The courtroom is no place for brothers to quarrel, but money has a way of turning love to loathing, respect to disrespect, and brothers into strangers. Rocko has always called Future his “little brother,” a title bestowed due to a familial bond rather than blood relation, and a bond that appeared to be severed when news broke last year of a $10 million lawsuit.
Future was accused of breaching a contract from 2010 when he first signed to Rocko’s A-1 record label. Future took to Twitter and fired off a string of tweets throwing shade instead of denying the accusations. This was the beginning of their public social media feud that has been ongoing and recently escalated due to reports that Rocko is the reason behind Future’s back-to-back album releases. With each passing day their mess becomes bigger, but their relationship wasn’t always lawyers and subtweets, there was a time where Future and Rocko were more Drake and Skepta than Caesar and Brutus.
Future is the nephew of Rico Wade, one-third of the legendary Organized Noize production trio. Without Organize Noize, there’s no OutKast or Dungeon Family, no TLC’s “Waterfalls” or Ludacris’ “Saturday”; their contributions to hip-hop, especially Southern hip-hop, are far from small. Essentially, Future is royalty, a second-generation Dungeon Family member. Having a fairly famous cousin in the music industry is what lead him to the studio―an escape from the streets.
Future’s 2014 cover story with Spin Magazine gives insight into how his grandfather linked up the two cousins to keep the at-risk teen from spending idle time in the streets. Future was around legends, seeing the masters at work, but only in the background and not yet in the forefront.
It’s been said that Rico is the one who gave Future his rap moniker—at the time he was still going by Meathead—but Rocko tells another version that ties into his early relationship with Nayvadius Wilburn. Before he was known for making street anthems, Rocko was working behind the scenes in Atlanta―more of an entrepreneur than an artist. While working with Dem Franchize Boyz, rapper Parlae brought a young Meathead, a.k.a. The Phuture, to a session at Rocko’s studio. Rocko has claimed that before hearing any music, he saw the star power in Phuture, took a liking to him, and that is where their history begins.
In his 2013 interview with Village Voice, Rocko takes credit for being the voice of reason that convinced Phuture to drop the “Ph” and become Future. Another interesting quote from this interview is, "He's my little brother. You don't want family to get the wool pulled over their eyes so I'm teaching everything I know."
Meathead? [Laughs] Yup. Meathead. So I said, "We're going to drop that Meathead. You just gonna be Future." He was spelling it with a "P." I told him we were going to spell it the regular way. He didn't complain. He gave me his word he was going to work hard so I signed him.
When Rocko met Future, he wasn’t rapping yet. It was before his debut album Self Made, before his successful “Umma Do Me” single, and even before Rocko’s deal with Def Jam. Since Dem Franchize Boyz were still relatively relevant, I suspect they met somewhere between 2005-2006. When Future first reacted to Rocko’s lawsuit, the A-1 CEO posted a video from an old interview where Future admits to being an artist who has been around Rock since the very beginning.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Future officially signed to Rocko, right before “Racks” began to blow up, making him the first artist signed to A-1. He was under the imprint when his first mixtape 1,000 came out in May of 2010; Rocko is featured on “Yeah Yeah.” When Rocko signed his first deal with Def Jam, Future accompanied him.
There are two different tales about what unfolded that day―Rocko claims to have taken Future into the meeting and acclaimed him as a future boss in front of L.A. Reid. Future tells a different story, he claims that Rocko wanted him to wait in the lobby, and it was the late Shakir Stewart, a legendary A&R and the former VP of Def Jam, who brought Future into the room.
Future claimed on Sway that Rocko didn’t want him to meet L.A., bringing into question who is telling the truth? We all know that after “Racks” everything slowly started to pick up for Future―he started to truly make waves as an Auto-Tuned hitmaker. It would lead to Future signing to Reid's Epic Records in 2011. It was thought to only be a distribution deal in partnership with A-1. All of Future’s albums have been released through both A-1 and Epic. There were never any public issues, Rocko and Future continued to work on music and churned out street anthems like “Squares Out Your Circle,” “Watch This,” “Chosen One,” “Power Of The P,” and who can forget the 2013 smash “U.O.E.N.O.”
Future was killing the hooks; if A-1 was Young Money then Future was the imprint's Drake. The two spent years together, made classics, and seemed to have a fairly solid relationship. As I mentioned earlier, Rocko has always called Future his “little brother.”
But Future has always seemed to speak of Rocko differently, and not as warmly. The interview with Sway is an excellent example: when asked if seeing Rocko sign his deal was a big moment for him, Future brushed it off, citing how he had always been around big stars―Rico Wade, OutKast, Goodie Mob, Organized Noize, Bubba Sparxxx. While this may be true, none of these big artists created an opportunity for Future. For Rocko to have credit as the one who discovered and signed him first, knowing who Future had been around prior, is rather baffling. He went on to talk about his relationship with Rocko as more of a partnership between Freebandz and A-1 than a brotherhood. He even stated how the two never really worked together―studio sessions were done separately and they would occasionally overlap. Rocko has said on numerous occasions that Future was self-sufficient, a studio rat who didn’t need much guidance, but in a 2011 interview, Rocko is far more open about their studio dealings.
It’s almost as if Future was reluctant to give Rocko any credit for being a major player in his career. His views always seemed more business than brotherly. It's interesting how two different people seem to have two clearly different perspectives on their relationship. So what caused the friction? Well, Future’s distribution deal eventually became a solo deal with Epic, cutting A-1 and Rocko out of advance money. A rather shady move to pull on someone who was there since the beginning of his career. Rocko’s lawsuit is for 25% of the advances he received and 20% of touring and endorsements.
It was rumored that an outrageous settlement—which included Future/Epic handing over all royalties from Future's next two albums, in addition to 50% of touring revenues over the next two years—was made earlier this week, but Rocko denied any truth to the stories being spread across social media. But with the release of FUTURE and HNDRXX, the six-album contractual obligation that Future has to A-1 and Rocko will be completed. It’s safe to suggest the back-to-back releases are meant to free him from the label, but it is unsure what is still owed.
During an #AskFuture Twitter Q&A, Future dismissed the notion that his new project was to appease Rocko, and even insinuated their issues stem from the Self Made rapper being broke and trying to tag along on his historic run. Rocko politely fired back on Instagram, promoting the new album and continuing to suggest the motive behind the lawsuit is strictly business and not personal. The East Atlanta Astronaut left a vehement comment in response, even stating that Rocko’s brotherly love came when he was at his worst.
The question mark over which side is telling the truth has only grown bigger, only adding to the contrast of how differently they see each other. Who is truly the wrongdoer? Did Future cut Rocko out of the Epic deal, or did something else transpire before that caused their relationship to soil?
The courtroom is no place for brothers to quarrel, but the music industry is no place to make family members. If Birdman can do Lil Wayne dirty, a man he practically helped raise from adolescence, then no one is above a knife in the back. Look at Jay and Dame—starting together doesn’t mean you’ll end together.
Rocko saw something in Future, an artist that could be a star, and gave him a chance. It's a beautiful beginning with such a tragic end. But that’s the music industry for you, a business where money is the root of all betrayal.
By Yoh, aka Yoh The Phuture, aka @Yoh31.