Future - Honest

Future’s uneven sophomore effort fails to live up to its promise.

Additional Info

7.0

ALBUM: Honest

ARTIST: Future

2014

Hip-Hop/Rap

Every April, hordes of people flock with their headdresses and their designer drugs to Indio, California for Coachella. It’s the Mecca from which all modern music festival clichés are derived, a world unto itself where superstar acts and blog darlings exist beside one another without any outside-world context. This year, it was the site of the reunion to end all reunions—Outkast. Two decades after Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (and one decade after they last shared a stage), the poet and the player were reunited. “Gasoline Dreams” scorched the sound system; Andre’s perceived indifference scorched Twitter. Yet right in the middle of their opening night set, they were joined by a surprise guest: Future.

The Atlanta-by-way-of-Pluto upstart only played three songs, but his time on stage was a sort of Rorschach test for the tens of thousands of rap fans watching. Future fills many convenient strawman posts for old-guard purists, his identity hastily reduced to that of an extra in the ethereal, never-ending director’s cut of the “What They Do” video. So if his being on stage during the mythical return to Stankonia offended you, you were certainly confused by Andre seemingly taking more joy in “Same Damn Time” than any of his own songs. Yet Future’s roots with the Dungeon Family run deep (Rico Wade is his cousin and earliest first mentor), and anyone who believes Mr. Ciara is merely Industry Club Rapper #5560 hasn’t been paying attention. To paraphrase his forefathers: Future isn’t just an Autotuned hit machine—but he’s that, too.

Pluto (2012) was a revelation. The record wasn’t perfect—it was bloated, unfocused, and poorly sequenced—but it explored the different avenues of Future’s style while remembering to put the most chips on his biggest strengths. This time, there is no such luck. Honest, especially in its latter two thirds, is a tepid affair that fails to cash in on Future’s superlative talent.

Even passive rap fans have been sucked into Future’s orbit over the past two years; cuts like “U.O.E.N.O.”, “Bugatti”, and “Sh!t” (included here as a bonus track) are superb articulations of his appeal. Just as comfortable navigating busy, maximalist trap or washed-out negative space, Future is an adaptive stylist whose consistency has defied all reason. Distinctive and inimitable as his style is, Future is the equivalent of a generous actor, always looking to make the scene’s other players look good. If nothing else, this creative accommodation is on full display on Honest. “Move That Dope” drags Pusha T, cackling and delirious, back into the comfort zone he mostly abandoned for My Name Is My Name. (“Move That Dope” also coaxes Pharrell into dipping back into the soft white.) Sometimes Future sets up his costars to succeed, only for them to falter: Drake and Kanye West misfire, the former at his most ineffectual and the latter at his clumsiest and most one-note. But when Andre shows up for “Benz Friendz”, it’s like the last ten years never happened.

Ultimately, however, Honest fails because it’s chasing something it can’t quite nail down. Nearly half of the album’s forty-seven-minute run time is spent trying to recreate the emotive, vulnerable “Turn on the Lights” or “You Deserve It”. What we get instead is a handful of mid-tempo clunkers like “I Be U”, which is as close as Future will ever come to making elevator music. Closer “Blood, Sweat, Tears” is a poor attempt to shoehorn his natural magnetism into U2-style arena pop. And while he outperforms a phoning-it-in Drake, “Never Satisfied” is terribly uninspired, foregoing Future’s usual eccentricities: “I can’t ever forget the struggle, and I paid dues/Can’t let the money and the fame come between my crew.”

Of course, when Future is firing on all cylinders, the music is undeniable. Like “Move That Dope”, “Honest” has been floating around for some time now, and is as infectious and necessary as anything in Future’s catalog. The opening combo of “Look Ahead” and “T Shirt” is the album’s high point, moving from triumphant, guitar-backed chanting to horror-flick fatalism. Along with the superb “Benz Friendz”, these records remind you why Future is one of the most exciting stars in rap, but they also taunt you with what could have been.

“I woke up in that Bugatti, went and bought be three Lambs”

1. Look Ahead
Songs that open albums are often described as ‘triumphant’. This stands to reason; why wouldn’t the artist want to announce him or herself as the conquering hero? But few have the unique pathos Future has on “Look Ahead”. Just like Andre and Antwan, the focus is on the road head, never looking back. Known for heavy trap and synthy, spacey minimalism, “Look Ahead” is driven by a tribal vocal sample and a guitar line that reminds you Atlanta is as country as it is anything else. His halting flow is infectious, bouncing off the walls at every turn. Break something.9.0
2. T-Shirt
The best Future songs sound as if his heart is moving faster than his pen. Each is an emotional bloodletting; the words might be slurred, but it’s because they’re desperate attempts to drive home a point. “T Shirt” is no different. It isn’t enough for Future to tell you he’s rich—he needs you to believe he’s rich, because he’s trying to convince himself. His materialism is different, too. Nowhere is the soulless consumption the anti-mainstream crowd decries. Flossing is a means to an emotional end: “You remember me, nigga?/Know you remember me, nigga/I’m gon’ whip up in them Raris, make you envy me, nigga”. 10.0
3. Move That Dope
When Pusha T is on, he’s one of the most intoxicating rappers in the world. The Clipse’s Lord Willin’ (2002) and Hell Hath No Fury (2006) are two of the finest coke-rap albums ever recorded, and when there’s a stove flame under Pusha, he can still tap into that magic. On “Move That Dope”, he’s a slippery crime lord, and it’s a welcome shot of nostalgia. Pusha drags along his old comrade Pharrell, and if nothing else, it’s fun to hear the guy from “Happy” rapping in double time about knocking over vehicles. This is the kind of kinetic rap song that Future can concoct out of thin air, and Honest would be better to have more of them.9.0
4. My Momma
It might seem strange to call a song so straightforward a high-risk, high-reward affair, but it is. The chanted hook and percussive flow are like a house of cards: if all goes well, it’s a no-frills hit. But if the track falters at any point, it’s a dull, drawn-out affair. Unfortunately, “My Momma” falls toward the latter end of the spectrum. The verses are so dry as to lose steam even while Future tries his damndest to inject them with energy. Wiz Khalifa is at his insufferable worst, sounding downright amateur trying to mimic Future’s flow at the beginning of his verse.6.0
5. Honest
This is more like it. “Honest” lives up to its name, using the confessional structure to give color to his boasts and his genuine confessions alike. The song drives ceaselessly forward, anchored by a falsetto “I tell the truth” that weaves in and out of Metro Boomin’s fuck-the-girl-you-met-at-prom piano. Two albums in, there’s still a palpable sense of wonder underlying all the foreign coupes and hundred-thousand-dollar watches. When Future croaks “I was gon’ lie to you, but I had to tell the truth”, you believe him.9.5
6. I Won
When it was released, Jeff Weiss likened“I Won” to a clumsy rendition of A Doll’s House. Neither Future nor Kanye is as sinister as Ibsen’s Torvald, but both—especially Kanye—are just as clueless. There’s something naively endearing about Mr. West’s rambling adoration for his wife-to-be in radio interviews, but his verse here is a ham-fisted attempt to translate that appeal. Boasting that “every time I score it’s like the Super Bowl” because Kim once dated athletes is at best hollow and at worst weirdly objectifying, and putting “an angel in your ultrasound” does not exactly make for a timeless declaration of love. For his part, Future does better; at least he sounds genuinely elated to be with Ciara, whereas Kanye’s verse stays squarely in self-congratulatory territory.7.0
7. Never Satisfied
Who would have guessed a two-minute song would feel like the album’s longest? Fresh off a dull, deliberate album in last year’s Nothing Was the Same, Drake sounds as if he has to work himself into a frenzy to sound menacing or interesting, and lamenting that he’s “never satisfied” because money is, in fact, still on his mind is about as rote as you can get. It’s a wasted opportunity, too, because the sparse beat could have been an interesting canvas for Future’s experimentation. Instead, he follows Drake with one of his weaker turns on the album.5.5
8. I Be U
“I Be U” will probably be a go-to number in Future’s inevitable sets at summer music festivals. It sounds like it belongs at Bonnaroo—in the worst way possible. Detail’s beat is reminiscent of every dreary synth-pop song to catch on at college radio in 2011. There’s certainly something there when Future riffs on making eye contact during sex because “I guess it’s better you know”, but his contributions here are too lazy and formless to build any sort of momentum or discernable structure. What could have been an interesting iteration of Future’s ultra-secure approach to rapping about sex is instead totally unworthy of a spot on Honest.5.5
9. Covered N Money
This is probably a year and a half late. Future’s last two mixtapes have been aggressive, loud affairs, but the ship has mostly sailed on this kind of unqualified maximalist trap. Unlike “Sh!t”, there is no unique creative filter applied, no twist on the aesthetic. Fortunately, Future is so good at this sound that the song still stays afloat. Is there anything as exciting as hearing about Future saying “I could make Fraklins do back-a-flips”? In fact, “Covered N Money” might be home to Honest’s wittiest, most engaging writing: “I hit the lottery…tell me your thoughts and you better not lie to me.”8.0
10. Special
Coming from Future, “You ain’t even trying to be special” is a charge that cuts especially deep. An astronaut on Tang, Future sounds perfectly at home over the faint Spanish guitar and snare rolls. The narrative confusion that his aversion to direct narrative engenders (he’s “been sleeping in dope houses”, even as ex-friends try to sue him for millions) play here like confused paranoia, and it pays off in spades. “Codeine calm my nerve—I was getting high since a kid/I took all of my problems and I turned it all into hits.”9.0
11. Benz Friendz
There’s no doubt that Andre is one of the greatest to ever touch a microphone, even fourteen years after the last proper Outkast album. If that solo album ever surfaces, it will likely be great. But Dre has made a career anchoring and providing contrast for other performers, dragging them into the stratosphere or pushing them back down to Earth as the song requires. He grabs “Benz Friendz” by the throat, reducing Future to the guest spot on his own song. And that’s precisely how it should be. This is the happiest song ever made in the history of rap or music or Western society; both sound positively ecstatic to be on the track together. And they don’t give a fuck about a Benz, bitch.10.0
12. Blood, Sweat, Tears
You can practically hear the A&R over the comically over-the-top drums: “We need a song like this.” Just because Future can emote doesn’t mean he always should, and just because songs like “Blood, Sweat, Tears” exist doesn’t mean they should close out songs by experimental rap stars. The melodrama is too thick to cut through. There is nothing to see here. In fact, “Blood, Sweat, Tears” is so lazily pandering that it threatens to cheapen the rest of Honest retroactively. A poor sequencing choice if there ever was one.5.0
Paul Thompson is a writer based in Los Angeles. He is a the lead writer at 2dopeboyz and a frequent contributor to Passion of the Weiss.



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