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Frequently Asked Questions: Future

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(Courtesy Epic Records)

(Courtesy Epic Records)

By Kyle Kramer

Frequently Asked Questions is exactly what it sounds like, where we have experts guide you through the unknown about people and topics in music and pop culture. Future has a new album out today, April 22, called Honest and if you don’t know where this Atlanta rapper fits into the greater rap and pop landscape, you’ve come to the right place. 

Who is Future?

Future, born Nayvadius Wilburn, is a rapper from Atlanta. In fact, at the moment he’s the rapper from Atlanta—the latest star to command the city’s attention and (re)define its sound. Known for both his hard, percussive street rapping style and making emotional, melodic Auto-Tuned ballads, he has a broad appeal and a singular musical approach. After putting out a string of successful mixtapes over the course of two years, starting in 2010, he released his debut album, Pluto, in 2012. He caught the hip-hop world’s attention and became a go-to feature guest as a result. His sophomore album, Honest, comes out today, April 22, after several months of having its release date pushed back. It’s one of the most eagerly anticipated rap projects of the year.

What’s his story?

Future’s older cousin is Rico Wade, of the Atlanta collective Dungeon Family and its production crew Organized Noize, best known for launching OutKast. As a teenager, Future started hanging around the Dungeon Family studios and recording, under the name Meathead, as part of a Dungeon Family group called Da Connect. Throughout the early 2000s, he contributed as a songwriter to various projects for the Dungeon Family, and he eventually took on the name Future.

But his career stalled, and he turned back to a street lifestyle, selling drugs for several years. He eventually befriended the Atlanta rapper Rocko and worked his way back to music, putting out the mixtape 1000 in 2010. He followed that with several more successful mixtapes that built his reputation in Atlanta and eventually landed him a record deal with Epic. If it seems like a pretty long and incredible rise, Future agrees: From “Long Time Coming” to “You Deserve It” to “Against All Odds” to “Blood, Sweat, Tears,” many of his best songs have to specifically with overcoming the odds and working hard, making him the perfect American hero.

What songs is he known for?

The first single that Future really got attention for was YC’s “Racks,” from 2011. After that, he had the street-oriented hits “Tony Montana,” “Magic” and “Same Damn Time,” all of which appeared on Pluto. Currently he’s riding the wave of three moderate hits that have come out in the past few months: “Honest,” “Sh!t” and “Move That Dope.” But he may be even more well-known for his string of guest appearances over the last year, which included turns on Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O.,” Ace Hood’s “Bugatti” and Lil Wayne’s “Love Me.” If you wanted a big rap single in 2013, Future was the guy to call.

 

I heard he was dating Ciara. Is that true?

Not just dating: The two are engaged and expecting a child together this spring.

Cool! They’re a hot couple. Have they done any music together?

They have a couple songs together—“Where You Go” and “Anytime.” But their best collaboration may be Future’s cameo in Ciara’s “Body Party” video, where, besides a steamy bedroom scene, they have some killer teen movie dialogue.

 

This doesn’t really sound like what I thought hip-hop sounded like. What’s with the Auto-Tune?

He’s not called Future for no rrrreason! Future’s innovative use of Auto-Tune—basically pushing Lil Wayne’s 2007-era emotive Auto-Tune experiments to their logical endpoint—has challenged hip-hop’s norms and set a new standard for the genre that’s more melodic and confessional. Yeah, he may sound a little bit like he’s a robot broadcasting his music from space, but that’s exactly the point. Future has a legendary work ethic when it comes to recording, and he’s gotten his sound down to a distinctive formula that works for him. Depending on the context, it’s perfectly pitched to give off a type of pained honesty or match the hazy vibe of his drugs of choice: lean and weed.

So the astronaut thing, that’s about drugs, right?

In some situations (say, “Gone to the Moon”) it is, but space is sort of a catch-all for Future. Sometimes it can be that his concepts are out of this world—see lines like “We redefined gravity/ Go way beyond earth” on “Blood, Sweat, Tears” or “I was on earth but now I’m sci-fi/ Voila” on “Magic.” Or it can be that he feels totally out of this world in love: Check out the romance of “Astronaut Chick.”

Future seems awfully sincere.

He sure is. That’s what makes him amazing! And he can totally get away with it without being corny because he can still crank out street hits that sound huge and incredibly aggressive. Like he says, pretty much whatever context he’s working in, he’s just being honest.

Speaking of honesty, I heard people are saying Honest is a sophomore slump. Is that true?

That depends on how you define slump. Honest is, in some ways, Future’s initiation into the ranks of hip-hop royalty, with guest appearances from A-listers Kanye West, Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Lil Wayne, Andre 3000 and Pharrell. It will almost certainly be more commercially successful than Pluto. It’s not quite as cohesive in sound as that album, and it’s not as clearly ground-breaking—the Future templates are a little more clearly established at this point. But it sounds flawless, and songs like “I Be U” and “I Won” could easily enter into the pantheon of great Future songs with the benefit of a little time for reflection. Future’s more self-assured, open and polished than ever, and he’s only headed up.

(Courtesy Epic Records)(Courtesy Epic Records)

What’s his best song?

“Turn on the Lights” is the quintessential Future song and his most successful hit to date. It’s a love song about searching for the perfect girl, which strikes a pretty universal chord, it turns out. It also found him turning a corner toward softer, more heavily sung material. Some other candidates in this vein are “Honest” and the widely maligned but beautifully emotional “Real and True,” which features Miley Cyrus and Mr. Hudson. For another side of Future, though, “Same Damn Time” and “Sh!t” are incredibly hard street bangers, and it’s impossible not to go nuts in the club if they come on.

What’s his worst song?

Among his big singles, Future’s had a pretty impeccable record, although “Real and True” was widely (and unfairly) considered a flop. The fairly unimaginative “Karate Chop,” which had a controversy-stirring guest verse from Lil Wayne is probably the weakest of the bunch, but really Future has yet to make a serious misstep. Not a bad position to be in.

What’s his best guest appearance?

Future single-handedly makes “Bugatti” an awesome song, but his most effective appearance might be on the song he wrote for Rihanna’s last album, “Loveeeeeee Song,” which puts him in full crooner mode looking for “love and affection.”

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