The more I pick apart a line like “Ever since I got with you I feel like I done won me a trophy,” the more unsavory it becomes. Playing “I Won” on repeat, I often end up wondering whether Future is referring to Ciara, his fiancée, or a Real Doll. But he sings with such yearning intensity that I allow myself to forget the extent to which his entire metaphor is fucked. I wish I could say that my enjoyment of the song decreased when I realized that Future wasn’t singing “I wanna be a trophy,” but that would be a lie. Although the song is repulsive on a textual level, musically it’s one of the most accurate representations of romantic love this side of Sade. I rarely understand what Future is saying when I listen to “I Won,” but I always hear how he says it. Even under layers of digital manipulation, Future’s tonality reveals his sincerity. And sincerity is kind of Future’s thing. The album is called Honest, after all.
Which is kind of funny, once you realize that the song that provides Honest its title is anything but. When Future raps about gang affiliation or having “crack all in [his] drawers,” I know that this is a performance of a trope and probably not a butt-related entendre like I secretly hope. In any case, this is a fiction of some sort, seeing as there is little chance that a musician as popular as Future is hiding any drugs in his boxers. I mean, isn’t that what protégés are for? Young Scooter has to pull some kind of weight, right? It’s not implausible to think that Future is actually as rich as he claims to be, but that’s still not the same thing as him telling the truth. For example, Future’s “flat screens” are far more believable than the “trap spot” where he keeps them.
But once again, despite the incongruity between Future’s lyrics and his sentiments, I nevertheless find myself falling for his dream logic. I know that most of his boasts aren’t true in a literal sense and also that their veracity is entirely irrelevant. I can’t say for sure what Future means when he shouts “I fucked her on the spot/ I’m just being honest,” but if we are being honest here, then I can’t deny that I shout along every goddamn time. My downstairs neighbors probably hate me at this point — I’m just being honest.
I can’t help myself, though. Something about Honest proves to be irresistible for me, beyond the allure of playacting, turning up, cultural tourism, conspicuous consumption, etc. I don’t particularly care how many bad bitches Future keeps with him, which brand of car he drives, the quality of the diamonds in his jewelry, or the names of the clubs he frequents. There are plenty more things I don’t care about, such as his masculine posturing or those moments when he goes sappy to the point of hilarity. I don’t care that “Move That Dope” sounds more or less like “Clique” or that “I Be U” borders on Bon Iver-covering-Peter Gabriel territory. I don’t care that “Covered in Money” might as well feature DJ Khaled (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I don’t care about anything but the fact that I feel every single song on Honest, even the unfinished and generally noxious Drake feature.
Maybe I protest too much; maybe I’m selling Future short. There are moments when Future’s words and the sound of his voice coalesce neatly, like when he’s yelling about “pussy juice running down [his] lungs” on “Look Around.” It’s a perfect image; I get it immediately: Future isn’t neck-deep in women, he’s drowning in them. On the other hand, Rap Genius annotators inform me that this is a reference to female ejaculation. So who knows, really? Maybe the issue is that I care less about what Future is saying than I do about his le emote juste delivery.
In any case, once you hear a snippet of Honest, the album becomes difficult to sell short. Not since Love Vs. Money have I found a record to be so distasteful and insipid while also exhilarating and utterly vital. The level of detail in these songs, both melodically and structurally, is beautifully human. Honest is like baroque religious art to me: I can’t begrudge the message when the medium is so immaculate. The fact that he manages to convey such a dynamic emotional range through vocal modulation lends every song a beautiful tinge of irony, a quality that’s been lacking with all the other 808-influenced rapbots. Future’s vocals are cleaner now than they were on Pluto, and though he was never a one-note rapper, he continues to become a subtler and more nuanced vocalist. The haunting, multi-tracked breakdown at the end of “I Be U” could hardly be farther removed from Future’s gruff trap-patois delivery on “My Momma” or “Covered in Money.”
When I’m listening to Honest, the rest of my world melts away. I could be waiting in line at the bank or commuting to work on my bike; hell, I could be halfway through a sandwich — all I know is that when “Benz Friendz” comes on, I’m going to be yelling about all the things that don’t mean shit. My self-aggrandizing moral imperatives don’t mean shit. My hangups regarding the word “bitch” don’t mean shit. My shitty job, my friends, my family, my college debt, credit cards, anxiety issues, the soreness in my neck and lower back, the bags under my eyes, my life in whole — none of it means shit in that very moment.
Honest is transporting in ways that few records are, and no matter how strong the beat selection might be or how perfectly the guest list is curated, credit is due overwhelmingly to Future for being able to sustain and justify such a broad range of moods for the duration of the record. Even if Honest occasionally feels less than cohesive, it’s fleet, immersive, and never less than transfixing.
When deriving immense pleasure and joy from the art I love, the last thing I want is to shut off my brain. I want to revel in my senses; I want to be engaged with what I feel, even when that engagement includes deliberate misinterpretations and an endless procession of caveats. The only real sense I can make of it is that love doesn’t make sense, and sometimes it chooses you, whether compatible, defensible, or whatever. No matter how guilty I might feel about my promotion of Honest or of any other art that contradicts my vague, horseshit moral construction, I realize that I too am being honest. Maybe it’s a paltry consolation, sincerity about one’s flaws, but at least that’s one thing Future and I have in common.