Let's start by stating the obvious: "I Serve the Base" is so crazy that the path of destruction soon to be left in its wake probably means that there won't be an Internet for you to read this on. "Rich $ex" is so luxurious that the country is about to go into a champagne drought. Playing it will instantly double the thread count on your sheets. Anyone who has ever enjoyed turning up to Future—which is anyone who has ever heard Future—will find something to appreciate on his new album, DS2. And whether you're a recent convert to the faith of Future the Redeemer or a longtime member of the Real fans for the Advancement of Codeine and Kilos in Song (R.A.C.K.S.) the release of DS2 feels like a celebration, a joint accomplishment, an opportunity for hearty back patting all around in recognition of ushering in this moment. It doesn't feel like a coincidence that this week we successfully sent a probe past Pluto for the first time: All of us, whether we have Facebook friends who work for NASA or not, are embracing our collective Astronaut Status.
So yeah, it's good. It sounds incredible. It is an undeniable victory lap for Future, the cap to an incredible run of three mixtapes and the hit singles they organically spawned—a period so fertile that songs like “March Madness,” which, with millions of views on YouTube, would be a defining hit of any other artist's career, haven't even warranted a commercial release and will probably end up as footnotes in Future's career as a result. It's also a victory lap for Atlanta's new class of superstar producers—Southside, Sonny Digital, and above all Album Producer Metro Boomin—who have soundtracked not only Future's prodigious career and recent prolific run but have also defined the entire sound of hip-hop's bleeding edge for the last few years. If anyone is still unconvinced, DS2 should cement their deserved status in history among the genre's iconic producers. That might ultimately be this album's most important legacy: It offers a cohesive commercial product that captures Atlanta's lush current sound, and, whether it fulfills everyone's expectations or not, it's an undeniably definitive work that happens to come at Future's creative and commercial peak. Pluto notwithstanding, it's almost certainly the most important proper album to come out of Atlanta since Flockaveli.
DS2 has been positioned, along with the three mixtapes preceding it, as a return to form, a reintroduction to Future as the street artist who made tapes like the original Dirty Sprite. It certainly never feels like anything less than exactly what Future wanted to make: While pretty much every song on it has a decent shot at being a hit on rap radio (good luck to the rest of Atlanta getting on Hot 107.9 this summer), there's nothing remotely verging on pop crossover. But, with all due respect to Future's pre-Pluto output, the current phase of Future isn't so much a return to form as an elevation of form. Future has never sounded so good.
His beats are lusher and more substantial than ever—once again, thanks to Metro Beethoven, Sonny Debussy, et. al.—and he raps over them with more agility and musicality than ever. The grand melodic forays of Pluto and Honest and Future's pop songwriting phase have, whether fans appreciate them or not (I happen to, immensely), undeniably sculpted him into a smoother performer. The way he's rapping, voice dripping in Auto-Tune, on “Codeine Crazy,” off of last year's Monster, for instance, is so fast and sophisticated and in tune with the sound of Atlanta and innovative that it's arresting. It's clearer than ever that he's in a rare echelon of comfort with the tracks he's on (note how effortlessly he synced up with his musical forebear Andre 3000 on last year's “Benz Friendz” if you're looking for a point of reference). He makes Drake look awkward by comparison on “Where Ya At,” and, all things considered, it's not a bad Drake verse. On songs like “Blow a Bag” he seems to glide over the track like it's been slathered in butter. As good as they are, past classics like “Itchin'” and “Same Damn Time” sound like nursery rhymes compared to the operatic fluidity of present day Future. In retrospect DS2's level of accomplishment seems inevitable, like Future poured up a six-mixtape run, mixed it with the spritely melodies and emotional depth of his previous albums, and ended up with two hard drives stuffed (DJ Esco's, which we learn on bonus track "Kno the Meaning" ended up confiscated in Dubai prison, and Zaytoven's, which held Beast Mode) of particularly rich music
On “I Serve the Base” Future raps “tried to make me a pop star and they made me a monster,” and that serves as the album's ultimate explainer, along with the line on “Kno the Meaning” where he says “the best thing I ever did was fall out of love.” Future has never been quite so close to the edge of total emotional collapse in his music as in the past few months, nor has he balanced that anguish with the triumph of turning up quite so deftly. And that version of Future is fascinating: The pain that was palpable in songs like “Permanent Scar,” of Future grappling with his circumstances, has been turned inward, to Future grappling with himself. It's yielded the torment of songs like “Codeine Crazy” and “Throw Away” and “Just Like Bruddas,” where Future is a raw, open wound, teetering on the edge of total self-destruction. It's yielded lines that disarm and devastate—“I'm an addict and I can't even hide it,” “my love don't mean that much to you,” etc.—and found Future full of self-loathing, drowning in drugs rather than celebrating them, discussing sex as a hedonistic escape rather than a point of pride or an expression of love.
There are doubtless people who cringe at the bold-faced misogyny of songs like "Throw Away"'and DS2's "Groupies," who find lines like “we don't take them on dates we just fuck 'em” distasteful. But Future's gift, the thing that puts him far beyond the vast majority of his contemporaries, is that he is emotionally honest to a fault, even when it's distasteful. Unlike Drake or J. Cole, who purport to offer vulnerability but always do so with a sort of posturing, self-aware attitude that expects to be rewarded for it, Future seems to do so out of a spiritual imperative. And so when his voice bubbles up demonically on “Groupies” or when he peevishly brags about fucking a girl in a pair of Gucci flip flops on “Thought It Was a Drought,” it feels far more relatable than Drake complaining about girls asking him for his wi-fi password. Who hasn't, in a phase of feeling wounded, wanted to indulge their most sinister impulses? Who, irrespective of gender, hasn't imagined the rush of power that comes from acting with utter dismissiveness? Future takes ugly, human shit and wrestles with it until he finds catharsis. His producers make it sound transcendent. Rarely has something so dark sounded so beautiful. Listening to Future over the past few months has felt a little like being in a secret club of people who realized this. (The chief reason for recent backlash against new fans is above all, I suspect, a reaction to the idea that Future is suddenly worth caring about because of the hype, a stance that ignores the reasons for the hype in the first place.) Songs like “Throw Away” don't necessarily reveal their profundity until they line up exactly with the type of catharsis the listener is looking for.
I'm not sure that's as true for many of the songs on DS2, which are more straightforwardly hard tracks on the whole than any of the mixtapes that preceded DS2. There's far less of a sense of Future collapsing in on himself than there is on say, 56 Nights' “Purple Comin' In.” If there is a critique to be made of DS2, it's that it verges at times on being an over correction, as if Future was so focused on catering to his base that he misread his appeal as a masterful communicator of human emotion. Even though it has its arresting moments of pained revelation, particularly on “Blow A Bag,” which lists out Future's dead friends who would be proud of him, and on “Kno the Meaning,” which dives into the pain of being separated from his best friend DJ Esco, it's for the most part more explicitly narrow in its focus. A return to street Future might be appealing to a large set of fans, but it also might be a letdown to people who love Pluto and Honest because those projects offered a picture of Future as a rapper with a uniquely sincere—even corny—emotional side. Future's starry-eyed collaborator Mike Will Made It, the architect of songs like “Turn on the Lights” and “Real and True,” is notably absent. As much as the narrative of recent Future has encouraged the casting aside of that period, it's reductive and wrong to suggest that it didn't yield some great art. Although DS2 is still concerned with grappling with the emotional challenge of navigating a breakup (publicly no less) and being a father as a touring artist and trying to reconcile being a pop star with an identity tied to the streets, and it does so deftly, it is often less empathetic than Future has been in the past. It's Future coming out of his wounded shell and striking out with lacerating self-assurance.
Yet as a triumphant street rap album, it is nearly flawless. It will be a document of its era of Atlanta rap, one marked by pained Auto-Tune and lush, original production. And people will find what they want from it, whether that is making memes (the line “I bought all the sodas at the gas station” seems like a promising start there) or finding inspiration a la “Blood, Sweat, Tears” (I recommend “Blow a Bag” and “Blood on the Money”) or turning up to an embarrassing degree (See: “I Serve the Base, “Stick Talk,” “Freak Hoe”) or luxuriating in Future's ability to make music that just sounds satisfyingly beautiful (“Rich $ex” and “Colossal” are good starting points). DS2 is an album caught in an almost impossible spiral of hype as everyone rushes to prove what a huge Future fan they are, lest they miss his moment. It doesn't necessarily surpass the hype—that is, there's little about it that's surprising—but it meets it head on, which is success enough. Future came through with the statement he needed to make, and he will be remembered kindly for it wherever he goes next. He's proven beyond a doubt he deserves a place in the canon, probably as the most sonically progressive artist as his generation. At one point he raps, “The music way ahead of its time and I know that they notice this.” The last five to six months have been crazy. The latest entry into Future's unassailable catalog is crazy. Yeah, we do notice it. The old rules of rap don't apply anymore, and Future is boldly at the front, living up to his name.
Kyle Kramer is celebrating like the championship. Follow him on Twitter.