Future performs on the Purple Reign tour in Atlanta at the Tabernacle. This review is about his tour stop in Los Angeles. We realize that makes this kind of a misleading photo (sorry) but come on it's the same tour and look how cool he looks. Anyway, the credit for this photo is Getty Images shot by Prince Williams
Attending a Future concert is an intense experience, and if his Purple Reign tour is coming to your city I highly suggest you go see him. Last night the Atlanta rapper played a show in Los Angeles, at the Hollywood Palladium. It was sold out, a fact that Future made mention of several times throughout his set. He didn’t need to, though, because inside of the historic Sunset Boulevard theater, you could feel the sheer humanity all around you. As the crowd moved, their collective body heat raised the temperature of the room, and all that warmth made people sweat, which made things get humid, which made people perspire even more. The floor was sticky, with sweat, booze, and the type of tension that happens when you’ve got a bunch of physically uncomfortable people who are all really warm and kinda drunk together. It kind of smelled like grape Jolly Ranchers inside, but that might have just been my imagination. One of my friends nearly got into two separate fights, which was definitely not my imagination. The experience was a lot, but it was also probably the perfect environment to see Future in at this exact moment in time.
For the past couple of years, it’s felt like Future has been on a victory lap that’s never going to end. If you already know this stuff, feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs. But if you do not: Though his 2012 debut album Pluto was a classic in own woozy, idiosyncratic way and the mixtapes that preceded it helped lay the foundation for much of the sound of New Atlanta post-rap, Future’s sophomore album Honest felt like a step back. Despite containing several amazing tracks, it was largely seen as too pop by Future’s hardcore fans and too weird for pop fans, and seemed to deaden Future’s momentum just as he was getting started.
And so, Future retreated inward, putting whatever pop ambitions he had on hold and instead concentrating on appealing to his base: listeners who appreciated his rawness, his emotion, his songwriting skills, and his ability to craft anything into a hook. September 2014’s Monster, with its utterly strange “Radical” and the ode to slow, drug-assisted suicide “Codeine Crazy,” felt like a hard reset from the polished Honest. At the top of 2015, Future dropped Beast Mode, which was made in collaboration with the piano-favoring Zaytoven. It was loose, almost jazzy, and not quite like anything else out there at the time. A couple of months later the world encountered the paranoid, drug-fueled 56 Nights, inspired by the overseas incarceration of Esco, his DJ and close friend. His tapes caused his already robust fanbase to swell, earning them the nickname #FutureHive, and he capitalized through issuing three albums and one mixtape in less than a year. He finally joined the upper echelon of hip-hop, which he’d been threatening to gate-crash for years. Noisey even named him as one of the 2015 artists of the year.
As gestalt, Future’s recent output has offered listeners so much quality music in such a short amount of time that the run rivaled similar bursts by Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne. But while Wayne and Gucci achieved their status as superstars as a direct result of their mixtape output, Future had already been through the ringer of the major label system. Future is a master of songwriting in ways that peak Wayne and Gucci were not, less concerned with proving he’s clever and more interested in establishing mood and doing whatever he needs to so that mood might be sustained.
Perhaps reflecting the holy redemption of Future, his live set felt cathartic in a way. It was less a concert per se and more of a celebration of all things Future. He performed for the better part of an hour and a half, running through cuts from Monster, Beast Mode, 56 Nights, DS2, and (natch) Purple Reign, his mixtape from January which shares a title with his current tour. When he performed his Drake-featuring single “Where Ya At,” he let the crowd rap Drake’s parts for him, which worked out great seeing as Drake is basically hip-hop’s premier crowdsourcing initiative.
For most of his set Future was onstage alone, backed only by five gigantic screens, which alternating between showing purple seas, extremely literal interpretations of whatever song Future happened to be playing, and psychedelic images that resembled perpetually moving Pen & Pixel covers. There were cannons at the front of the stage that periodically shot off steam. Whenever those weren’t active, the lasers probably were. Future’s a nimble performer, working the stage with aplomb and keeping the energy high through a never-ending stream of dance moves, many of which looked tossed-off yet impossible to describe or replicate.
Halfway through the show, Future took a break only to be replaced by Esco, who has in the past few months become something of the unofficial head cheerleader of the #FutureHive. The lanky and rail-thin Esco, who also serves as the DJ of the legendary Atlanta strip club Magic City, took the opportunity to showcase his energetic and deeply strange dance moves, as well as taunt fans with T-shirts, asking, “Who’s Future’s number one fan? I gotta give this shirt away to the right person.” After a quick chant of “If Young Metro don’t trust you…” Future returned, this time with tour opener and Los Angeles rap staple Ty Dolla $ign in tow. The pair performed his hit “Blasé” before Ty launched himself into the audience, losing a shoe in the process and seemingly amusing Future to no end.
But Future is subtle and unpredictable, even at his most crowd-pleasing (and wearing both shoes, at that). He concluded his set by performing “March Madness,” whose chorus concerns police brutality, followed in quick succession by the title track from Purple Reign, closing with singing the line, “I just want my girlfriend.”
One of the reasons Future is such a compelling artist is because he belongs to his public in ways his contemporaries do not. Many of his most popular songs, such as “March Madness” and “Codeine Crazy,” were never formally released as singles, and instead gained renown simply through being fan favorites. He is often vague and downright cryptic in interviews, instead choosing to let his music speak for him, which has the side-effect of allowing the interpretation of his work—not to mention his personal life—be determined by his fans, rather than offering them easy answers via the press or social media. Perhaps he does these things because he is a member of the Dungeon Family, the most creative musical collective in all of rap history, and they know a thing or two about cultivating an air of mystery. If nothing else, the success of Future is a tangible connection to timeless artists such as OutKast and Goodie Mob, and a reminder that in hip-hop, creativity breeds creativity, even if no one’s looking.
Drew Millard can be found inside the mattress. Follow him on Twitter.