The Future Is Now

The A-Town astronaut rocketed Trap music to unseen heights, even birthing the next generation. So when will the culture's creator claim his crown?

By Bonsu Thompson
Photo by Jonathan Mannion

There is a huge distinction between the artist who creates new music and the one who procreates the artists who create new music. Future is well aware of the tiers. Probably why he speaks between lean sips as a man who is peerless. “I feel like I’m different,” says the man born Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, comparing himself to other rap artists. “I didn’t take anything away from the culture. I added to it. I set a trend for my generation.  For my time, I’m one of the best.”

The 6’2” rapper bows to the ground laid by his forefathers––north (Jay-Z) and south (Andre 3000)––but rests assured that whatever amount of their DNA exists in his sound is residual cultural genetics and, most importantly, indistinguishable by his generation.

Today’s Trap rapper has chosen to forgo borrowing from the legends of last century. Instead they’ve uprooted their staples from this very decade’s crop. The widespread deployment of sing-along melody for the purpose of pureeing tales of work-whippin’ and thot-choppin’ flatters Future via its sincerest form’. Even the #1 ranked Drake mirrored Lebron and hopped on Future’s heat for a really big ring.

One of the best, just maybe a bit too humble for a rapper who brags about smoking a bag a day and never doing anything “fugazi.” Future is a God to the culture. He’s given the streets vernacular (“Racks,” “at the same damn time”), returned Auto-Tune to its artistic purpose, added European garment cuts to the dope boy aesthetic, and taken Trap music higher than it has ever been with the WATTBA album. And so today’s self-titled release, his fourth major label project, couldn’t have arrived at a more fitting time for Future to cement his position as a revolutionary in the gutter-to-Grammys world of Trap.

Nayvadius never bends or apologizes.
This is why, despite having churned out a hit record every year since 2010 and collaborating with pop acts like Rihanna and The Weeknd, he’s been practically invisible on award show ballots.

The beauty in Future’s accomplishments thus far lie predominantly in the fact that he’s done it all while lending zero fucks to the music industry. Hendrix is the true ANTI MC. He performs no dances for the establishment. Kisses zero babies in hopes of award show nominations. Bad Gyal Rihanna accommodates the machine far more than the “Rich $ex” author. Whether inside or outside the booth, caught by TMZ or a suspicious girlfriend, Nayvadius never bends or apologizes. This is why, despite having churned out a hit record every 365 since his 2010 rookie year––whether for the RIAA (“Turn On The Lights”) or the cabaret (“Wicked”)––and having recorded with pop acts like The Weeknd, he’s been practically invisible on award show ballots. It appears that the ATL wunderkind has been to trill or, ironically, too “futuristic” for the dinosaurs who keep the gate.  

But Trap music is Future’s sub-genre to reign over. Since his graduation from the Dungeon Family to “Racks” writer, nobody else in his rap division has supplied a larger volume of pure work. A catalogue of mixtapes in this decade alone––including the classic trilogy of Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights, which spawned singular classics like “Fuck Up Some Commas” and the phenomenal “March Madness.” Then when it appeared that maybe the former corner boy’s market value was primarily subterranean, his last studio album, 2015’s DS2, came in at No. 1 its first week and went on to platinum certification.

After clearing 2015 of the artists who ran around 2013 (Rich Homie Quan) and ’14 (Fetty Wap) adorned in his swag, Future stands at the top of 2017 facing a mirroring predicament. Only difference is his children today are younger and richer than ever. The Rae Sremmurd boys have blossomed into platinum-coated Black Beatles scurrying atop the charts, while Migos are No. 1 thanks to their biggest single, which just so happened to be produced by Metro Boomin, the Quincy Jones to Future’s sound. So what’s a former Atlanta trapper from a family of Georgia trappers to do?

Exactly what he did back on those corners in East Atlanta’s Kirkwood neighborhood—when he was working with far fewer commas, options and fans: he searched for the new demand and supplied it. “I wasn’t even trying to stop,” he remembers of those hustling days. “I was thinking, ‘How I could get bigger in this shit?’ I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh I’ma be doing music in 2010.’ I was just hustling and living day by day. Going back to my grandma house, sleeping over this girl house, then come back to the hood in the morning, and hustle all day. Then I just stopped hanging out on the block every day and tried to find other ways to hustle.”

Crack sales turned to prescription pill licks until verses in the legendary basement of his second cousin Rico Wade––one third of Organized Noize and head of the Dungeon Family––turned into solo mixtapes and hit records. Then Future’s star power got tested. He found himself in uncharted territory: the ugly side of pop culture. The commercial hits, collaborations with mononym megastars Miley and Rihanna and his high profile relationship with now former fiancé Ciara began to plummet his street cred. “It got to a point where my relationship was bigger than my music,” he said in last year’s Mass Appeal cover story, before reflecting on when fans turned against him after Ciara broke off their engagement and began dating NFL Quarterback Russell Wilson. “They were posting [football] emojis all over my [Instagram] and sh*t. So I knew what I had to do with Monster.”

Hendrix once again conceded to his D-Boy instincts and “just went numb creatively,” says Rico Wade.“Like ‘I’ma set the tone.’”

“You want people to understand your struggle, understand your pain, understand you,” says Future. “Don’t try to give ’em what you think they want. Just give ’em you and let them accept that.”

“I want to be looked at as one of the best that ever did it,” says Future. “So when that conversation comes up I wanna be over-prepared for whoever wanna debate that.”

In the new millennium coliseum of rap, curation is essential for survival. If a master of ceremony doesn’t preserve their spot or keep it fertile, their land will be taken by the very folks who fed off of it. Take Kendrick Lamar’s crown in lyricism. In order to keep his rap purity ring and remain unfuckwitable, K. Dot may inspire the Big Sean’s and J. Cole’s to push their pens into various yoga poses, but they must never out-write him.

Future has the same responsibility, and until he completely owns his space as the trap rapper, the ANTI rapper, who can inspire hustlers to both grind hard enough to move their mother out of the projects and conquer another man’s woman while wearing Gucci slippers, and still write a hook for pop stars, date a celeb and kill a GQ cover in skinny jeans and a plush fedora, he’ll continue to experience his kids running amuck on Billboard (Desiigner) and peers (2 Chainz) and big brothers (T.I.) breathing on his neck. He sounds ready, though. “I want to be looked at as one of the best that ever did it. So when that conversation comes up I wanna be over-prepared for whoever wanna debate that.”

The way one becomes and remains the best is by creating for their culture: their base  and peers/subordinates. Once they’ve all adopted your offerings as gospel, find what else they’re missing and then serve that. It’s a continuous climb up a topless mountain, but the closer you get to perfection, the furthest you are from the average and those above them who are just considered good. That’s land champions, scholars, generals and Kings arrive on. But in your travels, never forget that you’ll always be pushing north against southern winds.

In other words, says Future, “Don’t ever think that your [spot] is permanent.”

 

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