Future Purple Reign

[Freebandz; 2016]

Styles: emotional, confessional, sensational
Others: Super Future, Future Hendrix, Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn

Future recently celebrated his New Year’s Eve with a sold-out show in downtown New York, closing out on what’s surely been a career 12 months. Dressed head-to-toe in a crisp, all-white luxury suit, the Atlanta rapper ran through a string of greatest hits and cult classics with a glow on his face. Still, there’s good reason for Future to cheese these days: he’s practically reigned over the entire rap game for the last 365 days. But wasting no time, Future is already starting off the new year with a new mixtape, the highly-anticipated, temporarily-delayed Purple Reign — his first tape since 56 Nights bookended an improbable streak of album-quality mixtapes last March. Hosted by DJ Esco and Metro Boomin, Purple Reign picks up where Future left off: at the top of the game, critically and commercially successful, and perhaps most importantly, financially comfortable. However, that’s only a fraction of the story, as it’s become noticeably lonely for the 32-year-old, whose ascent to the top is still missing that special someone. “I just need my girl, I just need my girlfriend,” he croons on the curtain-raising title track, before suddenly disguising his pain with a slew of expensive purchases.

Purple Reign is the latest pièce de résistance in Future’s ongoing series of miserable street rap, a project that’s unashamed in chronicling the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whether it’s reveling in a lifestyle of perpetual debauchery or just spilling his guts out to whoever’s listening, honesty is, once again, a crucial component to the Atlanta rapper’s music. “I had to take a loss so I could cherish this shit,” he openly admits on the chilled and biographical “Never Forget,” a song that wastes no time baring it all; here, Future recalls monthly trips to visit his incarcerated uncle, pleads forgiveness for missing his aunt’s funeral, and rejects the Reagan-era “Just Say No” campaign in favor of deadly excess. This is the artist many were introduced to last year, full of raw passion and unfiltered humanity, and Purple Reign is as elegiac as those coarse mumbles can possibly get. Yet his trademark sincerity justifies the tape’s 39-minute expanse, further outlining the rapper’s emotional vulnerability. The result in Purple Reign is songs like “Inside the Mattress,” “Salute,” “No Charge,” and “Hater Shit,” all of which are entirely different from one another, yet are ultimately unified in their sharp thematic consistency.

At first, Purple Reign sounds like a continuation of the ideas that Future first set out on 2014’s Monster, his watershed mixtape. Like its predecessor, Purple Reign combines multiple methods and approaches — free-associative lyrics, endlessly inventive flows, roaring unruly drums, chiming background ambiance, and burbling synth arpeggios — into a shape that’s at once sprawling and streamlined. But it’s Future’s succinct pop sensibilities here that give the tape’s woozy, syrupy songs the textures and purpose they demand, and as a result marks the imperative return of the catchy melodies and infectious hooks that merely laid dormant since the release of his sophomore album, Honest. Although it’s not quite a pop redux for Future, Purple Reign does have a certain playfulness that’s been drastically missing from the rapper’s music over the last year, which helps undercut Future’s seemingly unwavering stoicism. “Drippin (How U Love That),” for instance, finds a song that flexes both cheekily sweet lines like “If you care about her, put her in designer” and an uncanny pop sensibility that probably has Max Martin eyeing from afar, murky kush clouds of smoke and all. Perhaps not since “Turn on the Lights” has Future sounded this confident in belting out soaring, exaggerated choruses.

Such flourishes and catchiness litter the tape, from “All Right’s” pulsating static stabs and sweeping synth line to the bouncy futuristic trap of Metro Boomin and Southside’s “Wicked” beat, which finds Future easily flipping a surreal vocal quirk into an earworm hook. In turn, Purple Reign doesn’t feel too manicured and plays like a mix CD ripped straight from DJ Esco’s personal desktop, made here with the intention of bridging the gap on Future’s excessive but nonetheless overwhelmingly charming post-regional rap music. Even when he’s typically stone-faced and dour — freestyling a litany of brutalist nursery rhymes — there’s close attention being paid to his unique vocal techniques: the ineradicably unsentimental “Salute” suffuses his street lyrics with colorful falsettos; he blares through a string of bombastic free-associative on “No Charge” while still holding a tune; and even the most staunch of us might find it hard to not sing along to “Bye Bye’s” vacuous, syncopated sloganeering. Although, regrettably, there’s not a single moment on the tape that’s as instantly memorable as the story of infidelity in a pair of expensive flip-flops from DS2 (his third official retail album), exciting one-liners and quotables do prop up indiscriminately throughout its 13 songs.

But Purple Reign isn’t a good mixtape because it’s undeniably catchy, or confident, or candid. It’s not even good because it obviously lifts its title from the tiny purple sex genius himself. It’s good because, beneath his relentless hedonistic pursuits and idealistic belief in the nobility of the unruly drum loops, Future preserves a romantic’s perspective on his panoply of inconsequential street life and crystalline musings from within the studio. Besides, plopped in the middle of the tape’s crackling thunder and heady concoction of drugs, violence, sex, and troubled rockstar posturing is the tape’s singularly greatest achievement, “Inside the Mattress,” produced by the Atlanta duo Nard & B. Here, the unsung heroes in the rapper’s vast and consistent catalog of music — having had their hands in deep cuts “T-Shirt,” “Throw Away,” and “News or Somthn” — come through in the clutch with a truly otherworldly backdrop for Future to plot his cinematic escape. However, unlike Prince’s album, Future’s Purple Reign does not come prepackaged with a motion picture. But neither really need one to begin with.

Links: Future - Freebandz

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