BY VIKASH DASS
All rap empires must come to an end. This truth might be that of a bitter pill to swallow for rap fans still clinging on to the spitting superheroes of yesterday, but it’s a cyclical motif that makes itself evident era by era. In 2016, Future not only finds himself at the top of the rap game, but he also finds himself at such a height where onlookers can’t help but clamour more frequently about his eventual demise. When will it no longer be cool to like Future? It might seem like a pessimistic view, but it’s truly just logical. Human nature and common sense work in tandem to tell us that when something blows up really fast, it runs the risk of expiring and evaporating from culture just as quickly.
In October of 2014, Future pivoted from verging on pop-stardom with a lukewarm debut and a failing relationship with beloved pop songstress Ciara to becoming a rap entity that embraced his flaws in both facets. If you had chose to write Future off based on his flat-footed, sing-songy debut, Honest, you now had to endure Future’s creative direction 180° in Monster, featuring obscure synth arrangements, deafening drum patterns, and monotonous, yet infectious hooks and verses from the same guy. Similarly, if you found yourself to be a critic of sorts re: Future’s personal life, you were gifted with Future not only using the savagery of his alleged infidelity as ammunition and inspiration in his raps, but you were also exposed to Future’s audacious move to emotionally mourn and retrospectively reflect in particular tracks about the same relationship he allegedly ruined. And, you had to admit you were moved by it.
Future went on to release poignant art and cultivate the entirety of hip-hop culture in 2015 with this groupie-fucking, lean-drinking, pill-popping savage image to the universe through a series of mixtape releases starting with the aforementioned Metro Boomin produced Monster, followed by the Zaytoven helmed Beast Mode and the DJ Esco tribute project of sorts, 56 Nights. Of course, Future’s year was punctuated by his stellar album release DS2, and then his victory lap with comrade and frequent collaborator Drake in What A Time To Be Alive. Once you really sit down and spell out all his releases and think about the impact each and every one of them have had, you realize that Future as launched himself on such a dominant run in releasing five projects all in the span of one year.
Not only does this effectively bend the supposed notion of over saturation in music and how too much quantity will only dilute your art, but it restored power to the random mixtape, and placed the final nail in the coffin to the traditional project-rollout. With such a dominant year now in the books for Future, the hardest part, of course, is remaining consistent. Future’s latest release and first offering of 2016, Purple Reign, does just that just by virtue of it being another batch of new Future music, but it fails to really offer any real ante-upping or innovation in the process.
However, with recent developments, the real issue at hand with Future’s music really has nothing to do specifically with his latest tape at all. Sitting down with the popular French video-interview channel Clique, Future explained to the host that the drug-abuse and lifestyle his entire career is based around is facetious and is really an act. As the interviewer prodded as to why he would rap about a lifestyle he doesn’t actually live, Future went on to explain, “Because I feel like that’s the number one thing everybody likes to talk about…It’s the number one seller.”
After watching this interview and pretending like this wasn’t a big deal, I honestly found that listening to Future’s sob-stories about falling down the wormholes of addiction and the pain that comes with it much less compelling. And how could I not? This is the same guy who was constantly chanting things like “Drownin’ in actavais, suicide” or “I’m an addict and I can’t even hide it”—bars that at one point were perceived as brave and transparent, but now are just convincing modes of applying this genius marketing scheme. In fact, Future’s breakout tape that thrusted him into being the supreme tastemaker in hip-hop was Monster, sporting incessant bars glorifying his drug-induced lifestyle and his absolute savagery. Yet, in the same interview with Clique, Future says the following: “When I did Monster, I was sober.”
So, in summary, not only is Future preying on the very real disease of addiction as inspiration for his ‘shtick’ and his entire marketing scheme, but he’s also admitted to this very fact, and is facing no repercussions or any dialogue at all from peers, gatekeepers, and most major publications.
This confirms a few things. One, it supports the very real truth that most music publications today carry themselves as a brand first before being a source of honest journalism. As Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) put it to Noisey writer Slava Patsuk regarding his infamous 1.6 rating from music giant Pitchfork, he said, “Pitchfork helped me a lot. There’s no way I can make something worse than that. It would be impossible. But I’m not worried about them because they’re a brand, and I didn’t fit their brand. If I worked for Pitchfork, I wouldn’t give myself a 9.0 either. They’re a brand; they sell tickets to a show they put on every year. They’re not going to give a 1.6 to someone who can be at their show and sell tickets.”
Of course, Pitchfork is also a publication that has reviewed 10 Future projects, and the lowest score they’ve given to a Future project is a 6.9 for his Streetz Calling mixtape released in 2011 (Side note: every Future project they’ve ever reviewed has gotten a higher score than Gambino’s magnum opus, Because the Internet. Hmm.) Sites that are constantly praising Future’s accomplishments and even embellishing his successes have now fallen completely silent following the revelation that Future’s music is based on lifestyle he does not live. Why? Because if they were to speak out, it would hurt their brand and their credibility. Why would they attempt to hold Future accountable if they’ve already established him as a huge part of their respective brands?
Complex, similarly, is constantly publishing pieces praising Future’s successes and specifically highlighting his incredible run in 2015. This piece in particular sees writer Justin Charity proclaiming Future as the best rapper alive, highlighting his raw vulnerability as Future’s greatest strength. But if Future’s narratives and stories told within his music are entirely fabricated, is that still being vulnerable? No. It’s the same thing as if Macklemore were to music about being this street dude or dealing drugs with incredible emotional contexts, and then admitting he doesn’t actually live that life at all. He’d get ripped apart for being disingenuous in seconds, not praised for being ‘vulnerable’ when he doesn’t actually live what he’s rapping.
Secondly, it poses a greater contradiction within the music industry about content and what is and isn’t “too far”. Tyler, The Creator has been banned from the United Kingdom and Australia as recently as last year, with the powers that be citing Tyler’s misogynistic and rape-glorifying lyrics he wrote six years ago when he was trying to be a creative 18-year old artist writing music from the perspective of psychopaths and serial killers. Tyler’s music of this nature did not incite or move his audience to participate or condone these acts in themselves, and Tyler hasn’t made music touching on these subjects in years.
Future, on the other hand, is very actively preying on and promoting a lifestyle that genuinely ruins lives and harms people, because, as he puts it himself, “It’s the number one seller”. Yet, when he steps out and says things like this acknowledging this hoax and this lifestyle that doesn’t really represent him, nobody in this culture wants to even bat an eyelash, let alone hold him accountable? Isn’t hip-hop supposed to be the realest and rawest genre of music? Since when did truth and honesty in music become irrelevant?
Of course, fabrication in music and especially hip-hop is not a new concept. But with the position Future holds within the culture right now, it’s hard to not be discouraged with this new context. Future’s music had always glorified drug use, but it was also always seen as safe under the circumstances that he was being real, and his transparency about his drug abuse is less of a glorification and more of just a reality. But it’s hard to be as invested in this character now that’s confirmed to be completely fictional. This is not a call to bring down all things Future. It’s simply a call to start a conversation that major music brands are apparently too cowardice to engage in. It’s easy for writers who sit behind their laptop screens to dismiss this or act like they’ve known this the whole time, but the truth is, they don’t brush shoulders with youth who are actually poisoning themselves and using Future’s music as inspiration and the bar for all things ‘lit’ or ‘cool’.
Not only are there mass amounts of Future fans who believe him, there’s also a large portion of youth who use his lyrics as social media captions and his songs as the soundtrack to their own lean-drinking and xan-poppin’ lifestyles, meaning that these same kids who used Future’s music as a medium to relate and aspire now have to comprehend that it’s all in the name of marketing. To bring it back to Future’s most recent output of music, his brand new mixtape Purple Reign is truly the first instance of Future treading water. Not only is it sonically monotonous, it’s thematically dry as ever with Future still pushing the same (and, fictional) character traits song after song after song. Sure, the music still slaps, but how long is that going to be enough?