With 2012 wrapping-up and pieces reflecting on the year coming as quick as Christmas music, it’s clear one album whose success has been as ubiquitous as it’s been divisive is Future’s Pluto. The Decatur-born rapper, born Nayvadius Wilburn and given his name from his hometown’s collective of hip-hop heroes, the Dungeon Family, first emerged on hip-hop’s radar on YC’s 2011 mega-hit “Racks.” One of the most inescapable and quoted songs in recent memory (referenced that same year by Lil Wayne, Kanye West and Jay-Z), its success essentially gave Future, who performs tonight at the Highline Ballroom, carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. Lucky for us, he chose to innovate.
For some, the biggest hurdle in accepting that Future is a genuine creative force might stem from his first impression as a solo artist being seemingly rooted in modern hip-hop cliches. Yes, his first single “Tony Montana” was built around referencing Scarface, had a guest verse from Drake and is just about entirely auto-tuned. But, again, its success with listeners, even with a presumed over-saturation of such ideas, does provide some evidence that Future is doing something right. These suspicions were confirmed last April with his album Pluto‘s official release.
Over Pluto‘s 15 tracks, Future brought his vision to life with one of the most cohesive rap full-lengths in recent memory. Given that hip-hop’s traditionally never been much of an album medium, with its most celebrated pioneering LPs built around their early released successful singles, it’s not that far off to say that, from a construction standpoint, Pluto is grounded in hip-hop tradition. It’s precisely this foundation that allows Future to push boundaries without completely alienating his listeners. There’s something to be said for his use of auto-tune in a post-“D.O.A.” world. While his layers-upon-layers of it make it a bit of an acquired taste, the active experimentation Future does with his own vocals seemingly before he manipulates them with technology allows for a much broader array of sounds and melodies. He isn’t just using the program to make it sound like he can sing or have a “cool robot voice.” He’s using it to make something wholly fresh and exciting. Nothing on the radio today quite sounds like “Parachute” or “Turn On the Lights,” and the latter’s broad appeal with audiences is, again, indicative his new sound is successfully connecting.
But Future’s creativity isn’t just relegated to how he can use technology. One of the greatest challenges in writing a successful rap single is an effective hook, something of which Pluto has quite the supply. The album’s third single, “Same Damn Time,” has continued Future’s streak of contributing to the oft-quoted rap lexicon, also serving as the platform that inspired Diddy to have his finest hour on the mic in recent memory. But it’s the album’s closer “You Deserve It” that cements Future’s status as a standout talent.
With recent rap releases having a unspoken requirement of one pat-yourself-on-the-back victory lap track, “You Deserve It” is easily the most genuine. Instead of bragging about his success as if he’s relishing in gloating against “the haters,” Future instead humbly conveys the satisfaction of fulfilling a dream while keeping the congratulatory-aspect to second-hand compliments. His line “it brings water to my eyes just to hear me on the radio” reveals a transparent vulnerability his contemporaries have only attempted through moments of heartbreak, never at their highest admission of success. It’s that bravery that keeps hip-hop fans, a bunch often obsessed with how great things used to be, now looking forward to further great things from Future.