Last weekend, just as Future’s latest mixtape BEASTMODE 2 hit streaming services, the Atlanta iconoclast unleashed a Twitter complaint demanding recognition for his impact on a generation of singing rappers. “Enough of these lil niggas running round like I ain’t make y’all,” he charged. “I gracefully gave u a style to run with like it was your own. Thank me #KINGPLUTO,” the hashtag a reference to his classic 2012 major-label debut.
Future didn’t create the current vogue for Auto-Tune-flavored rap singers – he was preceded by everyone from T-Pain, Lil Wayne, and Gorilla Zoe to Kid Cudi and Kanye West. But he may have shaped the sound more decisively than anyone by deepening it with uniquely soulful feeling and Southern lyrical hyperrealism, helping to elevate it above pop crossover gimmickry into a uniquely post-millennial aesthetic. Yet there might have been less high-minded reasons for the Twitter rant, too. His last project, an ambitious soundtrack for the movie Superfly, stalled at number 25 on Billboard‘s album chart. In spite of Future’s importance, it seems as if he’s fading little, at least for the moment.
His answer: make more music. So here comes BEASTMODE 2 mere weeks after Superfly, reuniting Future with Zaytoven, one of a handful of influential Southern producers (along with DJ Toomp and a few others) who can legitimately claim to have invented trap music. Released in 2015, the first installment of Beast Mode (along with 2014’s Monster and 56 Nights) augured the most artistically profound phase of Future’s career, setting the stage for the #FutureHive mania that elevated him to superstardom. Three years later, its sequel finds him continuing to wring sparks from a familiar style.
“I’m not going back no more when I ain’t have shit,” he harmonizes in a sing-song voice on “WIFI LIT” as Zaytoven lays out airy ambience underwritten by thumping bass. The producer’s sound here, with its sharp, tinkling keyboard piano flurries and baroque classical overtones, feels like a throwback to the years when the phrase “trap” evoked proletarian struggle and up-from-the-gutter ascent, not a used-and-abused Soundcloud subgenre. BEASTMODE 2 sounds like a Dirty South mixtape, and you can virtually imagine the duo grinding in an Atlanta studio somewhere at 4 a.m. after the strip clubs have closed. But like so many mixtapes from trap’s golden era, all the songs tend to run together into an amiably hardscrabble blur. Tracks like “Racks Blue” and “Red Light” are fun but indistinct. Perhaps the highlight is “31 Days,” a bizarrely fascinating track where Future stretches out the vowels in his words with Auto-Tune – made, saved, paid, laid, eat, feet, teeth, beef – as if he’s learning how to pronounce syllables in grade school.
Lyrically, Future details a world of luxury and expensive addictions, whether sexual or chemical. “I’m trying to get as high as I can,” he chants at the beginning of “HATE THE REAL ME.” “Pouring up in public, damn I hate the real me/My momma’s stressing out, she says these drugs got me.” He repeats themes he’s rendered before, back when his robot croon felt like a revelation instead of a patented style. Now, however, the genre is moving on – it’s voices like Lil Uzi Vert, 03 Greedo and Trippie Redd who represent the next stage of sing-rap blues, with Future’s sound as a blueprint. He’ll need to do more than write social media tirades to keep up with them.