By Chaz Kangas
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Have you heard this song, "Loveeeeeee Song"? Off the new Rihanna record. That's "Loveeeeeee Song," seven E's. Great song. A languid, subaquatic heartbeat propping up a few blippy keyboard chords, like a suicidal coffeemaker seducing a Sega Genesis, with Rihanna in her vastly underrated "lugubrious pillow talk" mode: "When I love you close/You can feel my heart beating through my clothes" and so forth. It's definitely her second most emotionally lucid performance of the year, after Battleship. But you might forget she's there at all, might not care one way or another. Future has that effect on people.
To classify Future as a mere rapper is to miss the point; to call him anything else is to belabor it. But he's really more of a croaker, a bleater, a narcotized moaner, a peacocking digital belcher, an eroticized asthmatic. It sounds as though he's being perpetually strangled by a rival, inferior rapper. He uses Auto-Tune the way Picasso used nude women, the way Obama uses drones. The Edward to Ke$ha's Bella. Baffling, polarizing, inhuman, repulsive, delightful. His chorus hook for "Loveeeeeee Song" transcribes uneasily as "Looooooove/Oh, oh, oh, oh"; Pitchfork allowed that the effect "calls to mind a dog vomiting," which is not inaccurate. Rad dog, though.
For most people, hip-hop in 2012 was primarily a matter of Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and this is just. But you will have 50,000 times more fun with Pluto, Future's own major-label debut, crowning two years of gloriously wayward, pop-chart-scraping bewilderment. The rising Atlanta kingpin/Klingon-born Nayvadius Wilburn is only getting stranger and vocally gnarlier. And if good kid is The Master, then Pluto is Magic Mike: a charming, luridly engrossing, shockingly affecting romp. It's largely set in a strip club, yes, and yet suffused with an air of elegant, winsome melancholy. Not to mention way better (and/or smarter) than you expected. (More clues for your "Oscar Bait to Pazz & Jop Contender" decoder ring: R.A.P. Music = Django Unchained; Life Is Good = This is 40; Cruel Summer = Les Misérables. But we digress.)
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It's all digression with this guy; Pluto is the rap-album equivalent of Michael Winslow doing a one-man Shakespeare play, if Shakespeare wrote soliloquies with first lines as awesome as "I live a cowabunga lifestyle." Fall face-first into the deep end and start with the pulverizing, confounding "Tony Montana," its horror-movie piano in turn stabbed by Future's choking, beyond-repetitive anti-hook. It's the sort of song that leads thirtysomethings to conclude that teenagers are now just fucking with them.
Multitasking, Waka-licious shout-along anthem "Same Damn Time" is just as repetitious but way more adrenalizing; "Magic" is just as adrenalizing and also absolutely miraculous, with a shrewdly knuckleheaded hook ("Voilà! Magic! Voilà! Magic!") and Future in a rare rappity-rap mood, flicking insouciant double-time spitballs: There is something celestial about the way "Two bad bitches wanna fuck me the greatest/A young G in a brand-new Mercedes" stumbles commandingly out of his mouth. It makes you want to write out the words in Constitution-quality calligraphy, frame it, and mount it over a roaring fireplace.
But it's Pluto's arty, emotionally raw core that really throws you. "Truth Gonna Hurt You" triangulates UGK swagger and wah-wah-immersed Portishead despondency to sumptuous effect. The totally convincing "I'm Trippin" could be dropped unaltered into the troubled middle third of Hounds of Love—it sounds way more like a baroque Kate Bush art-rock aria than anything KB superfan Big Boi has yet attempted. And that guy (a major Future influence and mentor, of course, but also lately a bested competitor) just spent an entire (terrible) album attempting them.
"Neva End" and "Turn on the Lights," meanwhile, are both hypnotic, show-stopping ballads that convey lovelorn studio-rat desperation way better than, say, Tame Impala. The chorus to "Lights" is logistically preposterous—an ungainly torrent of words, Future more or less blubbering as he rhapsodizes his hypothetical dream girl in an all-caps last-call giant-champagne-bottle spray: "I HEARD SHE KEEP HER PROMISES AND NEVER TURN ON YOU/I HEARD SHE AIN'T GON' CHEAT AND SHE GON' NEVER MAKE NO MOVE." Trying that at karaoke is a good way to give yourself an aneurysm. You still assume he's fucking with you, but you also have to concede he's awfully sweet about it.
Verily, this is also an album with lines like "I got yo' attitude in Venus/I got you beggin' to catch my semen" and "You an honor to me/I got that lumber like a tree," gleefully sabotaging slick, comparatively staid guest verses from T.I., R. Kelly, Drake, Snoop Dogg, et al, with their host's coarse, electrifying, superior insanity. Sonically, lyrically, bronchially, it's gonna be a hoot watching rappers try to out-weird this guy. (Consider the most pleasurable moments of Chief Keef's new Finally Rich, especially the deranged Future-meets–Soulja Boy space oddity "Laughing to the Bank." #HUAUAHAUAHAU.)
This is certainly not a mode he invented—God bless you, Weezy, increasingly intolerable as you've become—but Future has quickly perfected it, and his true peers anymore are long-deified Pazz & Jop avant-garde balladeers working in slightly different modes and commanding slightly different fan bases. Devotees of Tom Waits's hacking-cough poet laureate routine, for example, or whatever the hell Scott Walker fans insist Scott Walker is transcendentally doing. And anyone who still claims to enjoy Bob Dylan gassing/rasping on about the Titanic for 14 minutes, look the fuck out. This is your man; this is his flabbergasting R.A.P. music; this is his planet.