In early February of this year, Future dropped his fifth full-length album, the self-titled Future. One week later, he immediately followed it up with Hendrix, awarding the Atlanta rapper a career (and history-making) first: back-to-back No. 1 albums. The hype around Future was so overwhelming, rumors suggested he’d potentially release a third LP. It didn’t happen, and personally, I didn’t need a third Future album, or even Hendrix. In 2017, I simply burrowed into Future.
The album’s blurry cover and despondent themes of drugs, apathy and misogyny felt particularly familiar and painful in a such long, aching year, where a single day could hold a week’s worth of bad news. Of the release, three songs—“Mask Off,” “High Demand,” and “Outta Time”—speak directly to 2017 in ways that have yet to leave my brain, three songs that epitomize a memorable and dark year for us all.
Percocets, molly, Percocets
Percocets, molly, Percocets
Rep the set, gotta rep the set
Chase a check, never chase a bitch
Mask on, fuck it, mask off
Mask on, fuck it, mask off
Future, “Mask Off”
Conversation surrounding drug use in 2010s rap has seen a dramatic shift. The genre has moved from glorifying drug dealers—the business acumen required for below-the-table transactions and the desire to make bank—to championing the user. Even with this seemingly newfound fascination with recreational prescriptions, for rappers, drugs are still an expression of capitalist overindulgence, where consumption isn’t for pleasure, but excess and the status it illustrates.
In 2017, Future’s “Mask Off,” and in particular, it’s chorus (“Percocets, molly, Percocets”) embodies this new direction of rap’s drug obsession. The song’s mixture of vices isn’t what stuck in my mind, but rather, that Future never stopped indulging, and offered little reason to question why or how he got to this point (“Rep the set, gotta rep the set.”)
The addictive quality of the trap rap and the lifestyle its songs’ display doesn’t appear, here, to be any more outlandish than it has previously in rap. The difference is that it it has gotten to the point where we’re now inclined to wonder if the person popping pills is even okay—it doesn’t sound particularly enjoyable. After Lil Peep’s passing in November of this year, it feels like the answer is, increasingly, no.
My number one bitch with me, it excite her
Let my shit go, blow the bitch, go to the cypher
The type of pussy, it’s gon’ make you want to wife her
We do a whole lotta numbers, yeah
Grab on that pussy like Donald
Future, “High Demand”
When I first heard the line “grab on that pussy like Donald” I knew Future wasn’t joking. The line isn’t social commentary; Future performs it with the gusto that revivals Trump’s own words on the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Rappers name-drop Trump all the time, but most do so with disgust—Jeezy on his recent single “American Dream” raps “My president was black, now my president is wack / I ain’t never going broke, what’s more American than that?” Future’s lyric isn’t critical, but that’s not unusual: politics rarely enter his art.
The exception, is, of course, the police violence seen in his “March Madness” video—but that’s truly the only exception. Instead, Future most commonly runs through motifs of money and sex with women, as if the topics were put on an algorithmic loop. But, of course, Future isn’t the only one in rap to hold such a limited worldview in 2017: Playboi Carti’s strong debut mixtape holds the same lack of perspective, as does much of the talked about 2017 SoundCloud rap wave. After 40 years of existence, it’s increasingly frustrating to see what aspects of rap are self-ingrained and what other parts work to reflect broader culture.
“High Demand,” isn’t Future’s only offense. Later on the album Future, the track “I’m So Groovy,” has the rapper saying, “Fuck your squad they some queers.” The brazen use of homophobic language on major label rap feels like a gigantic step back, as if no one at his label or on his team would think to stop such hateful speech. It’s hard to be shocked, easy to be disappointed.
Who knew I’d get this much attention?
Be cool before you get put on suspension
P.I.M.P., gettin’ that Monica Lewinsky
Chain on freeze, wrist on jet-skis
Future, “Outta Time”
My appreciation for rap has never been predicated on lyricism—not out of indifference—but tracking each moment of racial stereotyping and sexism is dizzying. Because of that, to be completely honest, the Monica Lewinsky reference in “Outta Time,” the allusion to her relationship with Bill Clinton, didn’t really hit me until after the Harvey Weinstein story broke. Her name in rap parlance, unfortunately, isn’t a new trend, even if recently it’s been on the decline.
The hundredth listen of “Outta Time” in the midst of a #metoo moment has shifted my view on Future, the album, not Future, the artist. The rapper is a favorite of mine, but the shrinking of his emotional range and songwriting craft is frustrating. “If You Knew What It Took” and “Feeling I Get” both from 2011's Streets Callin’ and True Story, respectively, illustrate a depth that’s he’s since abandoned following a career embrace by the mainstream. Because of that, Future feels like as the endpoint in how far he could take his potentially damning, hedonistic worldview. This is the extreme.
Throughout 2017, Future never left my phone and I found myself asking questions I couldn’t answer. Drugs and rap are so intertwined, but mental health is taboo. Drug deaths are treated with empty thoughts and prayers, so even when a young tragedy like Lil Peep’s death occurs, my Instagram feed stays full of up-and-coming teenage talents drinking cough syrup, smoking weed and popping pills. L.A. Reid and Russell Simmons, men who helped shape hip-hop culture, are being brought down over charges of sexual assault and rape while contemporary acts offer little commentary or suggestions for solutions.
When will rap ever begin to really, really look in the mirror?