Future - Honest
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Record Label: Freebandz
Future has previously offered some of the lowest hanging narrative fruit for journalists possible, crafting a discography-spanning reference to space exploration that has provided a convenient metaphor for any writer commenting on his experimentation within hip-hop; with his sophomore LP Honest, he largely pivots away from this narrative. While the space-narrative was effective, the real final frontier is not in the outer reaches of the Kuiper Belt, but somewhere in the oceanic depths. Future knows that he isn’t gasping for breath in a sterile environment above the atmosphere but is quite literally gargling incomprehensibly from beneath. When he does surface for air, he’s disruptive and buoyant, a spectacle for everyone in the vicinity.
The blown out depth charge of “Move That Dope” is the most immediate example of this, and the song makes a case for Future that his detractors will find it difficult to resist. It lacks his most incomprehensible warbles, as does most of Honest, and features exemplary verses from all three of it’s costars, but the ace up his sleeve remains his ability to boil down a hook into its addictive base. This has long been what gave his songs structure, a knack for turning a phrase or word into a mantra as either party-starting barn burner like it does on or as a source of solace in troubling times and thoughts. “Dope’s” insistent command is the former, while “Honest” is cut from the latter cloth while largely being hidden behind a club-ready facade. When he croons “these ****** getting shot for being honest,” it cuts away the “turn up” momentum that the title track has and shifts it into something less triumphant than desperate, a need to believe that Future is doing the right thing despite the dangers it presents. Hints of this come with the mournful piano and gentle croons that introduce the track, but the thumping bass and claims of “got the club on smash” belie Future’s intentions and the pillow-soft lasers that swirl around the beat.
On the Kanye-featuring “I Won,” Future’s hook is slurred to the point where it’s victory speech becomes a drunken confession of inadequacy; “I won me a trophy” subtly sounds like “I wanna be a trophy.” This is important, because the songs lyrics from both artists are bizarre, with Future snarls about pregnancy making Ciara’s ass fatter the strangest form of fatherly pride I’ve ever heard, and Kanye reducing Kim to her ass and the product of her mother. Ye’s questionable sexual proclivities were largely served and complemented by Yeezus’ harsh soundscape, but like “White Dress” before it, “I Won” raises the question of what degree of misogynist love we should excuse or accept on record.
In a mixed blessing for the listener, Future is largely uninterested in following this thread. It works for him and Ci, which is all that matters to him - as he told Pitchfork, “I ain’t teaching motherfuckers how to love.” Not everyone has to explore the sexual politics of their relationship or society at large. The song is subsumed into a larger whole, and Future is successful at preventing the lyrics from overwhelming and becoming distracting. The album is, on face value, yet another rap record about the artists success in overcoming the hobbling obstacles of the drug industry. Stale as the concept is, Future breathes life into it by twisting it into his own image and owning it fully, much as good kid, m.A.A.d city did with the West Coast gangsta rap genre. What’s interesting is that both Pluto and GKMC were released in 2012, and while we’ve yet to see the rise of hyper-lyrical rappers emulating Kendrick’s model to the top of the charts, we’ve already been bombarded with Future’s Atlanta compatriots trying to cut a slice of the auto-tuned emotional pie. Despite the sheer number of these imitators (and some of them are very good, like Rich Homie Quan and the weirdo-Atlanta cult figure Young Thug), Future’s voice remains his most distinctive calling card, but he enforces his dominance with his natural hooks and top-notch production.
When he mumbles derisively that “you ain’t even tryna be special…” he’s definitely not speaking to Thugga, but his belief in his own brilliance is bordering on reckless cockiness and the music is all the better for it. Without the narcissistic boldness, Future might have relied on auto-tune or Mike WiLL’s swampy club production too heavily. Instead, Honest brims with the confidence that comes alongside success, and Future makes inroads to the emotional crux of his songs that establish him as the most affecting rapper south of Drake. His voice is stripped back yet still beguilingly manipulated and alien; and Metro Boomin rises to the fore of the production team by bringing Atlanta trap right alongside crooning slow jam ambience. Future no longer shrouds himself in studio sleights of hand, but that doesn’t mean they were ever a trick or that he’s less affecting, it just means his voice is confident and his eyes are leering towards the top of the hierarchy.
His brashness is expressed early on in “Look Ahead” (“never forget who you are/turn yourself into a star”), much as Pluto demanded it’s own success on “You Deserve It.” The introduction is fierce and memorable, but the closing moments of the record are where the message is expounded most effectively. The run from “I Be U”s spaced-out balladry to closing “Blood, Sweat, Tears” insistence on Future’s own desperate mythos is astounding, a distillation of nearly every component of his aesthetic into it’s most raw, striking form. And of course, I would be remiss to ignore Andre 3000’s show-stealing appearance on “Benz Friends,” which sounds so casually impeccable that the quotables are literally the entire verse and makes the lack of a solo Three Stacks record palpably painful. Future is at his own best here as well imploring the female subject “Let’s have a heart to heart, drink wine, make art,” which sounds like something of akin to his mission statement. The song sounds designed to insure that Future is poised to ascend the ATLien throne left vacant by Outkast for over a decade, but he’s going to stumble on his way there. Thankfully those trips are few and negligible - “My Momma” is the only genuinely forgettable track on the record in part because of Wiz Khalifa’s bland appearance, and “Never Satisfied” reads as an incomplete sketch of something startling and enthralling.
Future is often derided by traditionalists for his departure from pretty much every convention held sacred. He’s incomprehensible at his “worst,” and when he’s understandable it’s not in service to densely packed verses. Honest does a significant amount to combat this perception, dispensing a number of well-crafted verses without his most mind-bending vocal ticks. The album that results is overflowing with the emotive scars Future earned on his trek to the top. The “dark marks all on [his] skin” mentioned on the eponymous track might literally refer to his numerous tattoos, but it’s equally easy to believe they came from the trials of the Atlanta streets before he found respite in the Dungeon.