Sunday’s Academy Awards proved we’re all prone to error, and I’m no exception. Last week in my column examining Atlanta trap star Future’s mixtape legacy, I wrote that his recently released self-titled project “will be remembered as the last time recovering trapaholics cared about a Future album." At press time, it seemed like a reasonable assertion. Not so much anymore.
Just a week after dropping “FUTURE,” Future released his sixth studio album, “HNDRXX.” Dropping what’s essentially a double album in two parts would be huge news on its own. More impressive is that they dropped within a week of each other. Even more impressively, one is fairly decent and the other is pretty great.
“FUTURE” has its flaws. It’s too long. Most of the songs sound the same. “Mask Off” has a hook that actually goes “Percocets, molly, Percocets.” As an album, “FUTURE” is disappointing, especially after 2016’s underrated one-two punch of “Purple Reign” and “EVOL.” But when shuffled into the larger discography, most of the songs on “FUTURE” stand up fairly well; “Draco” is actually pretty good. Essentially the reverse of what Future did with each installment of his 2014-2015 mixtape trilogy, “FUTURE” is best understood as a mixtape dropped as an album.
“HNDRXX” doesn’t make sense, and that’s why it’s arguably Future’s best pop album. It’s sparse and druggy like “DS2,” but not in a depressing way. Balancing some of the best pop songs of his career with some of his most nakedly emotional R&B slow jams, it’s one of his most immediate and exciting releases to date. It’s about love, without involving drugs, irony or backwards spelling; I’m looking at you, “EVOL.” It’s an album dropped with the surprising, off-the-cuff style of a mixtape.
This is how records get released now. Thank Radiohead, who in 2007 dropped the pay-what-you-like album “In Rainbows.” Noise rap trio Death Grips did it a couple of times, first in 2012 with “NO LOVE DEEP WEB” and again in 2013 with “Government Plates.” Beyoncé tried it out in 2013 with her self-titled fifth album. Last year, Apple Music continued the trend with exclusives like Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” and Drake’s “VIEWS,” not to mention Beyoncé’s Tidal exclusive “Lemonade.”
But Future’s compressed that cycle. He’s essentially released two albums, in his own words, “at the same damn time.” This probably couldn’t have worked back in the day, when albums needed singles, radio play and promotion to shift the requisite units and chart.
But with streaming’s negligible monthly cost for users and convenience of access, it makes sense that sheer hype would replace corporate promotion for the most valuable tool. Future probably knows this better than anyone.
When Future released “Honest” in 2014, the album only charted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 200. That was after a huge radio push, heavy singles promotion and collaborations with established stars like Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. “FUTURE” debuted at No. 1. “HDNRXX” is speculated to do the same. Last week I was wrong. Future is hard to predict.