Future – HNDRXX (2017)

 

 

 

Four tracks into Future’s 2015 album DS2, he talks about love, and it’s weird. Here’s a man who remade his image following a public, and nasty, breakup by shifting from a celebratory drug-peddler to miserable, drug-reliant trapper who’s more prone to pour the drink than sell it, and DS2 sees him reckoning with his newfound success by changing absolutely nothing. His facade was a complex one – it was cracked, and his most lavish moments often worked alongside his most heartbreaking, a curtain of cash being pulled aside to reveal a shattered psyche. Whenever that Future talked about love, it was through this lens: it wasn’t for him; you couldn’t ever tell if he was above or below it. So on “Groupies,” atop a beat of clattering drums, horror-show laughs, and tectonic bass, it’s simultaneously horrifying and heartening to see him telling someone that their “pussy good enough to make me love you” or that they “deserve Rollies and APs and all that / you really know me, nobody can love me like you.” When he says “love” there, it’s clear that he’s thinking of sex, not a heart-to-heart. Following Honest, so the story goes, Future quietly became Atlanta’s saddest trapper, hiding his misery behind piles of money and bile. When someone raps about counting blood-covered money, marrying their riches, and seeing the devil, is it still celebratory? Is it about success or situation?

Before the first verse of HNDRXX, Future’s second hour-long LP in as many weeks, Future poses an offer, even if it’s unclear whom towards: “You wanna come to paradise? Matter of fact, you wanna come to Pluto?” If you buy into the tortured-rich man mythology, it’s the most straightforwardly positive he’s sounded in years, and when combined with some of the lushest production he’s gone over since Honest – spectral choirs, felted bells, meaty bass hits – it feels like a revelation. But as soon as the chorus – “even if I fuck you once, you part of my collection” – arrives, the rest of the track snaps into view: even with beats this elegant, he’s still playing a character just as misogynistic as he was on DS2, a man bashing his exes on record, for another track on another record in another year. It seems like nothing’s changed, except he lost the part that made it compelling during his post-Honest mixtape run – the veneer of pain and anger and rejection. That was three years ago.

It’s fortunate, then, that this is Future we’re talking about. He has a way of submerging himself into sonic landscapes and becoming part of the beats he’s ostensibly on top of, his voice shifting tones and textures to match whatever else is swirling around him, explicitly making lyrics and tone and texture all equal players in a song’s emotional timbre. He’s also got a way with a very post-808s (or post-Drake) merging of rapping and singing until the distinction seems pedantic, packing songs with hooks large and small, switching up flows or textures at just the right moments to make his songs hit regardless of how much the listener understands. This permeates the release, much to its benefit – during “Comin Out Strong,” a collaboration with fellow (supposed) hedonist and Drake-involved singer The Weeknd, he worms his voice into wonderful textural corners during his take on Abel’s hook, and the following track, “Lookin Exotic,” features constant forward motion – the choir from the opener returns, accompanied by keyboard throbs and batches of lines that feel equally focused on alliteration and acceleration. The peaks of “Selfish,” his collaboration with Rihanna, are both purely sonic: first, the contrast between the beat’s haze and sudden clarity on the verses and chorus; secondly, the way said chorus explodes open with the patter of a xylophone, Rihanna’s gymnastics between lead and accompaniment, and Future’s head-voice falsetto. It feels like a headlong dive into the clouds rather than codeine, even if its subject matter isn’t nearly as positive; it maintains the duality present in his best material while twisting it into a bulletproof pop number.

But the most notable part of that track is probably right in the title: it’s a duet between Future and Rihanna, and even eighteen months ago that would have made no sense at all. Pop has moved down dark and twisted alleyways recently, though – ones that Future has long lurked in, and Rihanna’s ANTI gestured towards contemporary hip-hop more explicitly than anything she’d put out prior. Despite how unprecedented this combination may have once seemed, it works, with both artists’ voices gliding and grating alongside each other. And it’s indicative of a broader idea about HNDRXX: this is his “pop” record in a way that nothing following Honest attempted, and his “hip-hop” record that sees him peeking out from the door he kept shut for years. And this shift works: where Metro Boomin built a track from pure-filth scrapes two years ago, here, Nash B grounds a hook with  “Spottieottiedopaliscious” horns; “Fresh Air” is dancehall-lite in a vein similar to a lot of pop in 2017 (not to say it’s bad – rather, it’s potent pop that pushes itself into all sorts of unexpected corners); and “Incredible” features a synth-bass bounce, airy keyboards, and an emcee who sounds like he’s genuinely excited about sex for the first time in what feels like forever. It’s one hell of a heel-turn, but it’s just as potent as his darkest corners, and the light he lets in this time around is probably what he needs after the collective shrug he got after he milked his brand of gutter-dwelling trap dry.

All this lightness keeps the record’s worst moments from being anything other than forgettable; excepting the misogyny, the worst HNDRXX gets is thoroughly pleasant-but-unmemorable. That’s a pretty damning thing for a pop record to be, of course; if the hooks don’t dig, there’s not much of a reason to return in the first place. But almost every track here’s got some sort of detail that makes it worth returning to, and as such, a weird problem develops – at just over an hour in length, HNDRXX could certainly afford to trim the fat, but what fat is there? “Damage,” “I Thank U” and “New Illuminati” come closest – but even then, there’s the vocal processing and overdrive-via-shouting on the first, the confident guitar licks on the second, and the sci-fi synths on the last. Their biggest sin is that they don’t hit the heights of the best stuff here – to grab a few of many, the cloud-trap of “Hallucinating”; the open-hearted “Use Me” (with an overdriven keyboard in the outro sounding unlike anything he’s worked with before); the refracting synthesizers and loving confidence of “Testify,” and that’s faint criticism indeed.

HNDRXX ends with the longest track Future’s put to wax yet, the seven-and-a-half-minute “Sorry.” If anything, it recalls his 2015 cut “Kno the Meaning,” a stream-of-consciousness recounting of the aftermath of DJ Esco getting locked up in Dubai. This one’s similar, with forlorn piano, drum pads, and what feels like a single take in the booth. He touches the same things he talked about on “My Collection” – Ciara, drug use, family. The chorus stands out again, but for a different reason: “Ain’t really mean to hurt you / Sorry it’s gotta be that way / Ain’t mean to try to desert you / Sorry that it looked that way.” His flow speeds up after that, and he gets defensive again, and he’s talking about foreign women and falling in love with money like nothing happened. But something did, just as it did for the past sixteen tracks: just as in his best projects, no matter how outwardly inhuman they got, somewhere alongside the piles of money and drugs are scraps of humanity. The main difference is that he’s no longer actively trying to hide it, and he’s starting to piece them back together.

Author: Michael

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *