Future recently celebrated his New Year’s Eve with a sold-out show in downtown New York, closing out on what’s surely been a career 12 months. Dressed head-to-toe in a crisp, all-white luxury suit, the Atlanta rapper ran through a string of greatest hits and cult classics with a glow on his face. Still, there’s good reason for Future to cheese these days: he’s practically reigned over the entire rap game for the last 365 days.
Unhealthy, sick, desperate, hopeless: You’ve done something either very wrong or very right if these are the words hardcore fans use to discuss your music. But this is the rubric Future listeners now consult when he drops a mixtape: Just how lost and broken does Nayvadius Cash sound this time around? Is his life still a grim parade of the saddest, most transactional sex you can imagine two humans having? (Last year’s LP Dirty Sprite 2 had a minor-key song called "Groupies" that sounds like a funeral march. ) Just how many mournful references to perkys, Zans, and promethazine does he make? If you’re new to the Supervillain Stage of Future’s career, a quick primer on how we got here: Mix one part noxiously awful publicity (Future cheated on universally beloved R&B singer Ciara, breaking the public’s perception of the pair as an idealized super couple); one part savvy embrace of resulting notoriety (the phase was kicked off with 2014’s aptly titled mixtape Monster); and one part obsessive focus on a single aesthetic—mostly one or two producers per mixtape, short track runs, and a single uniform vibe.
2015 could have ended Future’s career. After years of calling himself an astronaut, Fire Marshall Future, and even Future Hendrix, he embraced a villainy that ran deep across three mixtapes (Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights), plus his most successful solo commercial record (Dirty Sprite 2), and a surprise joint release with Drake, which has moved 500,000 units since its September release. It’s not unrealistic to assume a very casual rap fan or anyone with a radio who hadn’t experienced Future before 2015 would have him pegged as a “dark” rapper who strictly sings about lean, pills, and having anonymous sex.
Future is constantly a work in progress. Every time it seems like he’s in a good place, he suddenly isn’t. 2015 saw the release of three Future records, each with their own distinct vibe. 56 Nights found Future reunited with DJ Esco after the DJ’s 56-day stint in a Dubai jail, and the tone of the mixtape is an odd combo of triumphant reunion and apathy over his soured relationship with ex-fiancé Ciara.
After less than a day in existence, former Grantland writer Shea Serrano astutely pointed out on Twitter Future’s tape is already gone the internet is crazy ruthless. Though immediately met with requisite raving from the Internet music collective, Future’s latest endeavor, the Purple Reign mixtape has, indeed, seemed to have removed itself from the consciousness as fast as it appeared. This, however, needn’t be a critical halt; the 2014 mixtape Monster took months to be recognized as his definitive release, the catalyst from which his four 2015 releases would take cues.