Tuesday, April 22, 2014

album review: 'honest' by future

I do not understand why Future is famous.

I've said this before about other artists, most notably about 2 Chainz way back when I reviewed his last album, and the fun fact is that I actually came to an answer about that particular rapper: apparently, he's the funny one. Frankly, since my own sense of humour is weird, I guess I can accept that for 2 Chainz, even though his technical skills as a rapper would have had him laughed out of the game only a decade ago.

But with Future, I don't get it, and I'm starting to think I never will. The only reason Future has a career is because his cousin Rico Wade founded Dungeon Family and brought him on - which from a larger point of view blows my mind because this is the music collective that gave us OutKast, Killer Mike, Cee-Lo, Janelle Monae... and then Future. One of these things is not like the other, folks, so let's all give thanks for nepotism! But okay, that's obviously the push that has gotten him success, but why him? He can only barely sing with gratuitous autotune that barely gives him a personality, his rap flow varies between disinterested and embarrassing, his content only manages to paint him as a materialistic, lecherous asshole with none of the charisma that briefly made it excusable from Ludacris or T.I., and he works with terrible producers like Mike Will Made It. I listened to his debut album Pluto, which had five singles that managed to chart, and frankly, I couldn't recommend any of them other than overproduced commercials for the luxury brands he crams into his rhymes. The one thing I'll give Future is that he sounds like nobody else on the radio, but you know that's not always a good thing, right? Just because you stand out somewhat stylistically doesn't mean your lyrical content is worth a damn.

But apparently he scraped up enough goodwill to make a second album titled Honest, which apparently is distinctive because Future proclaimed there would be 'no love songs on this album'. I'm fine with that - Future was never convincing on the love songs anyway - but did that mean his new album was worth a damn anyway?

Well, no, it's not. And honestly, while I could sit here and spend the next ten minutes discussing this album that gave me a throbbing migraine every time I listened to it, I think it's more important to discuss why this guy is popular and why he's getting loads of acclaim he doesn't deserve. Because make no mistake, Honest by Future sucks a lot, but you wouldn't know it by the arsenal of critics making excuses for this album's lack of good content, intellect, or talent. So let's go through the defenses made for this album and see what they think makes this album special.

The first line, right out of the door, is that the beats and production are grand and potent and have some slick power that does make them distinctive. And to be fair, there are precisely three beats I think fit that mold pretty well. Take, for instance, the opening track 'Look Ahead' has a good guitar line, an interesting percussion progression, and the anonymous girls on the hook have some distinct flavour - of course, the trap hi-hats overwhelm any sense of melody very quickly, but it was nice when it was there. Then there's 'Benz Friends' with the laziest Andre 3000 hook I've heard in years but that does have a bouncy strings line courtesy of Organized Konfusion I did find kind of catchy. And finally, there's 'Blood, Sweat, Tears' produced by Boi-1da that has a solid reverb-saturated booming progression that does have some epic potency. And yeah, there are a few meandering keyboard lines across this album that aren't all that bad when you can make them out, but outside of that? We have track after track with either generic trap production or the newest skin-crawling atrocity from Mike Will Made It that has no flow or cohesion whatsoever. For example, 'Move That Dope' might have a lot going with the many collaborators, but the half-finished synth line, the gurgling lower synth and unnecessary backing vocals just make the instrumentation a total mess. In comparison to pop rappers like Kid Ink or YG, who at least bother to have a cohesive melody on their songs even if it's from DJ Mustard and simplified to the bare bones, Future's trap production is either too stiff and jittery to flow well or so languid and lazy it burbles beneath the hi-hats to kill the flow entirely.

Now the immediate argument after that is that, well, it fits Future's flow, half staccato rapping and half auto-tuned warble, but does it really? It was this album that really solidified my first big issue with Future: he does not ride these beats well. He's clunky, his flow is disjointed from line to line, and considering his technical rapping is haphazard at best, his yelping delivery behind the mic gets excruciating, especially if he's on the single-line repeated hook. As for the autotuned 'singing', I stand by my previous assertions: the Autotune reduces him to a glugging mass who neither has charisma or is emotionally compelling. It doesn't help matters at all that Future doesn't remotely sound like he's having any fun, which might fit the too-serious trap production but certainly doesn't make for an enjoyable listening experience.

And normally, this would be the place where lyrical content might be enough to redeem this album, but note that many of their glowing reviews seem to be curiously quiet when it comes to discussing this. Well there's an easy reason why: Future might be one of the least appealing lyricists in the rap game, especially in comparison with the arsenal of collaborators he surrounds himself with. The 'themes' of this album, if you can call them that, are the standard raps about drugs, cash, and hoes, and yet there's so little lyrical character to his material that none of his punchlines stand out, which at least was the solitary thing going for 2 Chainz! He seems to get most of his lyrical energy when he's rattling off brand names and smashing his 'haters' because they aren't as rich as him and they don't understand his struggle, but here's my problem: if I don't buy your 'struggle' - which I don't, because you only got into Dungeon Family thanks to nepotism and not extraordinary talent, I have no reason to buy your success as legitimate either. And it doesn't help matters when Future is so unconvincing in defining that struggle - on 'Move That Dope', he calls on Pusha T to add some cred, and yet Pharrell ends up being the most interesting rapper on the song by going completely off-topic. Sure, from a technical standpoint, it's not a great verse, but at least it has flavour! Then you have a song like 'Honest', which after the grating yodeling on the hook and rhyming 'honest' with itself twenty-two times, it operates on the precedent of proving that he's a wealthy big shot - uh, Future, if you have to keep saying 'you're being honest', which is normally implied, I start thinking you're full of shit.

Granted, if Future was trying to make himself likable, he wouldn't have collaborated with Kanye on 'I Won', a song that goes the extra length in sexism by calling their current partners 'trophies' that 'they won'. Yeah, way to make the entire song objectifying and crass! And while the sexual politics of Kanye's relationship might be interesting in that he desperately needs a therapist to sit down with him to talk about expressing a loving relationship in a flattering way, Future just looks like a tool, which he then reinforces on 'Never Enough' with Drake and 'Covered N Money', which only serve to emphasize his blatant shallowness. And thus there's a certain twisted irony when Andre 3000 raps about going with less because he doesn't need more and he wants his relationships to be based on more real emotion, and Future just turns it into another gold-digging song. Way to miss the point.

Folks, Honest by Future might embody its title, but that doesn't make it remotely worth your time. It might have grandeur, but there's not talent to make that grandeur feel earned. It might be shallow escapism, but it's the sort of escapism that's not fun or even all that interesting. It might have the feeling of actually being on drugs, but it's the sort of trip that leaves you feeling cold and distinctly unsatisfied by the end because it adds up to so little. At least with YG or Kid Ink there were beats and melodies that at least tried to stand out and be memorable - this album is a wallow in exaggerated opulence that lacks any form of taste, class, or even good melody. 3/10, skip this album, and maybe - just maybe - the rest of the world might come to their sense and send Future back in anonymity where he belongs.

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