Things have changed since “Racks.”
A year after his first major mixtape 1000 was released, the world was more formally introduced to Future through his feature spot on YC’s breakout (and really only notable) single and his stock immediately began to skyrocket. After learning how to make music from his Dungeon Family cousin Rico Wade, selling drugs to get by, surviving a shot in the hand, and doing a stint in rap group Da Connect, the artist formerly known as Meathead was not just ready to make a name for himself in a difficult genre and a competitive city, but take over the world. In the process of total domination, he created a sound and style, combining rockstar and intergalactic aesthetics with a hybrid of street rap and emo songwriting traits that would go on to change the musical landscape and pave the way for the likes of Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Desiigner, Gunna, Trippie Redd and a host of other descendants and copycats.
Future rose through the mixtape circuit creating club anthems, tales about his battles with his inner demons, and songs that cover some of both. Nine years into his career he’s now one of the most bankable mainstream artists in the world with sellout tours, five number 1 albums, and numerous platinum certifications under his belt. It wasn’t always an easy journey for the man born Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn. After the initial mixtape/street album era of his career he began to dabble in more pop-leaning sounds on his first studio albums Pluto and Honest. Although those records helped raise his profile, the products he released were not up to the standard that many of his fans had grown accustomed to.
Songs like “Turn On the Lights” and “Trophy” while good, were appeals to the mainstream. This era of his music saw him noticeably deviate from the content that propelled him into fame and was weighed down by unnecessary guest appearances, a common complaint about many of the tracks on those projects. He publicly fell in (and out of) love with Ciara, with whom has a child. Their relationship was the impetus for the (at the time) disappointing Honest, and after they broke up their situation became gossip column fodder and put Future in a negative light with much of the public. Instead of letting these failures affect his career, Future coped with these losses by going on a mixtape run that few but Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane can rival, producing an unimpeachable trilogy of albums exploring pain, darkness, and perseverance drawn from real life experiences that you could not only relate to, but party hard as hell to as well.
We’re currently living in an period where Future is both one of the elders and most progressive artists in rap today. Most impressively though, he took his brand of honesty, relentlessness, and excess and made it the blueprint for countless rappers after him. He didn’t invent it, but he’s furthered the tradition of auto-tuned trap confessionals more than any of his contemporaries to the point that this style is ubiquitous in today’s rap landscape. His background, along with his tormented aura and his habit of keeping most of his personal life private, are primarily responsible for the near-folk hero status he enjoys. He’s been referred to as “Beyonce for dudes” and it makes sense. He’s on a creative level that few will ever reach, and he has an energy about him that reflects that. But he’s also gone through the same types of hardships we all experience, like the death of a loved one, heartbreak, and the inability to let go of the things that make us happy, no matter how bad for us they are. Future is both above us and right there with us at the same time.
A man with as many alter egos as he has is hard to pin down. There’s Future Hendrix, the rock star and there’s Super Future, the workhorse who releases hit after hit in an almost mythical fashion. There’s also the Wizard, Fire Marshal, and Caesar Lee. It can be hard to determine which one(s) are present on a song at any given time, but they are all unmistakably Future.
While he’s been featured on hundred of songs and collaborated on projects with some of the world’s most popular artists, it’s his solo performances where all his most impressive qualities shine the brightest. With his latest studio project The WIZRD being released, now is a great time to look back at this almost decade-long career to remember how far along he’s come, and to get an idea of what kind of growth and evolution we can expect as his career moves on into the, uh, future. (sorry)
So You Want to Get Into: King of the Club Future
It makes sense to start where Future started.
There’s a saying in rap that strippers are the best A&Rs. In Atlanta especially, and Magic City specifically as outlined in this GQ documentary, you have to have the cosigns of the women who are the entire reason people show up to the club if you’re going to make it big. And Future knows exactly how to gain their approval.
You’ve definitely heard his bigger hits. “Wala (Magic),” which name drops the aforementioned legendary Atlanta landmark, the energetic “Fuck Up Some Commas,” “Mask Off” aka everyone’s favorite song involving a flute, to name a few. But deeper in his catalogue lie some deep cut bangers that would still chart on the radio if they were released today. 2011’s Streetz Callin’s “Gone to the Moon” is the kind of song that’s perfect for yelling along to during last call at whatever bar you frequent on Saturdays. “Jordan/Diddy” off 2012’s Astronaut Status will have you feeling like you’re also Michael Jordan in every city. Part of being a Future fan is coming back to these songs years later and realizing, “Goddamn, this one still slaps.”
Even though the quality of production and songwriting has increased since the beginning of his career, Future still manages to stay true to what has made his party music as fun as the first time you heard it. He still makes you want to stand on tables, put a questionable amount of questionable substances in your body, and throw the $10 in ones you have in your pocket and pretend like it’s $10,000. As Drake demonstrated with "Back to Back" during his beef with Meek, the best way to get the public on your side is to give them something to party to, and there are few in music who are as good as Future at doing that.
Playlist: “Maison Margiela” / “Fly Shit Only” / “Mask Off” / “RITE” / “Karate Chop” / “Rockstar ft Nicki Minaj” / “All I Want Is Some Money” / “Racks” / “Tony Montana” / “Freak Hoe” / “Wala (Magic)” / “Coupe” / “How It Was” / “Real Sisters” / “Jordan/Diddy” / “Gone To The Moon”
So You Want to Get Into: Romantic Future
We all know about Future and Ciara. We’ll never forget his cameo in “Body Party" and its remix, both on the track as well as in the video. And it’s no secret that their relationship is largely responsible for the lovey dovey songs on Honest. She even appears in the music video for the single by the same name. While the main talking point there is how the loss of that relationship was the impetus for his revival, it also showed that underneath the tough street dude exterior lay a romantic. While his music often incites your most reckless and emotionally immature behavior, Future also has the capacity to make you want to call that person you can’t stop thinking about and bare your feelings.
The man who appears on these songs surrendering himself fully to the will of the one he desires is in many ways a contradiction to Future’s public persona. Notorious for jumping from one woman to the next, it’s somewhat surprising to hear him spend entire songs (“Use Me” and “Good Look,” for example) dedicated to the only one he could ever truly love. But as Future told Zane Lowe in 2017 ahead of the releases of FUTURE and HNDRXX when asked why he was releasing two drastically different albums—one a trap tour de force and the other a forward-pushing R&B experiment—so close to each other, “Some days you feel different.”
As much fun as partying every night, taking a bunch of drugs, and having sex with a bunch of people you just met half an hour ago can be, what we all really want at the end of the day is that special someone to come home to who makes everything better just by being around. Future understands that. A man with this many alter egos knows that humans contain multitudes, and this section of his discography is just another exhibition of that fact.
Playlist: “Good Morning” / “Turn On the Lights” / “Rider” / “Good Look” / “Rich Sex” / “Use Me” / “I Be U” / “Throw Away” / “Selfish ft Rihanna” / “I’ll Be Yours” / “Neva End” / “No Matter What” / “Lie to Me”/ “My Ho 2” / “Feeling I Get” / “Like Ohh”
So You Want to Get Into: Motivational Future
A few years back I wasn’t having a lot of luck in the job market and was working at a coffee shop while trying to figure out my next move. Being a barista means that a big part of your job is dealing with people who haven’t had their coffee yet, and I promise you it’s a lot more miserable than I can possibly convey. On one particularly bad day after I got in trouble because of my less than pleasant dealings with a customer who was mad at me because they felt the bananas on offer weren’t ripe enough, I was on a smoke break continuing my first listening of F.B.G.: The Movie, the Gangsta Grillz x Freebandz compilation tape. Halfway through the project I got to Future and Rocko’s “Chosen One” and something clicked inside me. What exactly, I’m still not sure, but at that moment I knew I had to change something and when I got off work I went home and started filling out grad school applications. I’m being deadass. That drive-inducing aspect of Future’s music is part of the reason I’m in a much better situation today.
Future’s aptitude for creating music to party and/or cry to often overshadows one of this other fortes: making music to motivate you. Trap music has always served this function to some extent, and Future is an expert at continuing the tradition. Just listen to the likes of “T-Shirt,” “Colossal,” or “Wolf” with their stories of rising to the top despite the insurmountable odds in front of our hero. It makes sense that he would be such a natural at telling these kinds of stories. The man climbed to the top of an oversaturated Atlanta market when some of its biggest rising stars as well as long time legends were beginning to find mainstream appeal.
Convinced that many of his peers were trying to ride his wave without offering the respect he deserved, he kept evolving and getting better on every mixtape, proving that using Future’s formula and being Future are two very different things. An early rivalry with Drake could have shut a number of doors, yet he managed to turn his could-be nemesis into a successful business partner. A court battle with his former label boss and mentor Rocko could have been a stumbling block, but it did not throw Future off, and in the aftermath released two of 2017s best projects.
Shit, his touring DJ and producer DJ Esco got locked up in a foreign prison in 2014 and the police confiscated the hard drives containing the music he and Future were working on. Instead of quitting or letting the situation ruin their momentum, they made 56 Nights, a mixtape themed around the time served and arguably one of Future’s best projects ever. No matter the adversity, he’s cleared hurdles that would have spelled the end for many of his peers’ careers. For Future there is no there is no challenge too great, no mountain too high.
His motivational tracks come in all different forms. There are songs like “Championship Music” from True Story and “Inside the Mattress” on Purple Reign, which finds Future on slower beats implementing different flows in his explanations of why he’ll choose to stop the pursuit of what he deserves. On the other end of the spectrum, you have more intense tracks like “T-Shirt” and “Rent Money” with their harder drums and higher intensity atmospheres which sounds like Future is sure of his success. The one thing that all these tracks have in common, regardless of their BPMs or specific subject matter, is that losing is for losers, and neither Future, nor you, has to be one unless you want to. Whether you work in a corporate office, a street corner, a sports stadium, or wherever, Future has a song that will motivate you to be the best at what you do.
Oh by the way, I got into a graduate program and got my master’s degree. Listened to “Blood, Sweat, Tears” on the ride to the commencement ceremony.
Playlist: “No Compadre” / “Stick Talk” / “When I Think About It” / “Colossal” / “Jersey” / “Rent Money” / “Inside The Mattress” / “Championship Music” / “Lil Haiti Baby” / ”T-Shirt” / “Wolf” / “Chek” / “Break The Rules” / “Forever Eva” / “Chosen One” / “Blood, Sweat, Tears”
So You Want to Get Into: Introspective Future
This is the Future that most of his fans will point to to give you a true sense of what makes his music so special. As many beautiful love ballads and invigorating club anthems he’s made, it’s the songs when he looks inside himself and grapples with the demons killing him from the inside that make him stand out from his peers. Think about it this way: Dude has an album named Honest, and since its release he’s continuously made projects even more honest than that one.
Future isn’t the first person to take raw, emotional confessions of pain and juxtapose those against hedonistic tales of partying and drug use against trap beats. Artists like Z-Ro, Pimp C, and Boosie Badazz are just a handful of artists who can be counted as Future’s forebears in this regard. But what sets Future apart is not just the sheer number of songs he’s made in this vein, it’s the way he’s consistently made these songs appropriate in a variety of environments with such a wide sonic range to them. It’s been an extraordinary thing to witness. You can have fun to them, you can sit quietly on your own life with them, and everything in between. And no matter how many times you’ve heard them, they still find a way to tug at your heartstrings on every listen. You wouldn’t be wrong it you considered these songs full of reflection and remorse to be their own subgenre within his discography.
One of the best examples of this is 2012’s “Deeper Than the Ocean” which sees Future lamenting the problems that come with his newfound fame and trying to balance being true to his old life while acclimating to his new circumstances:
Takin' three drugs at one time, duckin' one time
Can you niggas stop hating on Future for one time?
I commit a million crimes
That ain't enough for you
I'm a sell a million rhymes
All that shit I been through
On songs like Beast Mode 2’s “Hate the Real Me” you can find Future coming to grips with drug addiction that he was just celebrating on the album’s previous tracks. ("Pouring up in public, damn, I hate the real me / My mama stressing out, she say these drugs got me") And then there’s “Codeine Crazy,” a song that though it has had thousands of words from essays to tweets written about it, continues to hold the esteemed position it does in his discography four years after its release for a reason. As former Noisey staffer Kyle Kramer noted about “Codeine Crazy” in 2015, “Never had Future, a guy who a year prior had been riding off a hit literally called “Honest,” come across as so honest and vulnerable.”
What’s so striking about Future’s expressions of pain and remorse is how open and raw he’s willing to be when sharing them. The imagery of a man in an eternal battle for his soul, combined with his application of autotune and usage of the right cadences and flows to convey his emotions, have led to some of the most haunting and contemplative songs of the century so far. These songs are captivating because Future isn’t scared to do the kind of self analysis that so many of us would be terrified to do in our own heads, much less for an audience of millions.
In a recent interview with The Fader, Future has said that he wants to make some constructive changes in his life and start carrying himself like more of a role model:
I wanna speak for men that done went through something but also felt like they wasn't gon' become the person that they are. And they listened to Future, and they became a better person. It didn't make them feel like the wrong things they was doing was good. Like I make all your wrongs great. I make all your wrongs right. I don't wanna make your wrongs right anymore. I wanna shed light on the right. I just wanna be that voice how her voice is to reach out and be looked at someone as more of a positive light and someone that's like a innovator or as empowering women. I wanna empower men with that same power but also in the right way.
Change is always scary. There’s always the chance that he could make the same mistakes as he did before his last transition in 2014. But this isn’t the same Future that released Honest. This is a wiser, more experienced person with a better grasp on his art as well as the world.
Playlist: “Slave Master” / “Deeper Than The Ocean” / “News or Somethn” / “56 Nights” / “Hate The Real Me” / “Codeine Crazy” / “Red Light” / “Kno The Meaning” / “Perkys Calling” / Sorry” / “Feds Did A Sweep” / “Hardly” / “Purple Reign” / “If You Knew What It Took” / “4 My People” / “Might As Well”