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Courtesy of The New York Times

February 2, 2016

JONES | They Made a Monster: Future’s Nihilistic Reinvention

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We love the story of a good Fall. Ever since the Garden of Eden, humans have lived in sin; and for as long as there have been sinners, others have relished the task of exposing them. It seems that few things fascinate us as much as a figure that rises to great heights and seems morally unimpeachable, and then is exposed as something else entirely. From Bill Clinton to Bill Cosby, our culture has a special appetite for those who claim to have high morals and are then exposed as ignoble imposters.

Maybe this explains Future’s popularity. 2015’s biggest, most social-media-gobbling star may have been Drake, but the artist who most affected the sound and style of rap in 2015 was Future. Based on the numbers, this isn’t all that surprising, considering Future absolutely flooded the market. In 2015 alone, Future released an album (DS2), two album-length mixtapes (Beast Mode and 56 Nights), and a collaborative album with Drake (What a Time to Be Alive). He doesn’t look to be letting up in 2016: he’s already released a mixtape — Purple Reign — and DJ Khaled just announced that he will be premiering Future’s new album on Feb. 5 on his Beats 1 radio show. However, to understand the significance of any of these projects, a bit of biographical information is necessary.

Future’s breakthrough was 2012’s Pluto, a mix of heartfelt ballads (“Turn on the Lights”) and street-rap anthems (“Tony Montana”). Like he has ever since, Future delivers all of his vocals on Pluto through Auto-Tune, stretching his voice like Silly Putty into strange and often thrilling shapes. Describing his vocals as “syrupy” is unavoidable, which gives you a sense of how inextricable Future’s relationship with codeine is from his musical persona.

2014’s Honest was the work of an artist going in all directions at once: dope-dealer posse cuts (“Move that Dope”), melodic humble-brag confessions (“Honest”), clever social commentary (“Benz Friendz” with Andre 3000), stadium anthems (“Blood, Sweat, Tears”). Honest was also the work of an artist in love; Future became engaged to singer Ciara in 2013. On Honest’s gorgeous, narcotizing ballad “I Be U,” Future describes a scene of perfect mirroring between himself and his partner, then declares “I be you, baby.” If the song is to be believed, Future and Ciara’s love was so potent that it reshaped and melded their identities.

Then came the Fall. Future and Ciara’s engagement was called off; and if the Internet rumors are to be believed, Future’s infidelity was the cause. In response, Future abandoned the guise of the starry-eyed romantic, swore allegiance to the void and proclaimed himself the titular character of 2014’s mixtape Monster.

All the music he has released since has reflected a unified vision. Sonically, it consists of grimy trap-club beats and garbled sing-song rapping; thematically, it is a bleak but compelling presentation of wounded-animal arrogance offset by transparent self-loathing and a spiralling drug habit. Future’s music beginning with Monster is the sound of a man trying to drown his misery in narcotics and casual sex, and failing to forget it for even a moment. On one of Monster’s best songs, “Throw Away,” Future can’t stop thinking about his ex during a threesome, and hopes that she’s thinking of him when she’s with another man.

This moment encapsulates everything interesting about Future’s current music. He presents typical rapper boasts, such as of sexual escapades and serious currency-earning, and then empties them of all their allure, making them seem hollow and pathetic. At the end of “Fuck Up Some Commas,” one of Future’s biggest hits, he warbles, “Let’s have a money shower right now,” and it’s hard to imagine the line delivered in a more numbed and elegiac way.

Future’s musical trajectory is essentially a steep decline into monomaniacal addiction and nihilism, which counterintuitively has made him more popular and loved than ever. He even has a rabid online following, #FutureHive, fashioned after Beyonce’s #BeyHive. #FutureHive’s real interest, however, starts with Monster: They like Future when the romance became only a distraction from the drugs, not when the drugs were only a distraction from the romance. And of course Future’s lyrics have helped paint him as a tragic figure: “Tried to make me a pop star and they made a monster,” he proclaims on “I Serve the Base.”

But is any of it true? In an interview with Clique, Future admitted, “I’m not super drugged-out or a drug addict” and said he raps about drugs because “I feel like that’s the number one thing everybody likes to talk about.” Of course, much of #FutureHive was deeply upset to find that their idol isn’t really pissing out pure codeine. The real thing this throws into question is the emotional authenticity of Future’s music, which seems to be a tortured artist bleeding onto the canvas but may really just be a fairly content person         playing a role for his fans.

Regardless, the most singular thing about Future’s music from Monster on is that it appears, at first glance, to be trash. He is often nearly incoherent, his voice fluidized past understanding by Auto-Tune. He raps about the same stuff on all his songs. His producers use the same sound effects over and over again, on tracks that are all serviceable but sometimes nearly indistinguishable. All I can say is that I had the same experience that lots of Future fans seem to: It seemed at first like silly music, and then it wormed its way into my brain until I spent a week over break listening to nothing else. There’s a core of relatability to Future’s music that defies explanation. Maybe it’s best explained by Future himself: “Deep down, I believe you know you’re a monster too.”

Jack Jones is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jjones@cornellsun.com. Despite all the Amputations runs alternate Mondays this semester. 

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