what’s coming after that?

future hndrxx and his misery

Because we live in a malicious free market economy and I have decided to make my living in print media, I find it therapeutic to imagine that all rich people are secretly miserable. If Gossip Girl taught me anything, it’s that you can’t locate happiness in the diamond section of Vera Wang (or whatever they sell– I don’t actually know). Essentially, if I see you strolling down Thayer with Sperrys and a Fitbit, I‘m going to assume that you’re basically Jay Gatsby—dying a slow soul-death in search of something money cannot buy. Sure, it’d be nice to own notebooks and a seventh pair of socks—nice for a little bit—but I’m thinking about my soul here.

As I’ve spent much of my life starving myself and not bathing, perhaps it’s surprising that I’m also a longtime fan of hip-hop sensation Future Hndrxx (net worth: $30 million). In all fairness, most pop-rappers are more relatable than Wall Street assholes. They’re prosperous, upwardly mobile citizens who’ve worked diligently to escape some truly depressing backgrounds. Though I may look at, say, Quavo, and find his 250-karat diamond grillz indulgent, I can’t deny that it’s his right—and perhaps even socially necessary—for him to broadcast his success. But Super Future’s different: he’s about the only guy making music about the moral cost of a high lifestyle. And I mean that two ways… because drugs.

Now, this is not to suggest the mind behind “I ain’t got no manners for no sl*ts/I’ma put my thumb in her butt” is some kind of moral conscience; like those of his peers, Future’s songs describe a life of luxury hedonism mostly by way of absurd braggadocio. “I just f***ed your bitch in some Gucci flip-flops” is perhaps his most quoted line. No, what makes Future special is that his music just kinda sounds… miserable. Like he can’t help it. His slurry sob of a voice will set even the most basic hip-hop scenarios wild with melodramatic intensity. Consider the outro of “Monster”: “I don’t be trusting these hoes/I just be smashing these hoes.” That’s basically just hooking up, right? Essentially describes my experience. But Future yelps the line over and over like an SOS— he really wants to trust somebody. And when he’s not screaming, his voice sounds drained— numb and monotone. In the occasion he runs out of stuff to say, he’ll sometimes just list the expensive things he owns; often, they sound like all he has.

Nothing about the Future experience seems like fun: Wealth and status bring only paranoia, promiscuous sex is emptily athletic gamesmanship, and drugs are the only love of his life, with cough syrup especially receiving more romantic attention than any actual human. The song “Fresh Air” would suggest he takes his shots of codeine straight, no chaser.  Speaking in my official capacity as a magazine editor, that is weird and sad.

It’s likely that this description obscures the reasons for Future’s broader popularity. In simple terms, the songs are catchy and the beats bang. He’s not Adele. The sadness emanating from his best work is faint, even doubtful—like a teardrop in the rain. For a true emotional response, you have to bring Future’s tragic backstory to his music. Indeed, children—the rapper wasn’t always so miserable, though that can be difficult to hear. His voice has always sounded like a walrus holding back tears.

So, here’s your history: After coming up through the Atlanta scene as a blatant, if quite skillful, Gucci Mane wannabe, Future gets scooped up by a major label who inexplicably hears something romantic in his Auto-Tuned drug narratives. They stock his 2012 debut album full of awkward, corny love songs to position him as trap music’s answer to T-Pain, and (supposedly) score him an engagement to R&B superstar Ciara to position him as trap culture’s answer to Jay-Z. But Honest, the crucial sophomore album, stalls at 50,000 units; as it’s full of Ciara love songs, this is embarrassing, though less embarrassing than when Ciara gets fed up with Future’s infidelity and splits, taking their baby with her. Cornered, he rushes back into the studio to refocus on his old lyrical themes: success, drug use, and mid-Manhattan fashion houses. But his voice can’t lie; it’s become a hollowed-out, dried-up croak. Though the subject matter hasn’t changed, Future’s life no longer sounds like an enviable place to be.

Miraculously, in bottoming out, Future hit his artistic high. The three-mixtape run from 2014’s Monster to 2015’s 56 Nights is easily the most definitive, iconic music of his career. An entire sub-genre was born from Monster’s hazy warble, though the critical catch-all used to underplay its hip-hop innovations—“mumble rap”—is a disgrace. It’s Future’s excess of passion, if anything, that blurs his words together. And if his flow—lifted by heartbreak, slowed by over-the-counter medication—falls off beat, it never lets go of a catchy hook.

That this dude sounded so far gone during his creative peak added a curiously relatable layer of sadness to what was, already, kinda sad music. Though the people listening to these songs to find literal versions of themselves are probably sociopaths, there’s stuff in the subtext that I think Brown students could relate to. Even when every aspect of our lifestyle is superficially on fleek, many of us still find gathering self-esteem to be a difficult proposition. Though it frustrates and upsets our parents, we simply cannot count up our grades and exchange them for happiness. So Future—a guy who literally has it all and still feels nothing—is good to have around when you want to feel less abnormal. For best usage, I’d recommend taking 2015’s Beast Mode each morning, like a Percocet.

Unfortunately, Future’s best (i.e. worst) days are behind him. Like a bizarre reverse-victim of his own anti-success, the dude’s just kinda happy now. His kids are growing up, he has been thoroughly canonized as a genius, and Ciara hasn’t had a hit in years. Though still rapping primarily about drugs, around 2016 he began admitting that he wasn’t actually using them anymore. This, of course, raises conceptual issues as old as hip-hop. If we argued that the greatness of his old stuff came from its gritty synthesis of real life, logic would dictate his new, fake music must be bad bourgeoise swill. But that’s just untrue; on the level of pop presentation, Future hasn’t lost a step. Last month’s The Wzzard is surely one of his catchiest, most polished efforts. When I say it’s not as good as Monster, am I really saying that Future should get back to being miserable on drugs? That’s… not so ethical.

Still, his newest music is not as good as Monster. As early as 2015’s DS2, Future was already getting self-conscious and cute about his unglamorous lifestyle—you could tell he wasn’t actually living it anymore. Not to fetishize drug abuse, but no actual addict writes punchlines about peeing codeine. By Wzzard’s “Overdose,” he’s chirping about how his “wrist on drugs!” his “chain on drugs!” which is either deliberate self-parody, deeply pandering, or both.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s a new kind of sadness in this work— the happy artist struggling to pretend he’s sad. But if anything, it’s screwed with the old sadness. Monster’s “I’m living this life of sin, what’s coming after that?” used to be one of the most chilling lines I’d ever heard, whereas now I just listen to it and flash-forward to Future performing on Ellen. He’s just an exceptionally catchy rapper now; there’s no meaning left.

Me, though? I’ll always be authentic. I haven’t showered in three weeks—seven, if you think shampoo’s important.