It’s 2012: when the best rap debut of the year contains almost no rap. That’s the situation Navyvadius Cash has put us in with Pluto, an album that achieves the impossible feat of simultaneously being the most and least conventional album ever released by the Dungeon Family collective. As we’ve discussed previously, Future made his name in the South with Auto-tune processed verses and hooks — slowly shaping himself into the type of experimental and compelling voice that makes radio DJs sit up and bloggers cautiously optimistic. A string of singles — “Racks”, “Magic” and “Tony Montana” — is how we got here, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for what ends up forming the bulk of Pluto.
The Dungeon Family’s in-house slam poet Big Rube blesses Future with an intro, claiming “The Future is now.” More than a collection of mainstream grabs, Pluto plays like a mission statement — a work of sure footed popular music that defies classification. The temptation is to attribute Future’s vision to Andre’s electro fiddling on Outkast’s late work. But that’s off-base, a different type of experimentation from a generation in the rearview. Drake shows up on a remix of “Tony Montana” and it fits better. With Pluto, Future does for T-Pain and Atlanta’s brand of ringtone R&B what Drake did for Aaliyah and his R&B heroes of the mid to late 90s. But where Drake seamlessly alternates between traditional verses and sung hooks, Future blurs that line until it’s nearly indecipherable.
Future has stumbled upon some mystic alchemy of Auto-tune filters that allows him to sound like a robot on the verge of tears at all times. It’s an effective effect, regardless of whether he’s in the throws of fleeting young lust, a dire struggle to hustle ones way out of the hood, or standard boasting and bragging (which comes across as earned defiant triumph). There’s a bittersweet tint to it and it changes how the listener processes the content. Regardless of how cookie-cutter the subject, Future’s great ear for beats and absolute conviction in his style makes this, very simply, a nearly perfect 15 track album (“Permanent Scar” kind of sucks).
There are standouts. The moments where Future allows himself to drop into something closer to straight rapping, such as the grand finale “You Deserve It and the drug anthem with Juicy J (“I’m Tripping.”) You get the feeling that a rapper with Future’s ability will be doing quite a bit more rapping now that he’s made this statement and gotten Pluto out of his system. But even if not, “Parachute,” (the team up with a guy who knows a little something about singing and rapping) “Straight Up”, “Turn off the Lights” and “Astronaut Chick” show that in a startlingly short time, Future has matured into an extremely tight and polished song writer who bears little resemblance to the artist whose laziness plagued his two break-out mixtapes. Even if he gravitates towards his R&B instincts, he’ll be able to eat a long time off his ear and his instincts.
But I hesitate to discuss highlights because Pluto is the rare 21st Century Atlanta Rap album that is an album in the classic sense of the word. It’s an experience, an etched aesthetic that demands end to end listens, and you may find yourself scrolling back to Big Rube immediately upon completion. While Drake, Frank Ocean and the Weeknd push R&B towards dark, stark, minimal places, Future has gone the other direction, injecting MDMA into it’s bloodstream and fucking with the most basic tenants of its format. It’s an otherworldly, genre- shattering strain of pop that will likely garner big sales and incessant spins throughout 2012. It should. He deserves it.