What a time, indeed...
Say what you will about Future's propensity for mumbling through catatonic half-raps and his appetite for mind-altering substances (despite apparent evidence that the latter may be more persona than personal struggle), the man they call Hendrix shattered 2015 expectations.
Once (wrongly) believed to be on the cusp of irrelevance following Honest, which despite carrying a reputation for being a critical and commercial failure managed to do a lot of things very well, Future has flipped the script. He intentionally has shunned the radio-friendly pursuits he was once centered around, instead, choosing to dive headfirst into nihilistic despair and its trapped-out soundtrack. Gone were cheesy love ballads like "I Won," replaced by drugs, strippers, more drugs, more strippers, and strippers doing drugs, among similar ideals. He won over our hearts by drowning his own in a thick coating of Promethazine.
Monster was a descent into madness, Beast Mode was a clinic in luxury street rap, 56 Nights is the chaos amidst a 56 night-long bender, and DS2 was the polished crown jewel that pieced them all together, with What A Time To Be Alive acting as a victory lap, complete with the hottest artist in the game proudly riding shotgun.
What then, is Purple Reign? It comes after the longest break of time between projects since before the October '14 release of Monster, and also with the clean slate of a new year. Sure, the Freebandz general controlled much of 2015, but it's currently 2016 and hip-hop has a prevailing "What have you done for me lately?" mentality. Would this new project signal progression in sound, or should you expect more of the same?
As it turns out, and as its title seems to make very clear, Purple Reign sounds a lot like what we've come to know from Future.
Purple Reign is Future's seventh full-length project dating back to April of 2014. Rarely is such a level of output matched by a corresponding level of quality, but for the most part that is just what he's been able to accomplish. Each project stood out as its own distinct work, while also fitting in seamlessly to the greater narrative that was and is "The Return of Future." The usual cast of contributors is around for the fun; the tape is executive produced by DJ Esco and Metro Boomin, the latter chipping in production along with the other two individuals responsible for the creative direction of his recent success, Zaytoven and Southside (of 808 Mafia).
The project even came complete with an identifying emoji - a "purple umbrella with raindrops" - and was unleashed the morning of a pivotal playoff game for the Seattle Seahawks, in which star quarterback Russell Wilson, the new boyfriend of Future's baby momma Ciara, was set to play. This could have been a total coincidence, but I'm convinced it was a power move by Future to fully take advantage of the conversation on social media.
"Never Forget" (prod. John Boii)
Yup, the best song from an album with Metro Boomin, Nard & B, DJ Spinz, Southside and Zaytoven all behind the boards is produced by Jon Boii. Three songs into the project, for the first time I really "felt" something. The beat knocks, with a slight rock tinge that brings the Hendrix persona to life, and Future's "Sh!t"-like flow sounds raw and hungry. "I had to take a loss so I could cherish this shit" is the type of line that sticks with you long after listening. The first verse is Future at his best - a vivid portrait of the drugs-guns-jewelry lifestyle injected with just the right amount of personal details.
"And why your Sprite so pink? I GOT PROMETHAZINE IN IT!"
"Inside The Mattress" (prod. Nard & B)
While the pair might not immediately come to mind when discussing the topic of Future's best collaborators (a la Metro), Nard & B have been responsible for some of the ATLien's best work over the years: "Runnin Through A Check," "Straight Up," "You Deserve It," "I'm Good" and "Throw Away." As those selections move chronologically from triumphant to desolate, this track continues that trend. Ushered in by the crack of a storm cloud, the beat is the equivalent of a mad scientist experimenting with electric shocks in an underground cave laboratory. Content-wise, there isn't much to take away from the record beside Future's mattresses being stuffed and a line about his girl doing mushrooms, but the hypnotic churning is undeniable.
"Salute" (prod. DJ Spinz & K-Major)
No joke, salute to DJ Spinz and K-Major. Almost reminiscent of "March Madness," this beat is a monster, mesmerizing and almost disorienting as booming, glistening and screeching seems to warp and attack you from all angles, along with copious amounts of DJ tags. Play this loudly.
"Perkys Calling" (prod. Southside)
This is Song Naming 101. You know those terrible anti-smoking commercials where the cigarette drags the kid from his band practice in the garage? Now imagine that scenario but, instead, it's Future in the studio and he gets a text on his iPhone that simply reads "Perkys." That's what I pictured the first time I heard this song, which might just be a sad indictment of our drug-obsessed culture and its tendency to make light of addiction but also might just be a funny mental image.
Like "Codeine Crazy" and "56 Nights" before it, "Perkys Calling" occupies the space usually held near the end of the tape for introspective raps about living the life, but also realizing that life may not be all it's cracked up to be. Oh, and how there are a shit ton of drugs. It's difficult not to do some reflection of your own while listening to this one.
If you love Future, you will love Purple Reign. If you don't like Future, I have a hard time believing this 13-track set will do anything to convince you to change your opinion (however faulty that opinion may be). There are some high points on PR, but never does the project reach the peaks of its predecessor mixtapes. At best, it's a cohesive body of work that seeks to appeal to fans of mixtape Future. At worst, it's a lot of filler that leaves you wondering whether the actual future holds further progression from everyone's favorite drug-rap purveyor or more of the same.
Bring on Ape Shit.
Photo Credit: Instagram