In April 2012, rapper Future released the single “Turn On the Lights,” an atmospheric, Mike-Will-Made-It produced love song. Throughout the track, we hear Future mumble over Mike-Will’s trademark 808 drums and synthetic blips about his quest for his dream girl, with lyrics like “Turn on the lights / I’m looking for her too / I heard she keep her promises and never turn on you.”
Future was first introduced to us as this guy – the guy who is looking for the one, the guy who is wailing about finding his loyal companion – but as his career progressed, we learned more and more about the man behind the Auto-tuned warbles.
Honest, Future’s sophomore album released in April 2014, was messy and scattered; his attempt to integrate drug-fueled anthems like “Move That Dope” with emotional ballads like “I Won” and “I’ll Be Yours” proved to be an unbridgeable gap. Following his breakup with Ciara in August 2014, Future strung together an unbelievable run of mixtapes, with Monster (October 2014), Beast Mode (January 2015), and 56 Nights (March 2015), capped off by two studio albums, DS2 (July 2015), and What a Time to Be Alive (September 2015), a collaboration with Drake.
Working with talented Atlanta producers such as Metro Boomin’, Zaytoven, and Southside, Future was finally able to find his sound, combining street grit with the emotions of his heartbreak. Lyrics like “take all my problems and drink out the bottle and fuck on a model, yeah” and “water drippin’ off me like a faucet” on “Codeine Crazy” encapsulate Future’s attempts to cope with his newfound sadness, telling tales of his reckless drug use. He’s still getting with models and drinking lean like he was on his earlier albums, but now there’s a sort of pain and frustration to his voice – he’s no longer gloating about his actions, but discussing them as a coping mechanism.
This stretch, from October 2014 to September 2015, is Future’s most successful time period, both critically and sales-wise. Singles “Fuck Up Some Commas,” “Where Ya At,” and “Jumpman” were all RIAA certified Platinum hits, cementing Future as a force in not only rap, but pop music as a whole. After releasing a less successful mixtape, Purple Reign, in January 2016, and an average album, EVOL, in February 2016 (featuring an outstanding, double-Platinum collaboration with The Weeknd titled “Low Life”), Future pretty much vanished, outside of a few guest verses and appearances on DJ Esco’s Project E.T.
Audiences had grown used to Future’s seemingly never-ending stream of quality mixtapes and albums; members of Reddit’s popular r/HipHopHeads subreddit started to conspire that Future had run out of magic, and that his sound had become so copied and overplayed that he could no longer create the new sounds he had once pioneered. On February 17, 2017, Future but those doubts to rest, releasing his eponymous album FUTURE. While FUTURE didn’t necessarily “change the game” sonically, it proved that Future still had a place in the conversation in current hip-hop and rap music. Highlights like ‘Zoom,’ ‘Mask Off,’ ‘I’m So Groovy,’ and ‘Might As Well’ show us that he still knows how to work those Auto-tuned mumbles like no one else. But this isn’t about FUTURE, the solid Future album, nor is it about any of the previous Future projects mentioned. This is all about the album that Future dropped a week later on February 24, 2017, titled HNDRXX.
HNDRXX completes Future’s career arc beautifully from where he started with ‘Turn On the Lights’; if he were to retire today, it would be his perfect last album. He walks the fine line between confidence and vulnerability throughout the project, allowing him to talk about relationships and drugs together – he’s still looking for that special someone from “Turn On the Lights,” but his experiences with depression on ‘Codeine Crazy’ have molded his expectations into something more realistic.
When Future sings “We can do exactly what you like baby / and it’s all on me / We can take Vicodin tonight baby / it’s all on me” on “Incredible,” a song with chords that sound like they could be straight out of a ‘80s pop hit in a coming-of-age John Hughes film, he tells us that he’s still doing drugs, but his tone is no longer bitter and gloomy; he’s learning to love again, even if it involves sharing a narcotic with his partner. He puts his heart on the line in the emotionally charged ballad “Use Me” – here, we hear him proclaiming how he wants his significant other to know that he’ll do anything for them, even if that means he has to call her ex-boyfriend or drive all the way to Chicago to scoop up her son from her baby daddy. These songs reflect Future’s selflessness, a theme that was nowhere to be found on most of his previous work. This selflessness is further showcased on the track ‘Neva Missa Lost,’ where Future sings about his experiences with the feeling of a partner becoming more and more distant.
On the standout track ‘Fresh Air,’ Future has his closest thing to a Beyoncé “Drunk In Love” moment, warbling over a tropical, trap-infused beat with lyrics like “See you touch your toes while you cookin’ breakfast / Pacific Ocean out your backyard, lookin’ sexy” – coincidentally, both songs were produced by Detail. His excellent interpolation of Jodeci’s “My Heart Belongs To You” on “Neva Missa Lost” takes us back to a time in the late ‘90s when declaring “whatever you want” was the norm in R&B music. The song additionally gives us one of the most classic Future lines of all time, when he raps “Take the jet so we can meet quicker / Her ass thick, but my syrup thicker.” Time and time again, he exemplifies his abilities to bridge women and drugs into sonically intriguing tracks that accurately reflect his current lifestyle.
Future’s maturation and development as an artist is on full display with HNDRXX; all that he’s been through and experienced since he first came onto the music scene in 2012 has grown him into the man that he’s become on his sixth studio album. Future has finally broken free from the sad, drug-laced haze that surrounded him since August of 2014 — he now craves new, more holistic experiences to further fortify his increasingly optimistic state of mind. Here’s to a Future who’s able to recognize his flaws and continue with his more positive messaging, while still staying true to his values and sense of self.