A lot can happen to a man in a single year, and Lord knows 365 days is awful plenty of time to sit and contemplate one’s navel. Following the release of Fun House in 1970, Iggy Pop—no record deal, conflicted bandmates, addicted to heroin—disbanded The Stooges a year later. Reeling from the death of a lover in 1963, Tennessee Williams plunged into a state of catatonic depression, and was ultimately unable to recoup his earlier success. Certainly a lot has happened to one Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, aka Future, within the last twelve months. From securing his first No. 1 album in DS2, to uniting passionate fans with the #FutureHive—all while breaking the internet with What a Time to Be Alive—he’s finally reaping the benefits of the celebrity he thought he had with his last studio album, Honest, and all without compromising his true self. But Future has left red herrings along his arduous journey to the top, hinting at self-doubt and disgust for his public scrutiny—all while carefully illustrating the lack of sentimentality as well as brutality of the real world.
Of course, within every chronology of time exists a beginning. And contrary to whatever tabloids would have you believe, it wasn’t the split from Ciara that brought Future closer to the tipping point, but his eagerness to attain the unattainable, and mistakenly not zeroing-in on perfecting his craft—his music. “I just wanted global success. I just wanted more,” Future told XXL, who recently put the Atlanta rapper on the cover of their magazine for the first time in his career. “So if you don’t know how to get it, you trying to chase that high.” Moreover, much like his most ornate songs, the interview—with the focus being mostly about Ciara and his children—requires you pay close attention to his words. However, for Future, it’s always been about the music, and peppered between his colorful brags and boasts are crystalline musings of turning a rap career into a full-time job. In turn, the insurmountable problem of DJ Esco’s Dubai imprisonment last year—inspiration behind the 56 Nights mixtape, recounted on DS2’s “Kno the Meaning”—is tantamount to the overall story of Future up to this point in his career.
Nevertheless, it was Future’s watershed mixtape, Monster, that ushered in the most exciting run in rap music this side of mid-to-late aughts Lil Wayne. But its release on an ordinary autumn evening last October went largely unnoticed. Furthermore, the project was overshadowed by releases from Chief Keef (Back From the Dead 2) and Boosie Badazz (Life After Deathrow), both of which arrived mere days apart from Monster, but garnered more attention. Writing for Mixdown, Pitchfork’s monthly mixtape roundup, Corban Goble noted that there appeared to be “way less enthusiasm” about the rapper whose Monster wasn’t seeing the same level of hype a Future tape “would have seen a year ago.” But the music would ultimately tell a different side to the story. From being just another lowly mixtape track to appearing on the Billboard Hot 200, “Commas” and its nine month climb on the charts is nothing short of, as Future would say, “sensational.” Additionally, the strikingly auburn production on Monster would introduce the world to music’s hottest working producers, Metro Boomin and Southside—whose unruly sound has dominated hip-hop over the last twelve months.
Therefore, you don’t exactly need binoculars to see Future’s stock rising to meteoric levels over the last year, and how it was through Monster that he was able to do so much. Timing, of course, was also a key factor in capturing the very essence of Monster. Released three days prior to Halloween, Future would get into holiday spirit early on Monster. With the tone in place, setting established, and mood scarily palpable, the alarms violently rang out and suddenly the monster was loose. Additionally, Future’s voice is noticeably jagged on the tape, adding an extra shade to his already vivid lyrics, which have been left soaking in a vat of codeine and holy water. Throughout, Monster employs Honest’s insatiable catchiness while leveraging a return to the meat-and-potatoes street rap of early career tapes Streetz Calling and True Story. The result in Monster are songs like “Radical,” “Throw Away,” “My Savages,” and “Gangland,” all of which are entirely different from one another, yet are unified in their sharp thematic consistency.
When applied, the focal “monster” concept of the tape is startlingly effective, and with lyrics to back it up. Likewise, his lyrics are given a much needed facelift, with Future depicting some pretty wicked things: “After That” uses harrowing visions of fiends “tweaking” as a play on the irresistible quality permeating his own music; “Hardly” shows Future “easily agitated” and “getting intoxicated” as he tries to fight off his demons—a recurring motif on Monster; “Gangland” has Future appropriately stone-faced, addressing devastating gang violence with authentic inquires; “Throw Away” in its entirety. Basically, nowhere on Monster will you be serenaded with petty shit like “Girl when I’m with you, feel like a champion.” Instead, what you’re largely getting with the ghastly Halloween tape is uncompromising rap music with grim atmospheres and searing lyricism throughout—the best kind of rap music. In an age where rappers are toiling on mediocrity and sitting around waiting to catch the next “wave,” or for the industry step with a helping hand, Future and his cast of misfits are opting to create their own sound—doing it their own way, on their own terms—resulting in a modern classic. Arguably, even its presumed “turn up” moment, “Commas,” with its repetitive hook resonates strongly as a desperate plea than basic escapism.
Looking back on Monster, I’m reminded of the passing of original Three 6 mafioso Koopsta Knicca earlier this October, and just how much rap music has lost its gritty conceptual edge. Similarly, where America’s best horror films often draw inspiration from atrocities like the Vietnam War, the very best of American rap music draws from real life horrors, as well. And the very best of Monster is a maelstrom of evil, an aural representation of the cataclysmic era we currently live in; where police brutality on black lives run rampant and inner cities face overwhelming adversity. That being said, Monster is the blunt force that rap needed—waking everyone up from their slumber and prompting society to pay closer attention to the intended message(s) of America’s greatest contemporary art form. For a rapper who exists in the present day—and who is often haunted by their past—it’s only logical that they go by Future, as it’s seemingly the only place where they may find comfort.