Paul Jefferies, who produces as Nineteen85, is the guy you go to for The Big Hit. On tracks like Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and “One Dance” and Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter,” the beat-maker relies on a simple formula. First, find a golden sample from a song that may not be well-known, but is not obscure either — Jefferies found the Maya Jane Coles sample in “Truffle Butter,” for example, accidentally in the YouTube suggestions column. Second, program a propulsive drum pattern. Third, watch the stream-count climb.
But recently Jefferies has been honing a different skill: Closing albums with the perfect track. He did it on Travis Scott’s Astroworld, bringing an ambitious million-seller to an unexpectedly modest and thoroughly effective end with the laid-back boom-bap of “Coffee Bean.” And Jefferies reprises this role on Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD, out today, creating a radiant beat for album-closer “Tricks on Me.”
Ending an album with a flourish used to be a mark of stardom. The Beatles made “A Day in the Life,” one of their most daring compositions, the final track on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Michael Jackson saved one of his funkiest moments, “The Lady in My Life,” to close out Thriller. Maybe no one was better at finales than Prince, who routinely tucked monster ballads at the end of his records — “Purple Rain,” “Sometimes It Snows in April,” “Adore.” Not listening all the way to the end to hear those classics would be unimaginable.
But now that streaming is the dominant way that people listen to music, an album’s final track is often an afterthought. Because of the frenetic way we consume — a 2015 report from Midia Research suggested “the abundance of choice [on streaming services] … is contributing to lower listener engagement with any single artist or release” — a lot of people won’t even make it to the end of an album. That’s true even when artists put a lot of effort into their last song: Drake’s “March 14,” a reckoning with unexpected fatherhood, is a crucial part of Scorpion, but every other song on the album has more Spotify streams. If you’re an artist and you know listeners aren’t even going to get all the way through your album, why bother making the end an event?
Because it still helps to set stars apart from their competition. On Astroworld, Scott used the closing track to hit back against his detractors. “We felt like Travis wasn’t getting respect from the rapper community, you know what I mean?” Sickamore, the rapper’s A&R, told Rolling Stone. “… We got something for you guys.” That something was “Coffee Bean,” the type of cozy, head-nod hip-hop cut that appeases children of the Nineties. Sure enough, according to Sickamore, “in his comments, Puffy wrote, ‘that’s my favorite song.'”
“Tricks on Me” has a different function lyrically — in “Coffee Bean,” Scott is concerned about the views of those around him, while Future is turned inward, mulling a past romance, his role in hip-hop, his relationship with Atlanta. But the effect of these songs in the context of their albums is the same: Peaceful and grounding, especially after the maximalist, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink assault of Astroworld and the teeth-rattling wallop of WIZRD tracks like “Jumpin on a Jet,” “Goin Dummi” and “Faceshot.”
That soothing effect is all due to Nineteen85. “Tricks on Me” is a work of rare beauty. The keyboard is polished past gleaming, and distant backing vocals lap against the melody like morning waves on some private beach. (This is presumably a sample, though the internet has not yet tracked down its source.) An odd sequence of pops and snaps serves as the gentlest of rhythms. In this tranquil context, some of Future’s tormented couplets — “Murder murder, broad day, I got tears, I can’t let ’em out/I can’t take it no more, I’m ’bout to spaz out” — gain extra weight. Then there’s the line, “gotta be a genius, gotta be extraordinary.” With help from Nineteen85, Future achieves that here.