In the back of a cab driving from Clash’s slightly prolonged cover shoot, Atlanta rapper Future is struggling to hear while he catches up with us over the phone in the rush to his next appointment: “I can hear you now because the car is at a red light. What you say?”
Born Nayvadius Wilburn – later legally changed to Nayvadius Cash – Future is the latest in a lineage of eccentric Southern artists dating back to the legendary Dungeon Family. The past few years have seen him rise to fame with tracks that blur the lines between melodic rap and gargling, Auto-Tuned song. He initially appeared on the radar in 2011 with his teeth-gritted dedication to Scarface’s anti-hero ‘Tony Montana’, and YC’s club anthem ‘Racks’, which he scribed and featured on.
2013 saw Future balancing duets with R. Kelly and Miley Cyrus with show-stealing performances on club bangers like Ace Hood’s ‘Bugatti’ and Rocko’s somewhat controversial ‘U.O.E.N.O.’, a song that saw Rick Ross losing an endorsement with Reebok due to some questionable lyrical content. The expanding diversity of his music allows him to continually appeal to new audiences as he moves through his career.
Mainstream rap, particularly the Southern-fried variety, is often criticised for being perceived as dumb. However, this isn’t necessarily because the artists themselves are unintelligent, but rather that it’s what the fans want to hear. Some listeners engage as a form of escapism, whereas others hear their reality verbalised. To both of these variations the infectious music can provide a motivational and aspirational mantra.
Future openly admits to the dumbing down of his music in order to make it more digestible. “You have to just get the people, and you have to have substance at the same time,” he explains. “So these [songs] that I’m putting on [new album] ‘Honest’ (review), they’re catchy, but they have substance.”
While many of his repetitive chants and melodic hooks may seem simplistic, substance can be found below the surface, in the emotional and situational aspects of his reality. “Everything that I do is intentional,” he tells us. “It’s been the driving force of my whole career. I’m making those records that catch people off guard.”
Music comes easily to Future – in fact, he’s somewhat of a workaholic. But the key to success lies in timing. With such a vast output of material – mixtapes, guest features, street singles, radio singles – Future’s workload seems impossible to manage.
“One year I dropped, like, 12 mixtapes and had over 20 songs on the radio,” he says. “Everything just paid off. From the beginning, until now. I just continued to work and people got used to it when I was on mixtapes. Now I have to save things for the album and I have to roll it out and wait for it. But I continue to work for those days when you might have to leak a song just to feed the fans, feed your core audience.”