For the past couple of years, after his initial blow-up, the Atlantastronaut’s career has been characterized by a fairly balanced mix of high-profile collaboration, pop crossover, and extraterrestrial-sounding street records. For a rock star who struggles with fame (go listen to “Substitute Everything”), his public persona reached a tipping point upon his relationship with a certain R&B singer. Following that, something changed, or reverted. The Miley records stopped. The pop ballads stopped. He tweeted something about going back to his roots, the Dirty Sprite days, for the original fans. But his new music feels not so much like a return to form as it does an informed attempt to charge through his problems both old and new. When at times he now takes on uncharted territory in terms of the adversity he faces, it is with familiar technique: cathartic, expressionistic, nose-to-the-grindstone output.
Look at this interview with Tim Westwood. With the Jimi Hendrix painting (a saintly symbol and almost-namesake for his last album) hanging above him, Future takes the full, allotted time as his opportunity for a monolog. Westwood sits there on the opposite side of the couch, with his packet of unused questions crumpling in hand, and just listens. “I feel like Monster was that, it keeps me grounded. It keeps me away from the cliché-ness of the industry. It keeps me raw, it keeps my talent fresh.” The idea here is that after experimenting thematically and sonically in his genre-overlapping days, he felt ready to give back to the streets again, in a pure way. That is to say, he’s done letting other people talk. Monster, the mixtape, has only one guest feature on it. That interview ends not with Westwood asking any final questions (or first questions, for that matter), but by Future simply deciding to be done. He gets up as he’s saying the word “billions,” and walks out the door. Busy guy.
In this light, the rest of the tape feels as though he’s going in to such a degree to sort of distract himself from the reality of lost love.
Monster consists mostly of hard-hitting, intergalactic war movie street anthems, as curated by Metro Boomin. The one real deviation from that comes in the form of the heart-wrenching, two-part song “Throw Away.” The first part finds him overwhelmed by the idea of intimacy, such that he wants to dismiss it altogether: “I want no relations, I just want your facial. Girl, you know you like a pistol, you a throwaway.” The second part finds him then bemoaning the loss of intimacy. Closure feels out of reach: “Tell me that your pussy ain’t mines no more. Tell me you’re moving on, you don’t love me no more.” It’s an all-too-real ode to the phantom limb effect inherent in a relationship's ugly severance—the jealousy, the denial, the bitterness, the helplessness.
In this light, the rest of the tape feels as though he’s going in to such a degree to sort of distract himself from the reality of lost love. He’s burying himself in what he knows best, churning out street song after street song, channeling the dope boy magic that defined his early work and initial come-up. The title track itself represents a familiar feeling to anyone who has survived a bitter breakup. It’s the numbness, the emotional unavailability, the cutoff that allows you to not be “trusting these hoes” and “just be smashing these hoes.” There’s a certain sick pleasure and liberation one takes in dismissing potential love interests when you’re still not over the previous one. Fellow Dungeon Family member Andre 3000 touched on this kind of attitude in rap back in a Fader interview from last fall. He was talking about K Camp’s “Cut Her Off.” His take on it was that it represented “armor”—that most of the people who engage those kinds of themes have been hurt in their past relationships with women. The content of “Monster” reads unmistakably as a manifestation of that kind of self-protection. It’s a reaction, a fortification against one's own vulnerability.
Perhaps the only thing that Monster offers as any kind of relief is the second-to-last track, “Mad Luv,” a poignant dedication to his day ones. The video finds him back in Zone 6, surrounded by friends, intercut with golden hour shots of boarded up houses and aerial Atlanta landmarks. The actual ending of the tape is a slower, syrupy lullaby, “Codeine Crazy,” which leaves you with just enough of a turn down moment to make room for Beast Mode. There was a two-and-a-half month gap between the two tapes, which was still itself populated by his seemingly constant video releases, as well as a few well-sprinkled, possibly rushed features on Mike WiLL Made It’s Ransom mixtape.
But he’s more human in beast mode than machine, more John Henry than steam powered hammer, because you hear the anguish, the exhaustion seeping through every perforation in the tracks he chooses.
Beast Mode lives somewhere in the no man’s land between EP and mixtape. Future belts “oohs” and “aahs” throughout the nine-track, 27-minute journey over Zaytoven’s keyboard highway. One imagines how gorgeous a duet between the two (live Future vocals over just Zaytoven riffing at a grand piano) would sound and appear on a worthy stage. Get these two to Carnegie Hall. The tape’s brevity definitely plays to its own advantage. The groove is continuous enough such that it almost just feels like an extended single track. Again, features are kept to a minimum. Young Scooter shows up at the beginning and Juvenile gets on what’s essentially a “Ha” remake called “Aintchu” (which is actually quite difficult to be mad at. It’s a classy homage, and it’s cute to hear Juvie claiming his all-but-forgotten Rich Gang affiliation). There isn't really a development on the "Throw Away" narrative, nor a comparable emotional spill. “Real Sisters” is an obvious standout, a feat of Zaytoven’s characteristically slithering, interwoven sound paired with Future in his simplest, most matter-of-fact flow. Another testament to the tape’s cohesion and sort of, circularity, is that it’s bookended by these two speeding down the freeway type songs. His initial “Ooooooh”-ing just feels like swerving music, and by the final track he’s sort of sputtering and tripping over the rhythm, syncopating with his overlapping “Forever and ever”s.
He sounds like he’s not giving himself any time to breathe. Even he probably hasn’t had much of a chance to listen to Monster, not to mention his second album, Honest, which came out only six months prior. Such is the mode of Super Future, this mechanical output race against…something—himself, I guess. But he’s more beast than machine, more John Henry than steam-powered hammer, because you hear the anguish, the exhaustion seeping through every perforation in the tracks he chooses. Let’s just hope he doesn’t collapse.