Future Mil-Wakes Up Milwaukee
There comes a point during a Future concert—it might be one minute in, and it might be when it finishes an hour later—when it occurs to you that it will be difficult to adequately explain what you are seeing, and how awesome it feels to be seeing it, to someone who wasn’t there. Sure, you’ll be able to explain the bare-bones details—the set list, the people who were there, what Future was wearing—but attempting to describe what it feels like to see Future perform stuff like “Shit” and “Same Damn Time” and “Bugatti” live is a fool’s errand rife with cliché. It’s like trying to describe the importance of the moon landing to someone who doesn’t understand the concept of outer space, or a sunrise to a person who has never had eyes.
It was the kind of concert where every time a new song dropped, you looked at the people around you, and all of you smiled and started screaming along to every word. When Future came out to “Karate Chop,” a total stranger next to me and I spent the entire song jumping with our arms around each other. That guy disappeared into the ether of the crowd after the final brick had been chopped. I’m not sure he was even real.
If you spend any time on Twitter, or in the pit of despair known as “the Rap Internet,” you know Future’s at least the fourth most discussed rapper on Earth (behind Kanye, Drake, and Jay-Z, in that order). But of those four, he probably has the highest Internet approval rating; apart from naming his recent child Future you would be hard pressed to find any negative comments about him. You’d rightfully be #WellActually’d to death by his army of online fans if you step out of line w/r/t the majesty and redemptive powers of our one true lord and savior, Future H. Christ.
But how popular is Future in real life? Is he popular enough to get people in Middle America to pay to see him live? It’s the hard-to-answer question of Future’s sprawling, 45-date headlining Honest tour, which kicked off at the Rave in Milwaukee this weekend. If you asked those questions 2-3 years ago when Future had a stream of King of Atlanta singles stretching from “Racks” to “Turn on the Lights,” you’d say “immensely popular” and “probably.” But he spent the two years since pushing back Honest (originally titled Future Hendrix), giving away the best stuff on guest verses and mixtapes or releasing singles too far in advance of the album’s eventual release date, and being challenged for hearts and minds of the Rap Internet by Rich Homie Quan, Peewee Longway, and Young Thug. Because of all of this, Honest didn’t live up to the Eminem-Kanye-Jay-Z level of six-figure sales; it came in at number two on the charts (behind the Frozen monolith) and sold only slightly higher than Pluto did in its first week, back when Future was mostly known as the guy from “Racks.”
So the question remained: How popular is Future in real life?
It turned out, in Milwaukee at least, pretty popular. He easily sold out the 1500-capacity room of the Rave, drawing a properly turnt crowd that packed the venue’s balcony and standing areas. It was a diverse crowd of Internet hypebeasts—I saw at least two Comme Des Fuckdown shirts—bros with ill-defined personal brands—a guy in a well-pressed Big Bang Theory t-shirt rolling blunt after blunt—and, somewhat incredibly, at least one group of kids who looked to be no older than 14. It took only the crowd reaction for Future’s DJ arriving to realize these were Future’s people; they went as bananas for the DJ announcing he’d be playing “Racks” as pre-show turn up music as they did for Future coming out a few minutes later. This crowd may not have bought enough legal copies of Honest to make Future a commercial juggernaut, but they showed up to pay homage and turn up in his presence.
The major question pre-show among the converted was how much of Honest Future was going to do. The answer was most of it, as he did nearly three-fourths of the album, from the Pride Rock maximalism of “Look Ahead,” to the for-the-ladies slowjam “I Be U,” to the still flawless “Honest.” “Benz Friendz” and “Move That Dope” were presented in extremely truncated forms, but Future did part of Kanye’s verse on “I Won,” the only slight nod he made to the fact that he and Ciara, the subject of his verse on the song, had a baby 72 hours before the concert.
It was hard to ignore that tracks like “Same Damn Time,” “Chosen One,” and “Karate Chop” got the wildest crowd response and inspired the most epic rap hands. But the concert was entirely about selling Honest, a point made clear by the DJ set pre-Future’s arrival, which featured 90% of Future’s pre-2014 hits. “Turn on the Lights” was the great unspoken elephant in the room; Future didn’t perform it, and his DJ didn’t play it either. But I guess when you do all the slow jams from Honest, adding that one on top would be overkill.
As a live performer, Future is as magnetic as he is as an object for web obsession. He paced, he shouted, he jumped, and wore a shirt that was like a deconstruction of Houndstooth. He kept the stage talk to a bare minimum—he said Milwaukee “set the standard” for the tour, which, I’ll remind you, was the first stop—except for during the closer, “Blood, Sweat, Tears,” where he skipped the verses in service of pointing out people in the crowd and thanking them for coming. That last bit was clearly something he picked up from Drake on the Nothing Was the Same tour, but where Drake used that crowd work as part of his ever-running campaign to be the mayor of the Rap Internet, it felt like Future finally acknowledging the crowd’s overwhelming investment in everything Future.
Walking out of the Rave at the reasonable hour of 11 PM—live hip-hop is never on time, but the Future turns up early—everyone had a dazed, happy look on their faces. Part of that was probably the heavy weed smoke in the venue, but most of it was that Future delivered on every ounce of hype you could muster for his concert. You could tell it from the music blaring out of cars leaving the area, the ultimate critique of a rap show: I must have heard “Move That Dope” out of 30 cars in the four blocks I walked to my car. If you don’t do what you can to see Future on tour this year, your year is hardly worth living. I’m just being honest.
Andrew Winistorfer will never stop turning up. He's on Twitter — @thestorfer