Since “Jumpman,” rap’s preeminent hitmakers have seen their respective cultural relevance take different trajectories. Drake may have outsold Adele in the States, but it was with a deeply whatever album in Views, the commercial success of which wasn’t validated with an album Grammy. He also put out an unintentionally amusing short film that we really don’t need to ever discuss again, and his upcoming “playlist” More Life has been pushed back 200 times.
Meanwhile, after a similarly quiet 2016, Future sleepwalked through a self-titled album that debuted at no. 1 with 140,000 equivalent album units. Now he’s primed to steal the top spot from himself with Hndrxx, released last Friday. Moreover, he’s going to do it with the R&B-heavy project Drake has always wanted to make.
Since grafting the TLC FanMail intro onto “I Get Lonely Too” in 2010, Drake’s been back to the sexy flexy well several times over, each slightly less embarrassing than the last, but never quite building up trust in or interest for the eternally delayed all-R&B project It’s Never Enough. (This is not a suggestion, we’re really good on this, thanks.) Future, on the other hand, is out here reimagining Mary J. Blige reclamations of joy and independence with Detail, and also with total impunity.
[Pushes glasses up bridge of nose] I just think it’s funny how Future’s sophomore effort, Honest, was actually obscurantist. Though it had a few truly wonderful moments — like “Benz Friendz,” featuring André 3000’s yearly journey down from the peak of Everest to tell us all about ourselves — Honest’s confessions didn’t feel wholly true. A lie of omission covers all sorts of things, the most glaring of which is the idea that Future could be happy with fewer than two women. Especially since the Kanye-featuring “I Won,” which was intended as a sonnet for Kim and Ciara, the new First WAGs, ultimately positioned the two as collectibles. As a matter of course, on “My Collection,” Hndrxx’s opening track, Future’s truth comes out. And it’s a pretty shitty truth but it’s still, you know, his truth?
Not that the notionally awful gender politics are a new thing. But I happily accept this sort of emotionally stunted hedo-solipsism from Future and not from Drake. Why? The short answer is this, which is true a lot of the time:
The longer answer lies somewhere in the general excess of Future’s music — both in pure, incessant quantity as well as in theme. Hndrxx sounds so great because Future is overfull with disposable transgressions, and releasing them in tandem allowed us to appreciate both the raucous night before and the hangover that lasts the entire next day in sharp contrast. As for the stoked flame beneath Future’s churn, I’d wager that it’s a combination of the fact that self-inflicted losses are truly the most painful, and well, this:
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we would call being “fucked up in the game.”
Realizing I may be reading emotional depth into places it might not exist, placing Future’s constellation of projects in the Kübler-Ross model is a fun exercise. For instance, on Monster, October 2014’s kick-start to an unparalleled three-tape run, Meaghan Garvey wrote that Future was tumbling headlong through the first four stages, losing momentum just as acceptance came into view. Summer 2015’s album, DS2, his inaugural debut at the top of the Billboard 200 — and to that point, the purest distillation of his wantonly petty, wincing, vengeful ethos — spent a good portion of its 90-minute run time between anger and bargaining. Last week, heralded by a faux-penitent Instagram post pleading patience and understanding for his “wrongs and rights,” Future dropped a self-titled project that wedged itself in the same space. Less than 10 seconds into it, he’s already used and disposed of your girl:
Future depicts the same miserable Nayvadius who sold that raw to his auntie, possessed of the same enormous, unpardonable flaws, which he proudly doesn’t work on. It’s entertaining enough, but only because it’s new — much like last year’s Evol, Purple Reign, and Esco Terrestrial projects that we could’ve sworn were great in the hours immediately after their release, but outside of a scant few moments proved to be just kind of OK over time on account of mostly retreading old ideas. While it is a whiplash-inducing romp (though it might’ve benefited from being cut from 17 tracks to a more digestible 10), Future doesn’t do much to deepen the character he began building on 2012’s Pluto, despite showcasing all three of the gawdhead: Super Future, Fire Marshall Future, and Future Hendrix.
With the exception of the sudden and shockingly perfect, Midsummer Night’s Dream-ish pan flutes on “Mask Off,” as well as the glitchy pop synths on “Draco,” Future feels like a safe, comfortable half-step forward. This is to say, if you hadn’t already had your defining moment of Future fandom — like, double-parked in your car crying to “Chosen One” when you finally got the callback from that job you’d been agonizing over for weeks — this probably isn’t going to win you over as a fan. Hndrxx, however, will force you out into the rain to howl up into the vacuousness of space in Lil X–directed anguish:
Hndrxx is a very Drake album indeed — from the sultry, overcast production right on down to the damn, actions really do be having consequences revelations about relationships. But let’s be 1,000 percent clear: This is not an album Drake could’ve made. While the expressions of pain, sadness, and sorrow on songs like the album’s ultimate apology track, “Sorry,” may not actually be more sincere than those of the associate with whom Future is “doing great business” (lmao), Future’s performance on Hndrxx at least feels less … actorly. Meaning, Hndrxx is everything Honest wasn’t, and more than any bleeding-heart R&B Drake project ever could be. Though Drake is the more technically gifted vocalist, Future is the superiorly entertaining rap-sanger — “Fresh Air” and “Incredible” don’t suffer from the same dog-day melancholy of “Feel No Ways.”
At 17 tracks, Hndrxx, like Future, feels a little bloated. But thinking about it, I have no idea what I would have left on the cutting-room floor. It’s February and the summer is already Future’s.