The last five months have been a time of reckoning for Future fans. Back in April 2014, the Atlanta hitmaker dropped his highly-anticipated sophomore album Honest, and fans wanted it to be so much better than it was. The closest thing to a hit single was “Move That Dope,” but the rest of the album never found its center, skirting between mixtape-sounding cuts like “T-Shirt” and “Special” and confusing, R&B-type songs like “Special Effects” and “I Won.” Where Pluto hit on his croaking, sad, sing-song rap formula perfectly, Honest fell flat on its face, and everyone knew it, even if they didn’t want to admit it.
Perhaps it was a side-effect of his relationship with Ciara at the time. Future was helping co-write songs like “Body Party” for the full-blown pop star, and the focus on more mainstream-sounding music might have seeped into Honest. Few people expected Wiz Khalifa and Kanye West to show up on a Future album, and their surprise was warranted – both features added nothing to their respective songs other than marquee names.
Then, in August ’14, the couple broke up. Future didn’t waste a minute. The day after after news of their split hit the internet, he announced a new single, “Monster,” from an upcoming tape EVOL (love spelled backwards, perhaps indicating his feelings had taken a 180 degree turn). It was as if the relationship had been holding him back, and free from its restraints, he was getting right back into music.
EVOL became Monster, a mixtape you can instantly identify as better than Honest. It was even initially available on iTunes and Spotify, as if Epic Records knew they had a better product to sell than Honest, but the tape was mysteriously pulled from both services after a couple weeks.
In a way, Monster is a concept project, and to really get what it was inspired by, you should watch Future’s strange interview with Tim Westwood (above). The UK DJ asks about two questions, and then Future launches into a rambling 20-minute soliloquy about why he took a different direction on Honest, the difficulties that came with a public relationship, and where his mindset is at now. The one-sided interview is bizarre, to say the least, and to many it signified that something else was going on beneath the surface.
If you’ve ever been in a serious relationship, only to fall out of it, then you know why Future became a monster after his break-up. When you commit yourself to someone else and try to improve your life for the sake of the relationship, only to return to being an island, then it’s tempting to double down on the things you were doing before, if only to fortify your independence. No matter why they split up – he tried, he failed, and like touching a flame, he’s withdrawn his hand. That failure, however, has also spurred him on to make some of the best music of his career.
But as good as Monster is, there are signs that Future is falling into a deep hole, one he seemed to be climbing out of while dating Ciara. In a November ’13 interview with FADER, Future revealed he had stopped pouring up codeine. “I don’t drink lean at all anymore,” he said. “I need my energy right now.” It’s strange how he qualified quitting lean with the idea that he needed his energy, because post-breakup has been the most outwardly productive period of his career. Within five months he’s dropped Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights, all of which have been critically acclaimed, and all of which indicate he’s heavily back on lean. It felt as though his lack of dependence on a double cup was more a result of a loving, caring relationship with a woman he was engaged to, the mother of one of his children.
But herein lies the paradox of being a fan. When Future was apparently off lean, he made Honest, one of his weakest projects to date. Now that he’s back on Dirty Sprite, his music is on the upswing. How are we as fans supposed to support the music without condoning Future’s drug abuse?
“Codeine Crazy,” perhaps the most beautiful song on Monster, comes off as a cry for help. His raps are a spinning carousel of bottles, problems, and models, and it sounds like the ride could unhinge at any second. Then it turns scary – “Actavis, drownin’ in suicide,” he says at one point, and later, “I’m an addict and I can’t even hide it.” The fact that A$AP Yams’ last tweet referenced the song before he died from an accidental overdose of codeine and Xanax only reinforces the sadness of the song.
Art is often therapy, and expression is often catharsis, so maybe Future is ridding himself of his demons with this trilogy of incredible projects. I don’t really know where to stand on his drug use; it’s not like I have the right to take a stance one way or the other. But I can’t help but worry about Nayvadius Cash and his internal struggle as I listen to him talking about chewing bars like a barbarian. How can I reconcile my love for his music with my concern for his health?