This week, Atlanta rapper Future, born Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, became the fastest hip-hop artist in history to have three No. 1 albums after his latest offering, “EVOL,” debuted at the top of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. To put that in perspective, the last time an artist has had three chart-topping projects so quickly was Herb Alpert in 1966. Future has been one of music’s most prolific artists over the past year, releasing three mixtapes and three albums since January 2015.
This accomplishment, achieved in less than seven months, runs counter to the prevailing logic about album releases. The gradual album rollout, featuring several lead singles and music videos before the release of the full work, has been replaced by rapid-fire offerings that satiate eager fans’ desire for new music. In this age of instant gratification, who can blame Future for giving the people what they want at an unprecedented pace?
Future began his ascent to superstardom with the release of his Zaytoven-produced mixtape “Beast Mode” in January 2015. Although not a “lyrical artist” like Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole, his raspy, Auto-Tuned singing and rapping won over longtime hip-hop fans and even mainstream celebrities like Kendall Jenner with its blend of exuberant energy and subtle humor.
Future followed up “Beast Mode” with an even more promising mixtape, “56 Nights,” in March. Produced by Southside, the mixtape was named in honor of frequent Future collaborator DJ Esco, who was held in a Dubai jail for 56 days after being arrested on narcotics possession while on tour with Future. This project birthed the hit single “March Madness,” which climbed into the top 10 most -purchased songs on iTunes despite its being available for free download online. “56 Nights” marked a turn into a darker, more drug- and sex-infused world for Future, a confident but troubled villain whose beats and rhymes you can’t help but listen to.
His chart-topping albums, “Dirty Sprite 2,” released in July, and a joint LP with Drake entitled “What A Time To Be Alive,” released in September, helped him develop a cult-like fanbase that found solace in his ballads: sometimes sung, sometimes rapped accounts of codeine-induced dreams and the swell of emotions that come when you mix fame, money and drugs. Future impressively held his own with Drake on WATTBA, widely considered Future’s top competition for the title of best rap artist over the last 12 months.
Future’s reflections on everything from drugs to expensive watches are balanced by his clearly unhealthy relationships with women after his breakup with R&B singer Ciara. The dichotomy between professional success and personal struggle, a relationship he explores in every release, makes him so fascinating to listen to.
Some have accused Future of glorifying lean usage. Lean is an illicit substance created by combining promethazine and codeine with Sprite to form a beverage that gives the user a euphoric rush. However, these criticisms are unfounded when one considers the negative light in which Future frames the drug. “Wake up in the house, I look around. … I see hell everywhere,” he raps on “Live From the Gutter.” Rather than glorify the drug, the sinister atmosphere that hangs over many of his songs actually conveys the opposite message.
Between his very public and ugly breakup with Ciara and his obvious struggles with drug use, it is incredible that Future has produced so much quality music in such a short span. It remains to be seenwhether the Atlanta rapper will continue to sit atop the rap game and shake off his emotional and narcotic dependencies, or whether his “Purple Reign” will end in disaster. Regardless, millions will be there to listen.
Sam Abrams is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is one of two alternating columnists of ON THE RECORD, which appears every other Friday.