“Love is a losing game” —Amy Winehouse
In October 2014, three days before Halloween, Future released his 13th mixtape, Monster. Names of projects, songs, and personas decided upon by the East Atlanta Plutonian aren’t appointed frivolously. Monster’s title and album art—a Photoshop depiction of Future’s face with the features of a Resident Evil zombie—provides a public service announcement of rebirth through branding that could easily be considered a timely concept. But Future wasn’t inspired by Halloween to make a project centered around the holiday. He used the holiday of masks and costumes to reveal a real monster.
Two months before the release of Monster, Future’s engagement with R&B starlet and fellow Atlanta native Ciara was called off after 14 months. Their son, also named Future, was only three months old at the time. Love wasn’t the only casualty of their unsuccessful union; there was also a loss of identity. “Who is this person? I don't know this person,” Future told music critic Meaghan Garvey during their 2016 interview on the disconnection from self he struggled with while living in Los Angeles.
With no love in the reflection of his lover and a stranger reflecting in the mirror, living in an environment unsuited for his creative desires, Future fled. The escape would lead him on a road of creative escapism and commercial redemption.
Loss can be and often is a trigger for transformation. Goku—the main protagonist of Dragon Ball Z—becomes a more powerful version of himself after watching the murder of Krillin, his childhood best friend. The shock of loss evoked an internal eruption with external effects. A similar reaction is what transitioned Future from Honest—the sophomore album received with novelty fanfare—to Monster, the nihilistic trap classic that spearheaded an ongoing era of Future Hive. The man born Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn found in unbridled pain and pleasure the brightest, broadest light with which to draw in a legion of moths.
It’s ironic for a rapper, an authority of authenticity, to follow up an album called Honest with music that teeters between raw, confessional sorrow and hyper-realistic coping. “Tryna make me a pop star, and they made a monster,” Future raps on “I Serve the Base,” one of the many highlights from DS2, his 2015 hedonistic magnum opus. Only after making the music of Monster, and following his four-year streak of excellence, does Future fully unveil the kind of monster he has become: a monster of earthly excess.
Moderation doesn’t exist in the musical world built by a man who released two full-length albums in back-to-back weeks. There are always more drugs to consume, more girls to sex, more torments to channel, more selves to loath, and more money to make. Karma isn’t a factor for Future; sin is a lifestyle, not a transgression for which to repent. In the fifth century, Greek theologian Evagrius Ponticus believed there were eight offenses and passions by which a man or woman on earth could be enchanted due to an “abnormal obsession with self.”
Seven of the eight are now well-known as capital vices or cardinal sins. Future’s commitment to his infatuations, all vices of desire, encapsulates how naturally humans are drawn to and consumed by lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, envy, sloth, and above all, pride.
“There’s so much bleed-over between rage and sorrow that it’s pointless to try and map where 'good' ends and 'bad' begins. It’s not that the avant-garde needn’t be moral. It’s that morality doesn’t exist in hell,” Garvey perfectly articulated in her review of Monster for its one-year anniversary. The title: "Future’s Inferno: Monster, One Year Later" is a clever play on Inferno, the first part in Dante Alighieri's timeless 14th-century poem Divine Comedy.
Inferno represents “recognition and rejection of sin” while Dante’s soul journeys toward God. In the second part, Purgatorio, Dante learns that all sin arises from a love that can be grouped into three categories: Excessive love (Lust, Gluttony, Greed), deficient love (Sloth), and malicious love (Wrath, Envy, Pride).
Future is a lover. The change from “I Won” to “Throw Away” is telling of his transformation from a husband-to-be into a monster of love. In just two minutes across "Throw Away"'s second half, he successfully covers how love can be excessive, deficient, and malicious. It’s as riveting as it is revolting. Purgatory is a place to escape. Future’s brand of nihilism instead creates a home of excess in the heart of sin.
The only difference between Future and the tragic love story of Orpheus—the ancient Greek poet and musician who roamed the earth mourning and singing songs sad enough to make the gods weep after the death of Eurydice, his beloved wife—is that Orpheus went to the underworld to retrieve his wife, while Future went to the underworld and found a party.
Future is capable of doing to man what Orpheus did to Gods; there’s a real sadness at the heart of his hymns. But, the question is, does Future want to improve the circumstances that plague his music? On “Lookin Exotic,” from 2017's HNDRXX, he sings on the hook: “I try my best to put my ego first, I need to stop it,” acknowledging how the death of his ego could be a promising change, a change toward an enlightening path from the extremes of his life, but awareness isn’t the same as applying effort. It’s as if he heard “Big Pimpin'” as scripture and completely discarded the teachings of “Kill Jay Z.”
Hearing the Atlanta astronaut rap “I hate the real me” on the outro of 2018's BEASTMODE 2 is saddening. The words cut deep as any lyrics rapped on “Codeine Crazy” or “Thought It Was a Drought,” but Future continues down the path of trying to get high as he can. In the past, Future has admitted to lying about his drug addiction and to being sober during the making of Monster. That news is rather conflicting with the music considering, at times, he sounds as if he’s recording from a booth above the clouds but far from heaven.
If the drugs aren’t as real as he says, the emotions, anecdotes, and memories of guilt, pain, loss, love, lust, and luxury are. He has much to give; an endless amount of feelings to convey, hence the excessive volume of music.
“I imagine this is why Future has become obsessed with losing track of time. It is hard to keep missing someone when there’s no way to tell how long you’ve been without them. When everything blurs into a singular and brilliant darkness.” —Hanif Abdurraqi ("On Future And Working Through What Hurts")
When life gives lemons, especially lemons that are from the hands of a former lover, the mind will react with methods that are often self-destructive—to wallow in pain or overindulge in pleasurable behavior. Future’s ability to convey the highs and lows of celebrity life through the lens of an escapist running toward and away from his chaotic lifestyle is painfully human. To swim and drown, to be engulfed in flames and embrace the warmth, to seek the love that’s pure but love the love that’s disastrous is a cycle easy to fall within when the edge of life becomes the center.
Is Future’s lifestyle slowly killing him? Only he knows. Similar to Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta, Future has mastered the art of blurring the real and surreal in a way where the truth isn’t as important as the feeling. Future has found in trap music the perfect medium to be the sinner who has accepted that he will sin again, and we can all relate. Through him, we all see within ourselves the potential to be monsters of excess, monsters of sin, and monsters of love.
By Yoh, aka If Yoh Know, Yoh Know, aka @Yoh31