We can define the past decade by divisive politics, the omnipresence of technology, and Future think pieces. I can now barely stomach the thought of reading about Future.
Dungeon Family meathead strikes Auto-Tune gold, becomes strip club balladeer for the masses. Destroyed by heartbreak, he rises like the phoenix to be reborn as the almighty nihilist king, remaking trap in his depressed, opioid-raddled image.
What is left to say?!? After a lifetime’s worth of think pieces, Future, born Nayvadius Wilburn, is still underappreciated. The hits may serve as validation of his success, but they could never tell the story of his influence. 56 nights crazy.
“Racks,” YC featuring Future (2011)
In April 2011, the rapper YC (formerly Yung Chris, no relation to Young Chris, of Roc-A-Fella and State Property fame) released “Racks.” At the time, many deemed the record unintelligible and monotonous. The song’s producer, Sonny Digital, couldn’t understand it and didn’t like it. It became a top 40 hit and influenced the sound of an entire decade of commercial hip-hop, bringing Auto-Tune back in vogue and setting the standard for melodic trap bangers from Atlanta that would dominate the next few years.
“Racks” also introduced the world to Future, the much more magnetic presence, who was somehow just a featured guest. Sometimes talent does win out in the end.
The third single from an album hailed as the disappointment that kick-started the greatest year-long run in rap history, “Sh!t” might seem more like an outlier. But in a decade defined by artists disregarding convention and pushing their vocals and flows to new extremes, until voice is more instrument than thought-conveyer, “Sh!t” is a sacred text. It’s like hearing a giant or a battering ram come to life. We rightly recognize Young Thug for permanently altering the way rappers sound, but his Super Slimey partner is close competition. Just ask 21 Savage.
“Throw Away” (2015)
It happens at 2:09. The atmosphere shifts, the air sucked away and replaced with a surging electrical hiss. On first listen, it’s an intriguing change of pace. On subsequent listens, it’s a gut-punch of defeat following two minutes of disaffected victory lap boasting.
While Future is way too dynamic to slot neatly into just one duality, “Throw Away,” better than any other song, presents two warring identities in Future’s fractured psyche.
The wrenching, revealing second half of “Throw Away” begins with a plainspoken belief: “Deep down, I believe you know, you a monster too.” Sure, it’s probably an accusation aimed at his ex Ciara, but it’s direct enough to make anyone re-examine their intentions.
“Codeine Crazy” / “Perkys Calling” (2015 / 2016)
At his best, Future presents his experiences through vivid imagery—a blur of material wealth, meaningless hookups, and the numb of substance abuse—alongside solitary reflection: where he came from, where he’s at, what’s next, and what it all means. Is it all worth it? Is he doing the right or wrong thing? Universal feelings, but presented on the grandest scale.
Two of Future’s best songs capture this late-night confessional feeling when solitude is all-encompassing, and drugs provide the only comfort. This decade has been a nonstop debate regarding hip-hop’s glorification of substance abuse, but consumption does not always equal endorsement. “Codeine Crazy” and “Perkys Calling,” two songs essential to this discourse, give voice to the emptiness when the party ends.
“Mask Off” (2017)
“Mask Off” wasn’t even the single. Future’s self-titled album dropped in February 2017, ending a full-year gap since his previous album, which is a million years for any other artist. “Draco” was the lead single, while an entire album of polished pop music would follow a week later. FUTURE would feed the streets, and HNDRXX would be the surprise follow-up that dominated radio and marked the return of Future the R&B radio killer.
Everything changed once “Mask Off” hit. “Percocet, molly, Percocet” was so simple and stupid, and perfect, it became anthemic. That fucking flute lodged itself in the very fabric of America and launched a summer of imitators. Kendrick Lamar jumped on the remix. The song became Future’s biggest solo hit and rendered the rest of two great albums forgotten. Fuck it, mask off.