Courtesy of Freedbanz and Epic Records

July 3, 2020

TEST SPIN | Black Empowerment in Future’s ‘High Off Life’

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Future’s releases represent one of the most successful discographies in the rap world.  He has officially topped the US Billboard 200 album charts seven consecutive times with his debut of High Off Life and is arguably one of the best  rappers alive.  His music helped birth an entire movement and subgenre within rap, not only further defining the genre but also pushing it to the front and center of popular music.

For decades, rap has stood as a tool for black empowerment.  Many rappers focus on violence, conflict and drug dealing careers that they were taught within their often neglected urban communities.  This is largely due to the fact that these avenues are all too frequently the only way for a Black dreamer to move up in economic standing, and consequently move up in authority.  A lack of government support, sympathy and education has affected Black America for generations.  In part because of his past prominence trapping and luxury lifestyle straight from having nothing, Future has been able to become one of the shots that shine as a flare to other aspiring rappers.

He lightly touched base on the recent events mainly by posting his prayers for the Floyd family and directing his audience toward voting resources.  Rappers have responded to varying degrees such as Lil Baby similarly tweeting “I’m Just Tired Of My Kind Gotta Be The One To Die” and Gunna posting that “It’s hard celebrating a #1 album when the world is hurting” to others seemingly abstaining from commenting on the issue entirely like in the cases of Nicki Minaj and even Kendrick Lamar.  Cardi B was part of the initial push for justice that came immediately after Floyd’s death, offering condolences but also calling followers to action and urging justice for Floyd’s family and beyond.

Some have honed in on the racial disparities that the black community faces daily, including Chance The Rapper and Tyler, the Creator who have been consistently, relentlessly bolstering forces for change through their platforms over the past few weeks, whilst Denzel Curry has imparted his own thorough stance regarding the pursuit of justice to his fans on Instagram alongside a vintage pic of the Black Panther Party.  Tee Grizzley’s newest album The Smartest operates in a hoodstrong, gun-toting and drug-dishing fashion that tells his whole story, from before doing time to owning the iced out jewelry that he does today but he has also simultaneously attached imagery of these modern day protests to a song about police brutality on the production.

And finally, J. Cole stirred the pot by initially not pursuing commentary akin to other mainstream icons like Kendrick — but he did decide to put out his “Snow On Tha Bluff” rebuttal when Noname criticized rap leaders for not speaking up.  Though J. Cole’s tone was perceived as a somewhat condescending, potentially diluting the issues rather than bolstering solidarity efforts, “Snow On Tha Bluff” raises an important concept to consider: The rappers that have been exposed to opportunistic, sometimes deadly lifestyles for years have an undeniable power in their ability to tell the rest of the world how hard it can be to make it big, achieve financial fortitude or even survive as a Black American.  Regardless of what they do or say now, individuals like Future, Tee Grizzley and Kendrick Lamar have been advocating for the struggles of Black America for the lengths of their entire discographies.

The work that got Future to the point where he lives in comfort nowadays takes the spotlight in High Off Life.  “Trillionaire” (feat. YoungBoy Never Broke Again) is an anthem that establishes Future’s aim to become a trillionaire now that he is so rich as a millionaire.  Yet many other tracks like “Up The River” recount harder times when Future “came from nothin’,” worked with “some partners, they gon’ send you up the river (Dead)” and made his fortune from dealing dope on the streets.

“HiTek Tek” is a stormy brew for strategic street assault plans.  Future warns that he comes “straight out the trench” and lists off his tools from weaponry to narcotic supply, and it urges succumbing to a vicious, moody mode of operation.  An overwhelming feeling of rising power is seeping from the edges of this enthusiastic ballad of fortitude.

“Ridin Strikers” details a powerful, angry trip off of lean, in which the mantra is “Riding strikers to your hood.”  Future refers back to situations involving drug raids and opportunistic moves like taking loads off of other dealers.  It was a cat-eat-mouse world in the trap back then, and that durability stands as king even today.  The second half of the song switches over to a grouchier memoir of wanting to rob banks and having a discomforting childhood in the grips of poverty. Future consistently details a truthful rags to riches story of his own here and even in blissful bops like “Posted With Demons” where he insists “You ain’t did shit I did.”

His half of “Life Is Good,” his momentous single with Drake, recalls marketing coke in his old days only to be wearing designer jewels now.  It’s a triumphant statement of coming out of the trap on top.  He has worn watches, pieces and iced out chains and stayed in penthouses since serving up product, and these items will always serve as a testament of the risks he took, his luck in making it out of urban poverty and the work he has accomplished to reach the point that he is at now.

“Hard To Choose One” hosts Future boasting about his trophies, from Burberry to being able to cruise in a Lambo’ and smoke a blunt at the same time.   And Future showcases an alert, elite tune in “Pray For A Key” when he properly encapsulates his old lifestyle of swearing to an oath of running kilogram cocaine shipments and never snitching out his trap associates to cops.  An excerpt recounts “Drivin’ in the car, smoke an ounce in 60 minutes.”  Street connections allowed him to both survive and thrive at one point, but the rap game has given him a way to succeed solely upon his ability to rap flawlessly, be inventive melodically and persevere as an unbroken symbol of pure, unwavering black power.

This album is remarkable in its trancelike appeal, through each and every song.  “Outer Space Bih” coasts along as an easygoing, floating tale about cruising with an iced out wrist in a “California ‘Rari.”  Even aside from the chiller tracks like “Tycoon” and “Last Name,” I found myself completely absorbed with the beats for the whole of High Off Life.  Samples range from steady piano keys to striking guitar strings or an eerie vocal choir, and plush synths are the backbone of this production.  The guest feature roster is remarkable, too, and may be one of (if not) the best we see released in all of 2020 with concrete bars from Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, Meek Mill, Lil Baby and Young Thug.

In “Trapped In The Sun,” Future tells of times that he’s been high on a variety of drugs from the feelings of their effects to unloading them, as well as his earliest Lambo’ and Ferrari cars that he earned off of trapping.  He raps that he “gave the game to my sons.”  He further remarks on giving them “the recipe.”  Future’s age, prosperity and experience has allowed him to come to thrive as one of the most influential musicians of the black community.  He will undoubtedly last indefinitely as a testament of strength to the countless generations that follow him.

He did what he had to in order to survive, yet it has now come to grant him immense standing as a figure of authority.  His victories represent small but minor victories for black culture everywhere through empowering its presence within an oppressive national culture surrounding it that consistently degrades its own citizens for the color of their skin.  Black communities, their education and their opportunities to advance in a predominantly white society has been neglected for centuries.  And in a country that can’t hear and hasn’t been able to for years, Future fires off music that follows values which are exactly what is needed in times like these: change comes with a price, and equity must come with an “all or nothing” mentality until it is met.  The stone walls of a rooted system must be broken all the way through or else they might never be destroyed at all.  Though he hasn’t been the most vocal leader during these past weeks besides paying his respects to George Floyd, Future will always advance the community in the best way that he can: as an icon, and the “Grim Reaper ridin’ in the Rolls Royce.”

 

Cory Koehler is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ck594@cornell.edu.