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Last month, Kanye West tried it. The eventful fivefold flurry of G.O.O.D. Music mini-albums produced by the MAGA Hatter himself sought to make hip-hop history at a time when advances in digital distribution have disrupted the old models that still largely existed at the start of his career. While that stunt assuredly added to his notoriety as well as his coffers, the mixed reception from both critics and the general public as to the quality of this hastily dropped material from Kid Cudi, Teyana Taylor, and others undermined the endeavor’s relevance.
When it comes to pacing projects of high caliber, Future knows a little something about a successful run. Few rappers, if any, have accomplished what he did in the roughly five month period that produced the mixtape trio of Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights. The first of these arrived in October of 2014, its darkness and frankness practically an allergic reaction to the feature-laden pop tones of Honest from earlier that year. Executive produced by Metro Boomin, the engaging and often shockingly candid Monster not only reenergized Nayvadius Wilburn’s forgiving base but rather drew fresh blood into his fandom.Yet it was the following January’s Zaytoven-helmed Beast Mode that truly heralded Future’s career comeback and ultimate rise to new heights. Recorded over an intensively productive handful of days together, the project put two of Atlanta’s trap natives together for an artful, memorable song cycle that vacillated between self-indulgent hedonism and self-deprecating despair—often on the same damn track. Zaytoven’s piano-focused productions lent greater gravity to the rapper’s oversharing, especially in the wake of his tabloid-amplified split with R&B singer Ciara.Like most consumers of summer blockbusters, rap listeners love themselves a sequel. The pair’s long-awaited yet unexpected return, Beast Mode 2 dropped with little warning. Coming a mere week after his What A Time To Be Alive collaborator Drake got way into his feelings for the virtual double-album hard drive dump Scorpion, Future’s deliberately restrained and curated nine-song return reminds us how much better he is at treating the studio’s vocal booth as a confessional. Out of the gate, he unapologetically addresses the latest gossip surrounding him with opener “WiFi Lit” swiftly acknowledging the story told by a woman he flew to Los Angeles for what proved a cancelled tryst. And just as quickly, he moves on to familiar boasts of luxury goods and luxe lifestyles as per the status quo in contemporary hip-hop.
Apologies to DJ Khaled, nobody suffers from success quite like Nayvadius. Unlike the scores of rappers who build entire mixtapes around their sexual conquests and masculine prowess, Future has turned his fame-powered pursuit of carnal pleasure into something drably utilitarian and functional, as evidenced by the dry reveal on the otherwise lurid “31 Days.” He describes scheduling multiple back ups to his hook ups, crassly contingency planning while scarcely remembering any particular lady’s particulars. On one level, “Some More” serves as yet another entry into the stagnating canon of men distrusting women with its coarse narrative of apparent unfaithfulness escalating to concerns of outright snitching. On another, it highlights his guardedness against the prospect of finding love again, a condition likely not helped by all the lean perpetually processed by his overworked kidneys. So rather than stick with someone who’ll hold him down and look out for him, Future lines up meaningless escapades and reliable dalliances, which inadvertently compounds his woes as well as his addictions.Though it doesn’t quite top its namesake, what sets the exemplary Beast Mode 2 apart from its predecessor is the added context of the SoundCloud rap boom that came after the first volume, a revolution that exposes just how much of an impact the elder has had on the next generation of artist. A godfather to emo rap if not directly its genetic patriarch, Future embodies the path that these pill-popping nihilistic youngins have ahead of them. Self-medication tragically did in Lil Peep, and in the similarly monikered Lil Pump’s latest single “Drug Addicts” there’s a jarring parallel to to that narcotized way of life. Lil Xan now denounces the particular pill he’s named for, but the repercussions of his past use continue to plague his well-being, if his troubling social media presence is any indication.Several years deeper into the disconcerting blur between recreational and habitual drug consumption than the face-tattooed teens currently blowing up streaming platforms, Future makes for an unintended cautionary tale. He’s gone from rags to riches, as he recalls on “Racks Blue,” and remains deeply affected by the trauma of poverty and the weight of breaking free of it. Amid all the talk of Pateks and Porsches, he once again lays bare the flipside of trapping, contemplating the tragedy of accumulating wealth that comes at the expense of your neighbors and loved ones.There’s no greater nor graver indication of the dark place in which Future currently resides than on “Hate The Real Me,” an unvarnished self-assessment that takes stock of his present state. In the hands of one of these SoundCloud kids, the mantra-like chorus I’m tryna get as high as I can would likely sound aspirational, a veritable turn up anthem destined for the Hot 100. But here, it’s a jarring admission of desperation in a cloud of dark thoughts. He conflates gun talk with depressive distress, deflecting with tropes about exotic women and focusing on his paper. With that Zaytoven signature sound immersing his voice, Future sings a torch song for his tortured soul, shining a light on his drug dependence while lamenting an unnamed lost love. One could speculate that he’s referring to Ciara, but no matter who he’s referencing here there’s no escaping the gut-wrenching loathing he has for himself over how things went down.What’s truly disturbing about Beast Mode 2 is how little things seem to have changed in the three and a half years since the original dropped, both for the artist thematically as well as personally. The success of that mixtape and the two that bookended it received such a rapturous reception that now people treat just about anything Future-related (except, for some reason, that recent Superfly movie reboot and its soundtrack) as eventworthy. He’s reached greatness at great expense to his well being, with critics and fans both applauding him for the sacrifice while demanding more and more pounds of his flesh. As Zaytoven hints that this commercial release heralds the coming of another robust Future run, that prolific promise boding well for listeners but perhaps not so much for the artist spiralling down and bleeding out for our collective enjoyment.