Review Summary: Future's sophomore effort finds him bursting through a string of setbacks with his most focused release to date.
The road to Honest
hasn't been an easy one.
Rap albums designed to propel their artist into the national consciousness get an almost uniform promotion timeline. The street single comes first, which is designed to play well on Rap/R&B radio stations and in clubs. Then, 4 to 8 months later comes the pop single, which should break through to top 40 pop radio while also performing well on Rap/R&B. A few months after that the album is released. If all goes to plan, the street single stays in club/rap radio rotation right up until the pop single is released. Urban radio hangs onto songs longer than pop radio does, so the pop single needs to precede the album release by a shorter window than the rap single. If everything goes to plan, the album is fresh in the mind of all demographics. See Drake’s Nothing Was the Same
for a flawless example of this release schedule.
Coming off the critical and commercial success of 2012’s Pluto
, Future was at the peak of the rap world and only a small leap from breaking into the popular consciousness. So when Future released the swirling “Karate Chop” as a street single, it seemed Honest
(Then known as Future Hendrix
) would utilize the tried and true release schedule to push Future into the pop market. But then Lil’ Wayne’s guest verse on “Karate Chop” generated a firestorm of controversy with a gross line about “beat the pussy up like Emmit Till” and Epic Records pulled promotion for the single. The title of Future Hendrix
was changed to Honest
and the title track was released as the street single in its place. But instead of following that up with the pop single, Epic released “Sh!t” instead, a song with no possibility of crossing over whatsoever. “Sh!t” bombed on the charts, stalling all momentum generated by “Honest”. So when the big pop single finally arrived, the Miley Cyrus featuring “Real and True”, big budget music video in tow it tanked. Hard.
Making things worse, in the interim between Pluto
, a crop of artists building off of Future’s style found success while crowding him out of his own market. Artists like Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug were making Future irrelevant. Coupled with the bungled promotion schedule for Honest
meant that not only did Future fail to cross over to pop radio but Honest
was now inbound with no momentum.
But Future’s voice remains, an inimitable croak that communicates both the joy of the destination and the pain of the journey at the same damn time. And Honest
exudes, not with the desperation I feared, but with the confidence of an artist in full control of his abilities. The auto-tune that previously seemed inextricable has been greatly minimized and Future is better off without it. But the ebullience of Pluto
has been stripped with it, in it’s place is a raw anxiety and paranoia of someone who knows things aren’t going to plan.
The titanic beats of songs like “T-Shirt” and “My Momma” have an unmistakable walls closing in feel. On the brutal “Covered N Money”, Future hollers the chorus with the same panic as someone might holler “I don’t know how to swim” when they’re already in over their head. On the same song he belts, “How'd I get in this predicament"/Maybe you're guilty or innocent/This is New York, it ain't working out/Wishing we all can go back in time.” Honest
gleams with the paranoia of a man who’s being pulled in all directions while his kingdom shrinks.
But this shrinking feeling doesn’t burden the album. In fact Future sounds determined to bludgeon his way out of his situation. Opener “Look Ahead” crackles with energy as Future proclaims his victory over The Runner’s adrenaline needle beat. Longtime collaborator Mike Will Made It throws Future some of his weirdest beats to date and he devours them all, sounding perfectly at home over the swampy blurbles of “Move that Dope” or in the empty void of “Never Satisfied”. Nard & B’s operatic “T-Shirt” and Sonny Digital’s crushing “Covered N Money” are bigger and tougher than anything Future has rapped over before and he slices through both with laser like precision.
comes loaded with big money guest artists, all of whom earn their keep, adapting to Future’s world and giving their A game. Wiz Khalifa contributes an atypically engaged verse to “My Momma” while Pharrell puts his “Happy” schtick to the side to lay waste to “Move That Dope”, laying down a furious double time verse that hops from 20 girls doing yoga naked to drones in the sky in a handful of lines. Andre 3000 shows up on “Benz Friends (Watchutola)” to wax poetic about money, cash, hoes but, of course, in a way that could only have come from him. “I guess that's why Lois can't be with Clark Kent/Fly on a nigga back while he Superman/But if I'm in a wheelchair, you still there"”
Only a few issues keep Honest
from being truly superb. “I Won” is a confused female empowerment anthem if the women in your life enjoy being compared to totems of victory. This is especially strange when only a few tracks later comes “I Be U”, one of Future’s most empathetic and best ballads to date. Young Scooter’s ad-lib’s on “Special” feel beamed in from another song. “Never Satisfied” is great while it lasts, but when Drake’s feature gets faded out mid hook after only 2 minutes it feels like a distracting slight in his direction.
is everything a blockbuster rap album should be in 2014. It’s massive in scope but bereft of filler or skits. It beams with a world beating confidence while functioning as a who’s who of the biggest in rap today. It has one foot planted firmly in the present with the other taking a step forward into new sounds and ideas. Only thing is, it’s not about to perform like a blockbuster rap album. It’s projected to debut with first week sales of 45 thousand copies. Which is roughly the same number Pluto
did in it’s first week and that cost a hell of a lot less to make. But first week sales aren’t the alpha and omega of performance and they don’t say much about the quality of the release. Here’s hoping Honest
goes on to find the audience an album of its caliber deserves.