Future's in-demand sound is the source of some of the best work to come out of Atlanta in years. Mike Will Made It, record label executives, and the man himself recall how it happened.
Written by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
It’s a Friday night in late November at NYC's Highline Ballroom and the lights start to dim after Funkmaster Flex’s DJ set. There’s a video of Atlanta rapper Future riding around in his hometown that's playing at center stage. Through the screams of fans, it’s Future narrating his struggle to fame, and soon enough the man himself bobs up to the stage to “Straight Up.”
He's decked in a black crewneck sweater with “Rich” penned across his chest in red, dripping-blood font. His dreadlocks are tucked tightly into his black beanie, his wallet chain smacks across his thigh every time he jumps around the stage, and a Sprite bottle filled halfway with what can only be promethazine-codeine cough syrup occupies his left hand. The introduction track embodies his successful year in music—“I’m fly like a plane/And I ain’t go never land,” he screams.
The crowd is energetic and Future plays into it, sparsely rapping over full song instead of traditionally instrumental backing tracks. But Future’s not on stage to showcase his talent; the crowd’s already aware of that. Instead, he’s basking in his own glory.
It’s unrealistic to expect a perfect live performance from the Epic artist, as most of his tracks rely heavily on Auto-Tune and vocal distortion. Between the hits that launched his career, “Tony Montana” and YC’s “Racks,” he pleases fans with new music from his Pluto 3D re-release. On “My,” each line’s ending syllable reaches a screeching height. He wasn’t able to hit those high notes live.
Still, he breezed through tracks like “Loveeeeeee Song,” his feature on Rihanna’s Unapologetic, and his No. 1 hit, “Turn On The Lights.” It became abundantly clear that Future wasn’t looking for a good review of the showcase. He was celebrating the most successful year of his life.
Born Nayvadius Wilburn—last name now legally Cash—the 27-year-old has created a new lane for Atlanta rappers by over-using Auto-Tune on all of his songs and scoring a few massive hits in the last year, including the Mike WiLL Made It-produced “Turn on the Lights,” which hit No. 1 on the Urban Mainstream chart.
But with fame, comes hate. His crooning and lyrics like, “I wanna tell the world about you just so they can get jealous/And if you see her ‘fore I do tell her I wish that I met her” didn’t sit well with everyone. Hip-hop listeners love him or hate him. Take a quick look at Twitter on a day when he drops a song and you’ll see everything from fans anointing him Future Vandross to others ranting about how he can’t rap. But saying Future can’t rap misses the point—he’s found his own grasp on melodies that are as futuristic as his outer space lyrics and album theme boasts.
Saying Future can’t rap misses the point—he’s found his own grasp on melodies that are as futuristic as his outer space lyrics and album theme boasts.
His last few months have been a wild ride, in particular. It was a little over a year ago that his solo hit “Tony Montana” hit the radio. A remix with Drake released in October, and suddenly music fans and industry players alike wanted to know more about the rapper. In Atlanta, he had a following with radio hits like “Magic,” which dropped in January of this year—fellow ATL rapper T.I. even hopped on the track for his first post-prison verse.
Then Future dropped his debut album, Pluto, in April 2012. It landed at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 charts and 40,190 units were sold in the first week. A modest success. Because of that, Future went on to re-release the album last month with three new songs and two added remixes. Unlike other re-releases, Future completely re-worked the tracklist and sequencing to give the album a new feel. But how did he create enough buzz to re-release Pluto mere months after what was, in some ways, a disappointing effort, commercially?