It isn’t often that an album’s opener provides as fitting a mission statement as ‘Look Ahead’ does for…
It isn’t often that an album’s opener provides as fitting a mission statement as ‘Look Ahead’ does for Future’s sophomore effort, Honest. It is a song whose atmospheric melody blends with its resounding synths and stark claps to provide the impetus for Future to run through with the all the swagger and bravado of a Sapeur in full attire. Its aptness as an opener extends to the lyrics too, as Future’s vacillating burst flip-flops from contemplative self-expression to comical bluster on almost every line. It is the lung-busting sprint at the head of a victory lap: particularly the triumph of the second verse, which alludes to a Future who believes he has nothing to prove.
This becomes all the more impressive given the context of the album. Its 14-month delay saw the genesis of an entire wave of hip hop of which he was the discernible progenitor. Artists such as Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug and Migos seemed to latch onto Future’s brand of melodious, atmospheric music that occupied the space between hip hop, trap and RnB. The mainstream success of these – considerably younger – artists and the mounting expectation that comes with a series of delays means that it would have been predictable for the album to have imploded à la Lil’ Wayne.
But ‘Look Ahead’ blows away any such trepidation in its opening bars. Honest is a fervent demonstration that Future isn’t daunted by the mounting pressure in the slightest; in fact, he’s buoyed up by it. Future, like Kendrick Lamar or Drake, boasts the ability to toggle between introspection and bravado with very little difficulty – the introspection usually accompanied by the Auto-tuned vocalising that is fast becoming his signature turn.
Honest often feels like the two styles are separated into segments. Waves of full-force drug-slinging haranguing, with ‘T-Shirt’, ‘Move That Dope’ and ‘My Momma’ are immediately followed by a far calmer succession of RnB-tinged 808s & Heartbreak-inspired hip hop ballads.
And although these distinctions fit to some extent, they do justice neither to Future’s variety nor his ability to twin the two styles to exultant effect. Each style is tinged with the influence of the other, and this is paragoned by future smash-hit ‘Benz Friendz’, which boasts the most impressive use of a feature on the album: showcasing André 3000 in rampant form. That point is made all the more impressive given the enormity of the stature of the album’s other features, which include : Pharrell Williams, Pusha T, Wiz Khalifa, Kanye West and Drake.
André 3000’s presence on ‘Benz Friendz’ abolishes suggestions of a newfound lacklustre after his Outkast set at Coachella. His characteristic charisma and wit interplay admirably with Future’s rupturing bark. But what is most evident in ‘Benz Friendz’ is what it reinforces about the rest of the album – Future isn’t outshone in the slightest. Future doesn’t just take the spotlight on Honest: he demands it.
Not even Kanye West or Drake – artists who have a history of dominating songs they feature on – manage to outperform Future. The Kanye-featuring ‘I Won’ showcases Future’s more romantic tendencies, although the pseudo-meaningfulness and sadomasochistic catchiness of its hook threatens to border on ring-tone R’n’B whiner-rapper Akon territory. But even this precarious position underlines the talent that makes Future so singular: his ability to create a contagion effect with even the most banal of words. This is vital to the success of this album.
Honest is an album that successfully nods to the importance of both form and substance. It also serves to further vindicate the notion that hip hop is a genre so malleable that either of them can work without the other, particularly the former without the latter. His words are secondary to the sounds they create, to the atmosphere he forges with the unrelentingness of his confidence.
This translates into Future’s enormous popular appeal, but does so without coming at the expense of his artistic integrity. The gritty, almost-suffocating ‘Move That Dope’ and the pithily romantic ‘I Be U’ are entirely different yet equally stunning, and as likely to receive widespread attention. By maneuvering through themes and styles in waves, Honest manages to express all aspects of Future’s vast sensibilities, but more impressively, each modulation is as beguiling as the last.
Future manages to be all of the originator, idiosyncratic outsider and undoubted frontrunner of an ever-growing niche of hip hop. And, as Honest proves, its unquestionable master.