Hard work paid off and in a short time, Future released a number of mixtapes. From 2010 to early 2011, Future dropped 1000, Dirty Sprite, and True Story. Around this time, Future started working with producer Mike Will Made It, although artists in Atlanta had been trying to push the two creative forces together for years. Before Future dropped Dirty Sprite, the first project he worked on with Mike Will, there was a lull in music coming from Atlanta. “I felt like Atlanta—the whole South—was in a state of emergency,” Mike Will says. “T.I. was in jail, Gucci Mane was in jail, Young Jeezy was putting his own project together. He wasn’t coming out with any music. Lil Boosie had got locked up.” And then came Future.
“I felt like Atlanta—the whole South—was in a state of emergency,” Mike Will says. “T.I. was in jail, Gucci Mane was in jail, Young Jeezy was putting his own project together. He wasn’t coming out with any music. Lil Boosie had got locked up.” And then came Future.
It was on True Story that the rapper struck gold with “Tony Montana.” During that time, he partnered with rapper Gucci Mane on a collaborative mixtape, Free Bricks. A few months prior, he wrote the smash single “Racks” for rapper YC. With hit after hit in Atlanta, Future experienced, for the first time, what it was like to have the public eye on him as an artist. “With 'Racks' so many people thought it was my song,” Future explains. “I was getting more shine than [YC] and when they finally caught on to it, it was like nobody wanted to give me credit because they were like, 'You already got too much credit for the song.'" The sudden fame off someone else’s song left many doubting his next mixtape, Dirty Sprite. “When I dropped ‘Tony Montana,’ ‘Magic,’ and ‘Same Damn Time,’ and over and over, I’m just dropping mixtapes that were bigger than the last, my audience grew,” Future says. “Over a period of time, they understood the music.” When Drake hopped on “Tony Montana” for a guest verse, Future accepted but knew that working with other artists brought more legalities than anything. Now, he tries to stick to himself, and focuses on working with female artists because, he says, there are no egos. “How things can be more smooth for you is to work by yourself and working with the same producers, get some lawyers and everybody’s familiar with each other,” Future says. “Nobody new and you just get your money without any problems.
His buzz lead to a meeting with Epic Records in 2011. “Right before L.A. Reid signed him, he already had four mixtapes on the street and was getting $7,500 dollars a show,” Wade says. But Benny Pough, executive vice president of Urban Music at Epic Records, says his family connections aren’t what got him his record deal through Epic. “When I came to Epic Records, we heard about his new young artist bubbling out of Atlanta which is L.A. Reid’s stock ground,” Pough explains. “I brought Future up and they instantly connected because Future comes from the Dungeon Family. At that point it was a no-brainer.” Hits started coming almost immediately, but Future succeeded most when he dropped his love ballad, “Turn On The Lights” where he sings about finding the perfect woman. The single was produced by Mike Will. “I knew Future was like an ill Andre 3000 type of nigga,” Mike Will says. “I was like, ‘Whenever you get the deal, that’s when we’re going to do all the big records.’ I knew he could be a person like B.o.B. that did urban and commercial records.” “Turn On The Lights” was just that.
Mike Will says the two had a plan—first, they had to succeed with the street music, then they were going to show just how big they could go. Right when he signed to Epic came “Turn On The Lights” and “Neva End,” which the two recorded, for the most part, on the same night. Mike Will says the sing-song tune came easy to Future but he didn’t want to tell him to sing it. “Man, basically you’re telling me to sing it. What are you trying to turn me into, an R&B singer?" Mike Will remembers Future saying. “I was like, ‘Bob Marley wasn’t an R&B singer. You know you’re not an R&B singer. You just got an ill tone.’" Future became Pough’s third artist to score a No. 1 hit single since his move to Epic.
“I knew Future was like an ill Andre 3000 type of nigga,” Mike Will says. “I was like, ‘Whenever you get the deal, that’s when we’re going to do all the big records.’
“It was very interesting to see a guy who was rapping and writing understand the business so well in terms of the customer and his fan base,” Pough says. “With 'Turn On The Lights' it was the grand slam because he already has three top 10 records and a top 10 album so the No. 1 was a home run,” Pough boasts. For Pough and Epic, the timing of Future’s hit single couldn’t have been better—it displayed his growth as an artist and his ability to find true commercial success. “It showed his trajectory from his start to where he will go,” Pough says excitedly. “It wasn’t the first day, come-in big chart top record or a one-hit wonder. It showed consistency in the radio marketplace. 'Turn On The Lights' hitting No. 1 showed where he is going as a real, complete artist.”
Future’s appreciation for his unique opportunity is part of his advantage. “Growing up in hip-hop, we all tried to crunch words into a rap to make us look smart and look hip-hop,” Wade says. “Hip-hop is about being smart.” He makes sure every work is important and is going to resonate with the customer. A self-proclaimed “studio rat,” Future is always in the studio. “At times, you think, ‘What would you rather be doing than music?” he says. “There’s nothing else that I want to do than music. That’s why I stay in the booth. I know there’s a million and one dudes that are rapping right now wishing they were in my shoes.” And his consistency in the studio and with his fan base is what impressed Epic Records from the start, and continues to excite them with every move he makes.
At times, you think, ‘What would you rather be doing than music?” he says. “There’s nothing else that I want to do than music. That’s why I stay in the booth. I know there’s a million and one dudes that are rapping right now wishing they were in my shoes.”
While his hits keep coming, Future says he’s only just started. “You can’t think about the past without thinking about the future,” he says. “There are so many ways where I put myself around this business. Five years from now—I branded this shit where you can’t even move without thinking about me.” After the whirlwind year, Future is concerned with the future of his career. He’s just released Pluto 3D and next, a mixtape, F.B.G. (The Movie). His second album, Future Hendrix, is slated to drop sometime in 2013, too. He’s already working on it with Mike Will, who adds: “I felt like me and Future grew together.” And he has almost everyone in the industry lining up to work with him. “When you look at the superstars in the last 12 to 18 months and how they’ve sought him out, it shows that he’s not even near his peak,” Pough says. “He’s just hitting his stride right now.”
It’s true. He has a record on Rihanna’s Unapologetic, called “Loveeeeeee Song.” It's the biggest crossover look of his career. Then there are the recently released visuals for his "Neva End" remix with Kelly Rowland. He’s now worked with Drake, he’s worked with Lil Wayne, and Diddy. Next up? He’s been in the studio with Kanye West for Future Hendrix and he’s working with Diplo, too.
“When you look at the artists he has worked with you can see the community embraces him as one of the next big superstars in music,” Pough says. "At this point, I think he should be embraced as being next.” The future, if you will.