Unhealthy, sick, desperate, hopeless: You’ve done something either very wrong or very right if these are the words hardcore fans use to discuss your music. But this is the rubric Future listeners now consult when he drops a mixtape: Just how lost and broken does Nayvadius Cash sound this time around? Is his life still a grim parade of the saddest, most transactional sex you can imagine two humans having? (Last year’s LP Dirty Sprite 2 had a minor-key song called “Groupies” that sounds like a funeral march.) Just how many mournful references to perkys, Zans, and promethazine does he make?
If you’re new to the Supervillain Stage of Future’s career, a quick primer on how we got here: Mix one part noxiously awful publicity (Future cheated on universally beloved R&B singer Ciara, breaking the public’s perception of the pair as an idealized super couple); one part savvy embrace of resulting notoriety (the phase was kicked off with 2014’s aptly titled mixtape Monster); and one part obsessive focus on a single aesthetic—mostly one or two producers per mixtape, short track runs, and a single uniform vibe. Out of this mushroom cloud sprung the obsessive online community known as #FutureHive, and it can be a weird place to spend time: I’ve seen fans expressing ambivalence or even disappointment upon learning that Future may not in fact be the codeine-crazy drug addict he plays in his songs.
This sort of dance-of-death vicariousness is nothing new in rap (see: “I Feel Like Dying“-era Lil Wayne, which could also be a Monster-era Future song title), nor is this childish magical thinking about artists by fans. But Future’s taken this poisoned chalice and run further with it than anyone in rap since Wayne at his druggy peak. To listen to Future’s output right now is to feel concerned for him, repelled by him, and slightly coated in slime from association. His best and most potent songs should make you feel a little nauseated, a little sad, and exultant all at the same time.
This is the place to note that Purple Reign, his latest mixtape, is a relatively weak dose of Dirty Sprite. Heard in the context laid out above, the den-of-sin air has cleared a bit. The lights have started to come up (or maybe your eyes are adjusting), the feeling that something unspeakable is about to happen has receded. It’s a fine tape, but considered in the run of the most vital rapper working, relatively minor.
The beats on Future’s best work give off an eerie, muted light, like alien eggs glowing beneath a blanket, but the music on Purple Reign is some of the least distinctive work his star producers (Metro Boomin’, Southside, Zaytoven, Nard & B, and others) have ever given him. A few of the beats here, like “Hater Shit” and “Wicked,” are so minimal they almost resemble presets. Future’s delivery also hits a few rough patches: The chorus to “Drippin (How U Love That)” is a dishearteningly direct Fetty Wap imitation, and his groaning, stomach-pains cadence on the “Never Forget” chorus is a Gucci Mane rip. Meanwhile, one of the best songs (“Inside the Mattress“) feels like a stealth rewrite of last year’s classic “March Madness.”
The project doesn’t feel uninspired, exactly, just rushed. The best songs on Purple Reign still capture that shivering, waking-nightmare energy. “Perkys Calling” is downcast and beautiful, a piano ballad full of Future’s heat-lightning one-line observations: “Everything around me turn to fast food,” he mumbles, an abstract line that manages to be feel more heartbreakingly specific the more attention you devote to it. “I had to take a loss so I could cherish that shit,” he declares on “Never Forget,” maybe the world’s best philosophy. On that same song, he defies his characterization as a destructive force, someone who uses people up and throws them away, by acknowledging the family members he has hurt by selling them drugs. He might be a monster, but he has a conscience.
But then there’s the closing title track, where he briskly snuffs out this ember of humanity, declaring syrup his “girlfriend,” compares himself to a heroin trafficker and a terrorist, and tells a rival “until you gunned down, we ain’t gon’ never have closure.” Playing the heel is tiring work, and Future sounds convincingly exhausted. Sounding convincingly exhausted, in fact, is one of his biggest gifts. The way he records his vocals, and the sensitivity he uses to explore its smallest inflections, shows a producer’s mind as well as a rapper’s. Listen to the slight catch in his voice while repeating “purple reign”; these are the moments that draw in #FutureHive, the moments that bottle and sell a helpless wail of pain.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://bit.ly/1PqgGH3