With Future at his peak, we look back on his best songs.
Future stepped into the rap game a weirdo, equal parts Atlanta, equal parts something puzzling and unique. A second generation Dungeon Family member with cryptic lyrics and a penchant for lean, his weirdness seemed the modern counterpart to that of his ATLien predecessors. But where Outkast came down to enlighten, Future was blasting off without looking back. He was the Freebandz Astronaut, leaned out in the cockpit with sights set on Pluto, and once he got there, he kept on going.
Today, Future is Atlanta’s preeminent hip-hop artist, and the city has become the most fecund ground for the genre's latest trends. Few could have predicted that this would be his destiny; he arrived in a moment when the region was brimming with musical innovation, when the sheer volume of output meant new artists disappeared within weeks. It was the rejection of that cycle and its associated trends, and the decision to build his own foundation, that led to Future's supremacy.
Sure, like his contemporaries, he is indebted to the influence of regional legends like Gucci Mane, T.I., and Lil Wayne, but it was creative experimentation with DJ Esco, Mike WiLL Made It, Sonny Digital, and, later, Metro Boomin, that reinvented the region's sound. Between 2011 and 2012, this group introduced us to the syrupy, auto-tuned, often melodic, trap sound that has defined the last four years of southern hip-hop. That period also saw Future infiltrate the mainstream, first as a hook-maker and then as a songwriter. And, coupled with a slew of features and two pioneering albums, Pluto and Honest, he helped close the R&B and hip-hop divide. Sliding between those two modes as deftly as Drake, he showed that using auto-tune doesn’t dilute the hard truths of street life and drug addiction. In fact, the technology served as a palette to recast those truths with new color and meaning.
Much has been said about the litany of personal issues that came next. We’ve heard every detail of the Ciara implosion, the impact on his music, Esco’s time in prison, and Future’s resolve to bounce back. Without re-engaging that overwrought narrative, it’s important to acknowledge that all of Future’s music from then up to this point falls into the same creative period. From Monster to HNDRXX, we find him revisiting heartbreak, guilt, addiction, and the potential of forgiveness. Future has gone from vanguard to the established voice of his city. He’s become a superstar. Right now he’s finishing up a world tour. But the narrative at the core of all this has been stretched out as far as it can go. We can’t keep hearing about depression and addiction, at least not in the same modes he’s been using (even if he is setting Billboard records doing it).
Appropriately, the final track on his most recent album, HNDRXX, was titled “Sorry”. That might be Future at last closing out his chapter with Ciara, and everything that followed. Or it could just be a brief pause before he plunges back into the darkness. Knowing Future’s work ethic, we’ll have some answers (and a few albums) as soon as he gets off tour.
While we wait, we have compiled a list of Future’s top songs. He’s amassed an enormous catalogue, so we raised the bar to thirty-five songs instead of the usual twenty-five we normally give artists.