It Holds Up: Future — ‘Honest’
Posted: by The Editor
Falling from an asteroid and crash landing in Atlanta, Future was never exactly grounded to earth. After building a buzz with his earliest mixtapes, things began to take off for Future after the release of Astronaut Status and Pluto, the enigma and unpredictability of outer space perfectly mirroring what it sounded like to hear his heavily Auto-Tuned voice for the first time. Future is one of the most prolific and definitive voices of the past decade and Honest, which was released on vinyl for the first time this past month, continues to be the most puzzling album in his entire discography.
From a young age, Future hung around the basement studio that housed The Dungeon Family thanks to his uncle Rico Wade, a member of the production trio Organized Noize, who produced hits for artists like TLC, Goodie Mob, and OutKast. Future would eventually go on and take the idiosyncrasies that defined The Dungeon Family and combine them with the burgeoning Atlanta sound of the late 2000s to create Honest, the most divisive album of his career. Honest is the sound of an artist throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks, creating a sprawling and misunderstood masterpiece in the process.
Honest was generally praised by critics upon its release—it sits at an 80 on Metacritic—but the hip-hop community at large had a tough time trying to untangle what exactly it was supposed to be, and the album eventually ended up fading into obscurity. Some considered the album a flop, others a disappointment, and some just flat out thought it lacked substance. Future’s usual list of collaborators teamed up with him on Honest, there’s Nard & B, Mike WiLL Made-It, Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital, TM88, & Southside. Compared to anything he’s made since, Honest is a breath of fresh air, an album that found Future experimenting with his voice (“Honest”) and his flows (“Sh!t”) in new and exciting ways.
The album’s lead single “Karate Chop (Remix)” was clouded in controversy, originally featuring Lil Wayne rapping the line “Beat that pussy up like Emmett Till,” a lyric that ended up costing Wayne a lucrative deal with Mountain Dew. Wayne was not the only rapper in 2013 to lose an endorsement deal due to questionable lyrics: Rick Ross, who’s verse on Rocko’s smash hit “U.O.E.N.O” (Future was also featured on the track) originally featured the line “Put Molly all in her Champagne, she ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it,” costing him a deal with Reebok. Aside from his blossoming relationship with Ciara, Future spent the majority of 2013 working on his craft, toiling away in the studio on what he believed would be a career defining album.
Honest is a bold leap from what Future was doing on Pluto or anything beforehand—carefully curating the album’s tracklist over the course of two years, Future was attempting solidify his place as a serious artist, not just a hitmaker. Tracks like “Special” and “Blood, Sweat, Tears,” the latter being one the most optimistic and uplifting of his entire career, were a far cry from his earliest hits. Honestly, Future didn’t even seem all that interested in making hits, instead he was trying to reintroduce himself as one of rap’s great auteurs. With all of its ambition and experimentation, as well as the numerous delays that drained the album of nearly all of its momentum, Honest could have just as easily been a disaster and ended Future’s career.
Originally announced in the summer of 2012, Future tentatively titled his album as Future Hendrix (he ended up changing it to Honest a year later). In 2013, Future couldn’t miss, and he was on a tear of show-stealing features on some of the biggest songs of the year—Lil Wayne’s “Love Me”, the aforementioned “U.O.E.N.O”, and Ace Hood’s “Bugatti”—but the album was delayed into 2014, with Future stating he “…started going in another direction after I made the ‘Shit’ record.”
The rollout for Honest can only be described as a trainwreck, with the label—who clearly had no idea how to properly market the album—pushing out one misguided single after another. Future ended up releasing a whopping total of six singles before the album came out: “Karate Chop (Remix)”, “Honest”, “Sh!t”, “Move That Dope”, and “I Won” (as well as “Real and True” which thankfully didn’t end up making the final album) but none of these songs ended up making a dent on the Billboard charts, all this from an artist who would later go on to spend 166 consecutive weeks on the Billboard charts. By the time Honest finally came out, maybe people were too tired.
For those of us who decided to stick around, we were greeted to an album that completely reimagined what a Future record could be. Album opener “Look Ahead” turns Malian duo Amadou and Mariam’s Santigold-featuring “Dougou Badia” into a thumping, euphoric introduction to version 2.0 of Future. “Look Ahead” is the perfect way to kick things off, the track’s unbridled energy channeling the most carefree aspects of his personality, something that’s been sorely missing from his music these past couple of years.
Even though it never gained much traction as a single, “Move That Dope” transforms the menacing thud of Mike WiLL Made-It’s rattling bass into a celebration of selling drugs, featuring without a doubt the best sixteen bars of Pharrell’s entire career. Mike WiLL said the “Move That Dope” beat reminded him of “Grindin”, and with help from Pharrell they were even able to get a verse from Pusha-T on the record. The wonky production is the perfect backdrop for the rappers, the track is one of the most brooding moments on an album defined by its sporadic mood swings. “Never Satisfied,” which was also produced by Mike WiLL Made-It and features Drake, is a brief but effective vignette of murky introspection, a style that Future would heavily lean into later in his career. When the full version finally dropped, it was obvious why Future left Drake’s verse off the version that ended up on the album, with Drake’s struggle bars probably best left unheard.
The pinnacle of the album occurs around the halfway point, with the futuristic R&B of “I Be U” remaining miles ahead of any other love song Future has dropped since. Listening to this track five years later, it still sounds as unorthodox and fascinating as it did when it dropped, proof that artists should veer off the beaten path as much as possible. “Your spirit, my spirit illuminates through our bodies / I feel we whole,” Future croons over a beat that sounds like a b-side to 808s & Heartbreak, carrying on the legacy of weirdo-rap The Dungeon Family perfected a decade before.
Fittingly so, Honest found Future finally teaming up with Organized Noize and Dungeon Family alum Andre 3000 on “Benz Friends (Whatchutola)”, a should-be classic about the perils of materialism. The two might seem like a strange pair on paper, but the end result is spellbinding, the two rappers going bar for bar with one another over a timeless sounding beat. Future and Andre 3000 are perfect sparring partners for one another and the track playfully bridges the gap between two generations of pioneering Atlanta artists.
But Future’s world as he knew it was suddenly pulled from underneath him, the album didn’t do as well as it was supposed to (Future was barely able to outsell Iggy Azeala, who’s all but forgotten debut The New Classic dropped the same week) and his engagement with Ciara was called off amidst rumors of cheating, sending him spiraling down. In the wake of their split, he had a career defining run of mixtapes with Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights—another important stepping stone in his career that birthed the melancholic and hedonistic persona that still looms heavily over Future today.
On his proper follow-up, 2015’s Dirty Sprite 2, Future doesn’t mince words when it comes to his true feelings about Honest, on “I Serve The Base” he raps “Tryna make a pop star, they made a monster.” So much of Future’s post-Honest output has been spent trying to distance himself from all the things that made that album so captivating in the first place. Honest is one of the most interesting and misunderstood rap albums of the past decade—the end product isn’t what his label wanted, it’s not the album his fans wanted, but it’s the album that Future was destined to make.
Michael Brooks // @nomichaelbrooks
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