It was 3 or 4:something AM after a Lil B show in 2010. I was in a smoked out Harlem apartment with a few friends, all of us listening to music while trying to recover from the night’s chaos. Before I pass out from a mixture of fadedness and general exhaustion, my friend Nick lifts his head up off the couch and asks, “Hey……….yall niggas heard Racks yet?”
“……..What’s that?” I replied.
Without saying a word, he goes to YouTube on his laptop and queues up a song from some guy named YC. While his verse is full of energy, everybody listening knows who’s doing the heavy lifting when the second verse comes around. It raises me from the dead of the fade.
This was my introduction to the songbird known as Future.
As a second generation member of Dungeon Family, arguably the greatest rap crew of all time, Future’s rise in Atlanta at least was always a formality. Not necessarily because of the weight the group’s name holds, but because of the way talent is realized, fostered, and promoted by the collective. Atlanta has always been home to genre-bending sounds, so who better than Future to break out? Whether through guest appearances, lending his songwriting skills, or the borrowing of his creative traits, he’s been an essential piece of too many hit records to list. And to the delight of everyone who loves his music, he’s only continued to evolve since the release of his first mixtape half a decade ago.
Future’s since amassed an expansive catalog displaying a wider range of personality traits and artistic competencies than almost all of his peers. The doubters have slowly turned into the converted and with another album expected this year after his Made In America festival announcement, the ranks of the Church of Nayvadius will only continue to swell. Those of you who trash him as an artist will eventually come around. It might be when you finally let yourself open up and really listen to what he’s sharing with us. It might be when you realize which songs he’s written for your favorite artists. You’re probably pissed off and scoffing at me right now; don’t worry about it. A lot of other people were around 2011-2012 too. You’ll be joining us soon. And we’ll welcome you with open arms.
But for those who are already saved, all of us have at some point since the three-peat — a run similar to those of Weezy F in 2006 and Gucci in 2009– have been in a debate regarding how Future’s albums rank against each other. Each of these tapes are at the very least worthwhile, but which is the best? The question only gets more complex when you start thinking about them in the context of his other work. Everything he’s released is good in its own way,this was like picking favorite seasons of The Wire. Despite this, I did it anyway. Here are the totally arbitrary rules I set:
– No collab tapes. Some great moments are on those but it’ll just get more confusing and I’m already doing a lot here.
– Deluxe editions count, which means we’re going with Pluto 3D and not the original.
– Not really a rule, but please preemptively shut the hell up. I’m all for debates but in terms of whatever wild comment you’re about to come at me with, you should’ve written this yourself if it’s that serious.
Dirty Sprite (2011)
Racks was on Dirty Sprite. Even with the story I opened with though, it’s the least exciting Future release. However, it’s still just as good, if not better, than most projects from other artists that came out that year. Everything worked out fine.
I know 2015 was the year of coming out the shadows to declare that you actually hated Honest. The thing is you probably just like Dark Future more than Pop Future. And that’s fine, just about all of us do. But Pop Future is good too, so calm down.
Even though it’s a pop heavy album, Honest contains some of the best Fire Marshall Future appearances we have from him so far so it wins there. But it was, admittedly, all a little confusing at times. There are some huge departures from what we’d had come to love about him that, while at the time may have been extremely exciting, didn’t really hold up. Incredible beats that didn’t feel right and notable guest appearances that didn’t add any real quality were abound. Kanye on Trophy sums up everything that went wrong. In general, a little too much was done. There are a lot of great ideas on display, they just weren’t executed like they should have been.
Despite how, for lack of a better word, “nuts” Monster is, it’s another instance of Future playing it safe. This is his darkest project by far. There’s an air of pain and desperation hanging over just about every song. Even so, this is still fairly standard Future fare. Which I get. 2014 was a big career and life transition for him. Future and Ciara had broken up shortly after the birth of their son, Future, and after Honest, he only really had one chance to decide what kind of artist he was going to be from here on. Another pop album and you’re a pop artist. See: Wiz Khalifa.
But still, considering the quality of the production–Metro Boomin, TM 88, Southside and several of our other great modern producers created a sonic blueprint that can only be described as “If Tim Burton was tough enough to win a fist fight”–you wish he’d got a little more imaginative.
The best part about Future’s first mixtape, outside of the endless slappers, is that you can hear it in his delivery that he always knew he was going to reach these heights that’s he’s since risen to. In terms of production it’s your standard pre-Pluto sound, think of most music coming out of Atlanta at the time. The distinction between 1000 and those other projects is that confidence in his abilities that you don’t often hear from a lot of new artists. When you listen to his later work and come back to this one, you get this feeling that he’s never really got better, but that he just needed time to refined his skills.
Pluto 3D (2012)
While Pluto 3D did push boundaries in some respects, everything feels a little safe. Several of Future’s best romantic songs are on here, but that’s partially the case because there are so many of them. It was bound to happen. Not to mention the album is also another instance of guest verses, however good some of them are, taking time away from what could have been more Future verses. Pluto 3D is definitely less balanced than other albums in his discography.
Again, pop-minded Future is great, but the thing about pop-minded Future is that he restricts himself. Part of what makes him so brilliant is willingness to let it all out in songs and bring you in through emotional connections. Future doesn’t touch on as many of those emotional points on Pluto 3D as you like.
Streetz Calling (2011)
Streetz Calling is like if Future sounded more carefree and adventurous on Pluto 3D. Nothing but fun and introspection from start to finish. This mixtape had similar instrumentals to his other pre-Pluto work but leaned more toward to upbeat side. Remember that era of Atlanta rap when everything sounded like flying a private jet to an island named after you? Think along those lines.
Beast Mode (2015)
The whole album sounds like hanging out with your favorite uncle in an opium den. That’s all I have to say about Beast Mode. It’s beautiful.
P.S. Long live late 90’s Cash Money Records.
True Story (2011)
True Story was the end of Future’s fight for attention and his first steps towards being a viable star. Remember Jeezy’s attitude on Trap or Die? That cockiness mixed with being pissed off cause you deserve all the attention in the world and aren’t even getting half of it? It’s a shared trait of everyone who would later go on to be on of the greats of their eras and it shines through Future on here. You’ll feel like you just defeated six dragons in combat with nothing but a waffle iron.
The usual production collaborators came together to layout a futuristic landscape for our hero to truly experiment and show off all his potential. In return, Future gave us as perfect a display of motivational music as you could hope for. True Story is also where we start to get some clearer distinctions between the different Future personas. The tape is such a great convergence of all the things that make Future great, This is when you knew big things were in store for Nayvadius.
If at any point in life you’ve ever found yourself on hour 40 of a weekend bender staring at yourself in a mirror asking “Why?” then you probably cried at some point during your first listen through. Joy, grief, crises of identity, selfishness, striving to make you and those you love invincible and the frustration and pain that comes through those endeavors are just some of the themes you’ll face. There are songs that want to make you kick a bus over on its side, there are songs that make you want to examine life decisions in depth instead of going out Saturday night, and then some. He covers the full spectrum.The one thing the songs all have in common is addressing sadness as a constant theme in life. All of our experiences are dictated by it, even the best ones. Regardless of if you’re recognizing it or running away from it, it’s there. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though.
DS2 reminds you that problems are problems, we all have them to various extremes, and that coping mechanisms, however unhealthy, span all backgrounds. It’s one of the few things we all have in common. DS2 reminds us that we’re all each other has and to cherish that.
Astronaut Status (2012)
The Metro Boomin, Zaytoven, Sonny Digital, and 808 Mafia collaborations, as amazing as they are, sometimes distract from the fact that a lot of Future’s best work was done with Will-A-Fool. You can find evidence of this on several of his albums, but the strongest support of this fact can be found on Astronaut Status. This is simultaneously one of his most introspective and boisterous displays. I’mma stop now. Listen and form your own views from here, this tape deserves more than what I can write about it.
56 Nights (2015)
56 Nights will most likely end up being Album of the Year for a lot of people, including me, so wait a few months for something more substantive on it. But for now, this album is as perfect as an album can be in every way. You don’t even get mad at the skit like you normally get mad at skits because it feels like the album would be less complete without it there. 808 Mafia deserves a Nobel Prize for their work here. Future has you in every feel imaginable from start to finish. 56 Nights is a dark story of addiction and gluttony, but it’s easy to forget that when you’re throwing furniture to any of the slappers that make up the album. Most artists would be happy to have a project like this in their discography as their magnum opus, but for Future this is only a checkpoint in his ascension.
Feel free to berate me at your own leisure, but I’m right.