Is Future's New Mixtape 'Purple Reign' Any Good?

Future looks back at the trail of spilled Actavis and Xanax residue he’s left in his wake during his ascent to the upper echelon of rap stardom and announces the next phase of his rise.

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Jan 23 2016, 2:46pm

The intro, “All Right,” immediately grabs your attention. For a moment, it’s not as aggressive as the beginning of Future’s projects usually are. And then that first bass line drops in 20 seconds into the song. It sounds like humans finally figuring out how to defeat SkyNet. And you know everything has been different so far for a reason: Future is in exactly the mental state the song’s title suggests.

After a run through the latter half of 2014 and all of 2015 that included the projects Monster, Beast Mode, 56 Nights, DS2, and What A Time To Be Alivethe last a joint release with one of his fans from Toronto—Future left people wondering and anticipating what might come next. He’d released more critically acclaimed albums in a year than some artists do in their entire careers, built a cult fan base into a mainstream one, and found himself being heaped with praise for his self-lacerating music and innovative run as the year drew to a close. So questions loomed: Would he be able to have another legendary year, maybe even exceed the past one? How would he meet the expectations of all these new fans who have become accustomed to brilliant albums every few months? Conversely, would he play into critiques that his music was losing its creative edge or falling short of the depth his fans saw in it? Hints of a Monster 2 or Ape Shit, the long-rumored collaboration with Mike WiLL Made-It, trickled out and added to the speculation.

Purple Reign, as it turns out, isn’t a huge leap forward in sound or a crossover move for his newfound fans. It’s a continuation of the strategy, if not the exact content, that made his mixtape trilogy so effective: Keeping his head down and solidifying a spot in the industry by not pandering to it. Purple Reign is just what its title—also the name of Future’s forthcoming tour—says: It’s Future looking back at the trail of spilled Actavis and Xanax residue he’s left in his wake during his ascent to the upper echelon of rap stardom, as well as announcing the next phase of his rise to dominance.

The brain trust that consists of Future, DJ Esco, and Metro Boomin elected to go with a more contemplative feel to the album, choosing more pensive sounds than the higher energy and more deliberate beats that have largely become his signature. It’s worth noting that these co-executive producers on the project have become key to not only the development of Future’s sound but also his evolution as an artist. Newcomers might not be as gripped by these songs—the storytelling is familiar, with reflections on his regrets but also appreciation of where everything has brought him—but longtime disciples will notice a subtle progression: The tone of voice is different. Future hasn’t sounded this at peace on an album in some time.

He still displays the anger, happiness, boisterousness, and vulnerability he has previously, but this time there’s another air to his words. It’s not quite happy, but it’s not sad either. It’s acknowledging there's always going to be bullshit in the world, and he’ll be the first to tell you so. But Future’s delivery suggests a certain amount of acceptance, and it signals to his audience that he's grown as a person alongside growing as an artist during this run.

In a lot of ways Purple Reign is a well arranged collection of B-sides. Some are B-sides in the familiar sense, as bonus material. Some function as responses to previously made songs. Some are Future looking back on what’s occurred in the post-Honest era of his career and giving commentary on where he’s come since then. Everything connects to previous works, providing more insight on what was said before. For instance, “Perkys Calling” works like a reflection on "Just Like Bruddas" where he discusses the lessons he’s learned since the events of the Beast Mode highlight, expressing remorse that he wasn’t able to bring all his family and friends along with him in his rise to success. “Purple Reign” continues Future’s excellent record of outro songs that recap the tape’s perspective, providing a sort of revision to “Codeine Crazy.” Despite the celebratory tone, it’s all overshadowed by the sound in his voice. Goddamn can you feel what he’s saying: that there’s some sadness in all of this. Even though he’s achieved all these things he's dreamed of, there are still things he wishes he didn’t have to do to get here. Other tracks correspond to earlier songs, too, but I’ll let you piece those associations together yourself.


Image by Alex Cook

As for if it’s good or not? I think it is. Not only is it one of his most consistent releases across the board thus far, it’s one of the most emotive displays he’s ever given. Outside of that, it’s Future trying new sounds and pulling them off with the same comfort he's always shown. His regular collaborators all show up and push themselves: Southside appears with his intensely rapture-esqe productions; early Future producers DJ Spinz, Zaytoven, and Nard & B (his most underrated partners in the recent run) continue to not adapt to the evolutions in Future’s sound and push it further (also holy damn at “Inside the Mattress”—that song sounds like what flying must feel like); Metro Boomin continues to offer the supernatural sonic complement that has made him the most sought-after producer in rap.

And Future, an artist known for letting it all out on track and hitting you at your deepest, somehow found another means by which to connect you to what he’s going through and remind you that you’re not alone in this fucked up hellscape we call Earth. (And this is through an album that may be a collection of B-sides. Yeah.) Future doesn’t make turn up music, he makes turn up in spite of music. Purple Reign is one of the best displays of that. You’re having fun in the moment and cherishing it for all that it is because you know how bad it can be outside of it.

But as my colleague Meaghan Garvey once said, “never trust anyone's first-take Future impressions. not even your own.” This is going to be one of those albums people yell at each other back and forth about for months. Just remember during your support or protests, Future’s albums aren’t just albums; they’re period pieces. Each project is a documentation of where he is in life and what he’s going through. You might love it, you might hate it, or more than likely have an opinion about it somewhere between those extremes. But least we can all agree that there’s something worth talking about going on here. And in a way, that’s what Future’s music is all about. Bringing us all together.

Trey Smith waited this long to review Purple Reign because you just need that much time with Future albums. Follow him on Twitter.

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