Dirty Sprite 2
For Future's longtime fans Dirty Sprite 2 represents a vindication. An artist with the odds stacked against him earned a devoted fanbase and transcended, only to stumble in what was to be his crowning moment. Honest's tepid reception last year led to a general consensus Future had failed to live up to his grand promise; perhaps, in the tautological reasoning of hip-hop's shoptalkers, he just didn't have what it takes. Dirty Sprite 2, a sequel to a 2011 mixtape that predates the bulk of his mainstream attention, is his second chance, the climactic peak of his redemptive arc. Yet for a record set to redeem his popular career, there's little hope for the redemption of his soul. It's hardly Honest, Part 2; instead of looking outward, pursuing love songs and aiming for the universal, Future aims within. Reckless and tormented, his latest album doubles down on the darker side of his sound, and his life's personal costs. Call it More Honest Than Honest.
If you've followed Future's recent moves, DS2 is not unprecedented, but it greatly enhances the brooding ambiance of his recent work, a dive further into the abyss. Of the trio of tapes that announced his return—which also included last year's Monster and 2015's Zaytoven-produced Beast Mode—Dirty Sprite 2 most resembles 56 Nights, in its sonic palette and emotional tenor. The bleak feelings of that record, however, are shaded even more darkly here. There are few moments of light; instead, a somber swirl of deep blues and nauseated greens envelop the exploration of a pain one might say is deeper than the ocean. Indeed, this creative purge goes well past the surface; some listeners might attach it to a drug problem, or his breakup with Ciara, but no superficial trials could possibly inspire such aching loss. Dirty Sprite 2 is about the encroaching, imminent numbness, of unfeeling hopelessness, a much more profound melancholy that exists only in the awareness of an emotional absence.
Sadness has always been a part of Future's m.o., but he's never been so immersed in it. The production is no mere collection of beats; instead, it's the yang to his yin, a mechanistic construct that toys with the tension between the artificial and the organic. As ever, his is a soul trapped inside a metallic cage. Produced almost entirely by Metro Boomin and Southside, it verges at times on the melodramatic, with sweeping strings and shroud-like atmosphere of unrelenting abjection. On records like "Where Ya At," a compressed blues banjo is heard through a distortive force field. Although Future's lyrically straightforward rap style contributes to the album's overall approach of bluesy expressionism, this album embodies mediated craft: Tracks unfold slowly over time, with different elements popping in and out of the sonic field unexpectedly, creating the sensation of a carefully constructed three-dimensional space.
But the album's art is in the confluence of each of these elements together; Future fits to these beats, and these beats to him. Its central moments are those in which lyrics and timbre, sound and song are brought into contact and contradiction, all overlapping moods and shifting colors. "Rich $ex," a song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the idealistic Honest, is framed by the album's moody, toxic context, as well as its own concept: rich sex, of course, is beautiful only when backlit by the status quo, a sex that is regular, that is poor. Even in a moment of joy exists a reminder of the real world's pressing anguish.
In expanding on the themes of 56 Nights, Future's latest album is longer, and not always stronger than its predecessor; "Lil One," despite a backdrop replete with screaming vocals to fortify its haunting canvas, seems to stretch on and on, despite its three-and-a-half minute length. As a confrontational street record, those imbricated moods that so empower his other work—the way feelings of remorse and pain and anger and humanity bubble up at once, in contradiction or complement—never spark to life here. But they're present almost everywhere else. On "Slave Master," he asserts, "I'm feeling way better!" his voice decaying in every repetition, as if to underline the lie. A tribute to Tru's "Freak Hoes"—the original of which oozed unadulterated carnality—suggests a loss of control, of tragic circumstances from which he can't escape: "Lil nigga take your head off for a new chain," Future says before returning to a chorus about freak hoes who'll make their knees touch their elbows.
"Try to make me a pop star and they made a monster," he raps on the album's second track, "I Serve the Base," a double entendre and statement of purpose. As Future's fanbase has swelled, conflicts have sparked between new and older adopters: new fans rationalizing their sudden interest, and old ones underlining how much of what made him Future was there all along. Well before Honest and Pluto, he crafted emotionally resonant art that deserved wider exposure. But there's a reason that Dirty Sprite 2, which is now being released at the apex of his popularity, has cultivated such a powerful response.
Despite his resistance, Future's recent music has become more concrete in its autobiographical detail, more personal. ("Kno the Meaning," near his album's close, is most explicitly so.) When he aimed to speak for everyone, he lost them; when he put his story at the center, even if the specifics were unfamiliar, the music become fuller, his presence within it less spare. His is a relatable depression: a recognition of the world's darkness, an inability to detach from it, and the seeming futility of resistance. Dirty Sprite 2 is the sound of toiling to escape, feeling as if you can only pedal in place, and ultimately searching for such meaning in that work.
David Drake is a writer living in New York City. Follow him @somanyshrimp.
And now, The NeedleDrop gives his opinion on Future's DS2. His opinions are his own and does not reflect the opinions of Complex.