos, and striving to carry their legacy of reinventing, standing alone, and standing out. In many ways, Future is the oddity that is easier experienced than explained. How do you describe a trap rapper from Kirkwood (Eastside of Atlanta) that has created an image that merge the idea of selling dope with being a spacesuit wearing astronaut, who named his first album Pluto? An anomaly that has adopted Jimi’s last name to solidify his rockstar status and creates genre blending chart toppers effortlessly. He’s on Instagram with Jay Z, has rapped alongside Andre 3000 and been featured on Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus albums.
It’s almost impossible to predict Future’s future. He has flown much further and higher than my eyes and ears could imagine, but at this point it’s safe to say that Future’s success isn’t due to some momentary fever people are having. Even if his album sales are low, the enthusiasm for his craft is high. Concert venues are packed, streams are racked up, how much do album sales even matter anymore? Welcome to 2015. Welcome to the future.
[By Yoh, aka Futures of Present's Past, aka @Yoh31]