If you tried to convince the average hip-hop listener that Future’s most recent work was soulful, rhythmic and deep, you’d probably be laughed at. Nayvadius Wilburn, known as Future, is best known for club bangers, such as “Jumpman” and “F**k up Some Commas.” Indeed, most of Future’s past work has been more about Atlanta trap and club music, and less about recreating the sound of soulful, rhythmic blues. However, with Future’s sixth studio album, HNDRXX, released only one week after his eponymously titled album, FUTURE, Wilburn has departed from his booming, trap beginnings and instead arrived at a far smoother and more soulful R&B sound. Not only is HNDRXX a complete and meaningful album, but more importantly it proves to skeptical listeners, both within and outside of the hip-hop world, that Wilburn is a versatile recording artist who has filled a distinct niche in his genre.
Future is by no means a newcomer to the world of hip-hop; the platinum-certified rapper is in his prime and has released a number of successful solo projects over the past few years. Each of his last four studio albums has peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200, including his self-titled release, FUTURE, only a week prior to HNDRXX. As the only artist since 1968 to release back-to-back #1 albums, Future is not only making good hip-hop, but he is making history as well. What makes HNDRXX stand out, however, is not its success on the charts or reaffirmation of Future’s musical prowess. We already got that with FUTURE. Instead, the latest album brings an entirely new sound to the table, yet also stays true to what people love about Future in the first place. Surprisingly meaningful lyricism, soulful R&B and worthy features – The Weeknd and Rihanna – are hallmarks of the most recent release.
In HNDRXX, Future delves into his personal struggles and emotional hardships with genuine honesty, and this sense of transparency is especially present on the intro track, “My Collection.” While Future gets briefly caught up in the usual bragging about clothes, money and sexual escapades, he demonstrates a surprising amount of introspection when discussing topics such as drug addiction and parental custody. “I’m tryna get the case dismissed before I see trial, and these codeine habits ain’t got nothin’ to do with my lil’ child,” sings Future.
The themes of catharsis and introspection continue on the track “Use Me,” in which Future acknowledges the superficiality and inherent distrust that has been a part of many of his romantic relationships. He comes to terms with the fact that his love interests have “used” him for his money and fame, but also explains how he has learned from these situations and developed into a better and more responsible person. Future continues to wear his heart on his sleeve with the tracks “Incredible” and “Testify,” where he is once again transparent about the struggles that have persisted in many of his romantic relationships. The latter of these two tracks is truly a modern day hip-hop ballad, where Future pleads, “Can you be the one, love me all the time?”
While Future’s simple but honest lyricism on HNDRXX is prominent, perhaps where the album stands out most is with its silky and soulful production. Featuring several styles of beats from a variety of producers, the album’s music is both unique and coherent. Producer Metro Boomin, arguably the king of the hip-hop empire today, contributes two deep and complex beats to open and close the album with the songs “My Collection” and “Sorry.” We also get to hear the bass-heavy, hypnotizing production of DJ Mustard on “Damage,” which stays true to hip-hop’s roots by sampling the 80’s R&B classic, “Piece of My Love” by Guy. One of the most uplifting and catchy beats on the album comes on the track “Fresh Air,” which has the kind of multipurpose, groovy instrumental that can be listened to either at a party or while kicking back and relaxing.
It was important for Future, when releasing back-to-back albums, to demonstrate versatility without straying too far away from what Future fans loved in the first place. HNDRXX has accomplished just that. This album is a significant milestone in Future’s career, and I think HNDRXX importantly reinforces that Future is not simply the repetitive, word-slurring, “mumble rapper” that some often accuse him of being. Most impressive to me is that the album’s production has managed to achieve the same radio-friendly sound that Future is known for, while still not sounding too poppy and recycled. HNDRXX is a distinct blend of the immensely popular Atlanta trap sound that has taken hip-hop by storm in the past several years, with a more traditional R&B sound. Still, Future’s lyrics on this album fail to philosophically challenge or inspire. The lyrical depth of this album is limited, as is the case with many of Future’s projects. While Future’s generally weak lyricism limits his ceiling as a traditionally great “mechanical” rapper, he undeniably fills a niche in hip-hop with his unique style. HNDRXX is something that listeners will not have heard before from Future. It brings something refreshing to the table for his fans and casual listeners alike.
William Widmann is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]