Review: “Future” stuck in the past

by Jacob Meister | 2/23/17 1:00am

The beginning of 2017’s music landscape has been uncontestably dominated by rap artists from a city that has recently become a key niche of American popular culture: Atlanta, Georgia. Following the release of Migos’ wildly successful “Culture” in late January, Atlanta’s unique brand of trap rap has maintained a constant presence on radio stations, late night talk shows and the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.

Undoubtedly, Future, another giant of the Atlanta trap music scene, realized that Migos’ recent success provided a fortuitous increase in media attention for trap music and artists from Atlanta. Future, whose real name is Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, announced that his forthcoming album would arrive on Feb. 17, only to be followed by a second album a week later. True to his word, Future released his fifth album, “FUTURE,” last Friday.

The self-titled album, like the rest of the hip hop artist’s discography, excels at setting a mood that is almost tangible throughout the album. Future is known for his revolutionary practice of using auto-tune to synthesize his raps rather than to help him sing. Parts of his flow and lyrical style were picked up by other aspiring artists following Future’s three-peat of hit albums and mixtapes in 2015: “DS2,” “Beast Mode” and “56 Nights.” One just has to compare the recent works of Migos and 21 Savage to Future’s “DS2” to see his impact.

He continues to utilize his technique to marvelous effect, giving his songs a distinct, soulful aesthetic. Future’s bouncing, synthesized drone-flow meshes together perfectly with eerie, upbeat instrumentals and quick snare beats of producers Metro Boomin, Zaytoven and DJ Khaled, among others. On “FUTURE,” like in his other work, his attitude often switches between two distinct personas. One is a no-nonsense, melodic trap king with an intense darkness inside of him, as found in “Super Trapper,” when he raps “Rags to riches, **** these snitches, I ain’t scared, bruh / Cold and sheisty, put some prices on your head.” The other version is a carefree, pill-popping kid from the ATL who, as in “Mask Off,” just wants to have fun. Sometimes the goal is to become the toughest drug dealer in Atlanta. Sometimes it’s just to have fun and make money in whatever way possible.

While these songs are pleasing to listen to and occasionally even relaxing, they obviously ring hollow lyrically. Like most trap music, there’s not much below the surface. There are similar themes in every song: using drugs, selling drugs, using violence against competitors, making money and spending that money on luxurious vices (mainly women). Future uses an easily recognizable couplet form in most songs and rarely attempts to tell lyrically complex stories. Listeners don’t hear the downsides of this lifestyle, but they aren’t listening to Future to think; they’re listening to, as one friend puts it, “get pleasantly lit.”

However, throughout the album, Future’s graphic lyrics usually come off as deeply offensive to women and the LGBT community. Again, this is nothing new to trap music or to the rap genre or even to the wider music industry, but it simply gets tiresome when sexism and homophobia are present on every single song. On the album’s first track, “Rent Money,” Future raps with many expletives boasting about the number of women he has “won” from other inferior rappers. Similarly offensive variations of the phrase appear consistently in nearly every single song on “FUTURE.”

A flat-falling skit at the end of “Flip” in which a woman calls into a radio station and wins a prize has a similar effect. Obviously, the skit was intended to be comedic, with the woman winning faulty condoms and geographic tracking devices so that she can find her significant other and “tell him this his baby too.” I’m not sure who Future’s intended recipients are. Lines, such as these, further stereotypes of absent black fathers and gold-digging black mothers who have children in order to procure more child support. It disturbs me that mainstream artists feel the need to perpetuate these kinds of dangerous norms in 2017.

Perhaps Future feels beholden to his roots in trap culture, or perhaps he feels that this is simply what will sell best. There is no denying that our country has proven time and again it will accept overt sexism and even sexual assault from the rich and famous.

Future even directly references the most recent instance of this on “High Demand,” rapping “Grab on that pussy like Donald.” If it works for a president to speak this way, it may as well work for a rap artist.

In the past, I have excused the lack of content in Future’s music, but there is a point when the general mood is not enough to make an album worth listening to. Future’s music has failed to develop in the way other rappers’ music normally does. Any song off of “FUTURE” could easily have been on “DS2,” his album from two years ago. The only difference would be the song’s beat, which may be moderately more complex than the rest of the album. This is not enough.

The reason rappers go from being just rappers to being cultural icons is because they innovate. Kanye West essentially reinvents himself and the rap genre every time he releases a new album. Kendrick Lamar went from rapping complex lyrics on simple beats to telling masterful, completely planned American narratives while accompanied by live legendary jazz artists. Future continues to rap about the same themes, except now he has more money because his last album was so successful.

In all fairness, Future produces content much more frequently than either of those artists, but maybe he should consider giving up immediate, easy musical gratification in the name of improving himself as an artist. In his defense, recent reports allege that, due to a breach of contract agreement with his original A1 Label, Future may have to give up all profits from “FUTURE” and his upcoming album, “HNDRXX.” While it does not excuse the notable lack of development and quality of Future’s music, as a business decision, it does make sense for him to release the new content as quickly as possible to fulfill the obligation. Even so, I want to see an Atlanta rapper go from being a trap lord to a rap god. But if Future wants to achieve that status, he needs to break away from his past.

Rating: 6.2/10