Maybe the reason Nayvadius Wilburn, aka Future, receives such universal accolades is because he’s somewhat difficult for agnostics to review. When he came on with 2012’s Pluto — easily his most melodic album — his heavily-processed voice, shaky with Auto-Tune, found a new way to wrinkle the pop songs he was striving for. Its “failed” follow-up, Honest (No. 2 on Billboard, cover story with SPIN), was more occasional in its craft — the André 3000 anomaly “Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)” here, the minor street epic “Move That Dope” there. As follow-ups do, it threw a lot of things at the wall and some stuck, though Future was beginning to suspect he was making more hay on the guest-slot circuit crooning alongside Miley Cyrus (“My Darlin’”) and Rihanna (“Loveeeeeee Song”). Then his loveeeeeee life with the undervalued Ciara fell apart, and as Jay Z, the Nate Silver of Auto-Tune once put it, “let the story begin.”
It was this narrative, not the electrifying “Turn on the Lights” or “Same Damn Time”, that made Wilburn a star, descending fully into romantic sin, with mantra-like rapping over moodier beats to evoke just how dimly lit his threesome-and-lean-slimed schedule (at the same damn time) had become. So his tracks became somewhat less electrifying and higher on emo content — even though his “legendary” three mixtapes between Honest and 2015’s DS2 admittedly gave us the wrenching “Threw Away” and “March Madness” and “2Pac” with the “comeback” hit “Fuck Up Some Commas” (only in Milkshake Duck years could the gap between Honest and Monster be said to constitute significant downtime) — and the masterful DS2 itself was every bit the pinnacle his enraptured new following claimed it to be. But by late 2015, his mythology was eclipsing his content, and the “streak” he’s continually lauded for both critically and commercially only appeared to mean that he was continuing to release music at a rapid clip. Purple Reign, EVOL, and the triumphant Drake collab What a Time to Be Alive, listed in descending order of preference and ascending order of public attention, only served to illustrate how repetitious and flavorless this one-man slapper-of-the-month-club had become.
Even now, Future is preparing to release HNDRXX, his second album in 14 days, while everyone continues to process last week’s FUTURE, only adding to a five-year
canon streak that’s become exhausting. Contrary to the beliefs of if-they-only-picked-the-best-10-songs-on-Starboy-and-VIEWS truthers, it’s not the glut of product that’s Future’s problem. (Lil Wayne absolutely deserved for Blender to rank the 77 best songs he released in 2007.) Future’s problem is that, like his cohort Drake, he’s drunk on his own myth, and unlike Drake, his (intentionally) limited skill set doesn’t have any obvious backdoors to sneak out of for his career’s third act. Maybe he titled FUTURE as such because it’s a self-conscious dig at how it’s More of the Same ™, his most More of the Same ™ record yet (EVOL has shades of weirdness like “Xannie Family”, in retrospect). Or maybe it’s a pump-fake meant to serve as his Endless, and HNDRXX is going to be his Blonde, another deviously devised career about-face from the kind of guy so shrouded in purported enigma that even his haters worry they’re underrating him.
Or maybe Future’s as numb and unaware as his tunes increasingly come off. On the interestingly titled “Outta Time”, he asks, “Who knew I’d get this much attention?” and you wonder if releasing 11 fully-formed song cycles in five years truly was a survival tactic. No one can say he isn’t obsessive, though the outrageous poetry of flip-flop fucking and codeine pissing that immediately made itself known on DS2 has been reduced to literally scraping the crack-cooking cutlery on “Scrape”. It may be the dullest song about the drug-manufacturing process ever recorded, unless your mind’s blown by the reveal that putting the dope in Pampers makes it dry faster. “We ran outta sandwich bags, go get some more” — cinematic! Elsewhere his attempts to coin new catchphrase à la “Fuck Up Some Commas” threaten to turn him into Lil B, who would sound more playfully absurd and less hateful intoning “I’m so groovy/ I got power/ That’s your bitch?/ I just bought her.”
Right, misogyny is the elephant in the room with loads of enjoyable hip-hop, but in his joyless application of it, Future finds the rope to hang himself: “Grab on that pussy like Donald,” he mumbles in “High Demand”, inviting his core audience to reflect on what their idol won’t. Comparing one’s sexual exploits in 2017 to the most powerful rapist in the world firmly dates a man who’s been trapped in a holding pattern of pussy-grabbing and little enlightenment to show for it since “Pussy Overrated” was swept under the rug in the wake of his unexpected second wind. The same song compares his dancing diamonds to Chris Brown, another rich POS past his sell-by date. So what if “Might as Well” samples (very obscure) Arcade Fire, or the actually magnetic “Draco” temporarily saves the day thanks to DJ Spinz and not one of the usual enablers like Metro Boomin or Zaytoven? It’s only the final two tracks, “When I Was Broke” and “Feds Did a Sweep”, that encompass any of the narrative detail that (some of) his seedy exploits used to, thanks to the huge breath of fresh air that empathy lets in. Here’s hoping that HNDRXX brings the levity, that a leading grouch shifts more towards joker than thief. Because at this rate, the charisma-challenged chart-topper is going to get elected, and that’s no longer a good thing.
Essential Tracks: “Draco”, “When I Was Broke”, and “Feds Did a Sweep”