Album Review: Future—“DS2″

By James Li

Shifting alliances, secret plots, and an empire in decline: there’s more drama in the Atlanta rap scene than a season of Game of Thrones. Just two years ago, Atlanta’s top rap labels – Cash Money and Brick Squad – looked unassailable, but since then, they’ve been torn apart by internal schisms. Some of Atlanta’s most prominent figures – Gucci Mane, Young Thug, one third of Migos – are in jail or tied up in legal problems. Birdman stands accused of conspiring to murder Lil Wayne and is suing Jay Z for $50 million dollars.

Among all this chaos, the time seems better than ever for Future to stake his claim to Atlanta’s throne. In a few short years, Future (born Navayadius D. Wilburn) rose from Magic City – the influential Atlanta strip club and hip hop proving ground – to a major label success. Future’s had his fair share of drama too, from his acrimonious divorce with Ciara and his collaborator DJ Esco’s imprisonment in Dubai. Not like that’s slowed his momentum. Dirty Sprite 2 is Future’s third full-length project this year, following his Beast Mode and 56 Nights.

Album art for DS2

Album art for DS2

DS2 is the culmination of the sound that Future was honing on his mixtapes. On “I Serve the Base”, he explains “they tried to make me a pop star and they made me a monster.” Future is known for his Autotuned vocals and co-writing smash hits like Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” and Ciara’s “Body Party”, but his pop sensibilities are turned to darker ends on DS2. Serving the base means selling drugs, but the song’s title could also be taken literally. Unlike on his previous albums, he’s less interested in crossover success and more about serving his base of dedicated fans, with only one feature (Drake on “Where Ya At”) and one radio single (“Fuck Up Some Commas”, relegated as a bonus track).

This means that DS2 plays like a mixtape, but a very lean one. Even the deluxe version feels short at 18 tracks. Future’s crack team of collaborators, including producers like Metro Boomin and Southside, sidestep current trends in trap rap for a more distinctive sound. Sweeping strings and chiming keys penetrate the drugged-out hazy beats. The Zaytoven-produced “Colossal” centers on a fidgety piano melody, “Where Ya At” features chiming Omnichord keys, and “The Percocet & Stripper Joint” is a throwback to Future’s roots in the Dungeon Family, borrowing heavily from Outkast’s Southern twang.

On other tracks, the tracks are underscored with ugliness. Autotune adds grit to Future’s rapping instead of smoothing it out. 808 Mafia’s signature Kill Bill sirens blare throughout the album. “I Serve the Base” is coated in barbs of Yeezus-like noise. And despite DS2’s hedonistic themes – just peep song titles like “Groupies”, “Freak Hoe”, and “Blow a Bag” – there’s a darker side to Future’s desires. “Slave Master” starts off as a drug ballad and ends as a eulogy to A$AP Yams. “Rich $ex” is a slow jam where Future is more enamoured with his jewellery and Swiss watches than his partner. Even Future’s more mundane hungers need to be satiated, like when he brags about buying “all the sodas at the gas station” on “Rotation”. Future’s lyrics are crass and objectifying, but they match the luxurious production well.

It’s been a chaotic year for Atlanta rap, but Future is poised to take its throne. He has a devoted army of followers – his #FutureHive – and his run of mixtapes capped off with DS2 gives him a strong claim. Of course, all bets are off when Gucci gets out of jail, but for now, it’s exciting just to watch Future’s rise to the top. (Epic)

Listen: “Blow a Bag”


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