future-honest-video (1)

Doc Zeus is honest, even when he lies

Atlanta rap troubadour/robot Future is one of rap’s greatest stylists. The breakthrough success of his 2012 debut album, Pluto, transformed Future from a gruff mixtape trap star into something approaching a sensitive, sentient rap love-bot seemingly inventing a new, heavily imitated aesthetic on the fly. Pluto’s audio atmosphere employed twinkling synth swirls and flourishes while Future’s trademark trap lord bark was given a wounded auto-tuned croon that pushed him into the sweet spot between T.I. and R. Kelly writing songs about drug dealing, love, women, money and the trap with equal capability. It was a unique approach that won over fans, critics and terrestrial radio making him one of hip-hop’s brightest new stars.

Despite the album’s impressive technical polish, many of Pluto’s songs had an unfortunate tendency to feel lightweight if embarrassingly saccharine. For every genuinely brilliant, starry-eyed love song such as “Turn On The Lights” or head rush-inducing banger such as “Same Damn Time,” Pluto was infested with cheesy R&B crossover drivel as “Parachute” and “Astronaut Chick.” Meanwhile, Future’s songwriting also sported an unfortunate tendency for Drake-like solipsism that feels insincere and douche-y. For example, the album’s closer, “You Deserve It,” plays less like a life validation for a struggling poor kid and more like the obnoxious bragging of an entitled Republican. Despite these criticisms, Pluto remained an overall success and one of the consensus best albums of 2012.

Two years of mainstream radio domination with a string of titanic hits and guest appearances later, Future is back to release his sophomore album, Honest. Unfortunately, Honest feels like a disappointing retread of his first album. At its core, his new LP suffers from an over reliance on Future’s trademark aesthetics which feels less fresh than it did a mere two years ago. The sheer ubiquity of his sound in the modern rap scene, not only due to Future’s own omnipresence but through his many imitators, have served to take the sheen off him a little. The proceedings seems a little less fun this time around and many of the songs as “Never Satisfied,” “Blood Sweat N Tears” and “I Be U” feel like a rehash of his themes and ideas of his early material.

While Honest is less innovative than its predecessor, it also leans heavily into the unfortunate solipsism that plagued the worst moments of Pluto, too. While Future is not, was not and will not be the first musician to brag about their material gains, the album’s title cut, “Honest,” takes the good old fashioned humble brag to startlingly insufferable lows. The sheer scope of Future’s trademark aesthetics seem to innately bring a sense of galactic melodrama to his somewhat underrated lyricism, it also has the effect of making the standard brag rap to be doubly obnoxious. There is something a little gag-inducing to hear Future brag about nice cars, expensive watches and easy women as if it were a virtuous confession.

At another point, Future’s much-discussed, high-profile collaboration, “I Won,” with fellow rap aesthete, Kanye West, falls completely on its face. “I Won” transforms the pair’s well-meaning dedications of love towards their respective celebrity paramours turns their significant others into possessive objects of the rapper’s success. Not only does it feature the type of gross gender politics that would make a Jezebel columnist cringe, it serves as the logical sequel to Pluto’s “You Deserve It.” It literally transforms the duo’s famous fiancees into a living trophy to validate their success – a deeply uncomfortable moment on the album.

While many songs on Honest feel disappointing, it is by no means a failure as their are real moments of genuine greatness on the album, too. The album is stronger when it eschews much of the saccharine, sad boy robotics and gets down to Future’s roots as a gritty mixtape trap rapper. Songs such as “Move That Dope,” “Covered N Money” and “My Momma” are pure street rap id and will leave you ill-advisedly mean-mugging strangers in your car. Meanwhile, early street singles such as “Sh!t” and “Karate Chop (Remix)” (with 100% less references to Emmett Till!) remain the best material on the album. Future has a gift for making these type of bangers and these moments will easily rank at some of the best rap songs of 2014 even if Honest doesn’t entirely gel.

Ultimately, Honest is a mixed affair that suffers from a malaise of Future’s own success. While Future’s aesthetics might not be quite as innovative as he was only two years ago, the weak moments on the album are not an indictment on Future’s career which remains very bright. Future might make traditional rap ideologues squirm in their XXXXL Rocawear jeans but he’s still one of the most cutting-edge voices in rap to come along in awhile. And with that, I’m just being honest.

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