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”