When the Atlanta superstar released two albums this month — FUTURE, followed a week later by HNDRXX — MTV's music team sprung into action. Read on for a spirited roundtable discussion of both albums, featuring Molly Lambert, Tirhakah Love, and Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.
Lambert: What’s better than a new Future album? Two new Future albums!
Love: Shout out to the legal pressures that may or may not have helped motivate homeboy to saturate streaming services with as much sizzurpy rap as his fans can swallow. Say what you will, Future seems up to the challenge. And while Future’s workaholism deserves applause for releasing two albums in #backtoback weeks, I’m more impressed with the albums' shrewdly executed curation. Future is centered within a prism of pleasure-seeking pop-rap anthems that share genetic code with 2015’s DS2, while HNDRXX's warbly soul exhalations wail in a darkness that's more reminiscent of 2014’s Monster and 2015’s introspective 56 Nights. Future’s tone and timbre are divergent enough between albums that their consecutive release, at the very least, complicates — and at the very most, emphatically undermines — any claims that his approach to making records is too static. Future is known to feel out a beat, quickly find an emotional center, and take off from there; the way he's organized Future and HNDRXX as a dialectic between his hedonism and wariness, respectively, highlights his compositional smarts and attention to lyrical and aesthetic details that such a pivot requires.
Lambert: Future is like DayQuil and HNDRXX is NyQuil: The former is a motivational soundtrack for the sunlight hours, and the latter is built for nighttime listening. Future is caffeinated confidence and HNDRXX is hungover regret. At times it plays like a cycle about Future and Ciara’s relationship — the manic highs and lows of a bad breakup. Future is a blazing star and HNDRXX is an ice planet. I was definitely more interested in exploring the ice world.
Willis-Abdurraqib: I found myself underwhelmed by Future, even though it was doing some pretty interesting sonic stuff that felt like a small departure from Future’s regular sound palette. I think the flute on “Mask Off” is the best rap flute we’ve gotten in any song since “Oochie Wally,” and I think “Mask Off” is a much better song than that one. But outside of a handful of moments, I was starting to wonder if Future’s great run was maybe becoming a thing of the past that we’d look back on longingly, like we did with early-career DMX. Then HNDRXX really swayed me in every imaginable way. I’m overwhelmed by how deeply sad parts of the album are, how steeped in misery the album seems to be. Future sounds like he's still reeling from the parts of his personal life that fell apart, and I think HNDRXX is the first time where I’ve felt like he made the feelings plain. I don’t really know when his run will end or how much longer he’ll keep this pace, but I think HNDRXX feels like a logical bookend to pair with Honest, the album that started the run. It takes some of that album’s more hopeful elements and turns them on their side, and does it without some of the darkness that permeated DS2. I was a fan of that darkness — but it has been good to see Future lean into a more plain and direct grief. It makes HNDRXX a very relatable, touchable album for me in a way that DS2, even though it's the crown jewel of the run, wasn't.
Lambert: Sad Future is my favorite Future. I realized that circa “Jumpman,” when he veered suddenly and unexpectedly into the void at the end of that otherwise breezy song — saying “I know I’ma get my bitch back” in a way that let you know he is absolutely never going to get her back. HNDRXX's “My Collection” is likewise the saddest macho brag in the history of time. It’s the sound of someone defensively looking back on the choices he's made, and trying to convince himself that it’s better to have a wall of taxidermied doves than a live bird in the hand. “Any time I got you, girl you my possession” is a cute attempt. A sad Future is also a sensitive Future. The claims made on HNDRXX’s songs aren’t always that different from those of Future — he makes a lot of money and fucks a lot of hot chicks on both — but his delivery and context feel totally changed. Ciara haunts the proceedings, the ghost of “Body Party” appearing whenever Future addresses the unspecified “you” who demonstrated to him the hard way that his heart is breakable.
Love: There’s a refreshing undercurrent of courage propelling Future’s mourning on HNDRXX that I don’t think we’ve heard before. “Use Me” is an airy radio transmission from behind an emotional wall of scorn. Yet Future’s vocal pangs reverb and coalesce into a generous self-offering — “Use me what you want me for” — that longs for a love without frills, one that feels wholly fulfilling. “Testify” flips the script on Future’s traditional nihilism by casting his lover as a femme fatale he’s willing to “guard with my own life” as they blaze down a one-way road in a Porsche toward impending doom. It re-ups on Future’s rock-star reputation while suggesting that, however short-lived this love (and our lives) might be, there’s value in confessing, in hearing your lover's heart “pump pound for pound,” even though darkness awaits.
Lambert: My favorite songs are all on HNDRXX. On “Incredible,” the chirpy panflutes in Dre Moon’s production are like a Jan Hammer “Crockett’s Theme” sunset, and Future stretches out like a bachelor in a newly empty pad, talking about hot yoga over the rubber-band beat. “Testify,” with its phasing underwater strobes. “Lookin’ Exotic,” meta-quoting the screeching chorus drop from “Fuck Up Some Commas” for a pseudo-sequel.
My favorite FUTURE song, meanwhile, is “I’m So Groovy,” and not just because it has the line sequence “Austin Powers, M.I.A., Steven Seagal, Hard to Kill.” Future is so fucking cool he can make a song with “Groovy” in the title cool, which is something no one has accomplished since The Clash wrote “Groovy Times” in 1979.
Love: “I’m So Groovy” shouldn’t be dope, but Future nails the intersection of corniness and swankery pretty nicely there. I’m almost ashamed by how much I ended up listening to “Draco.” It’s not a dance record, but it’s danceable — and though the beat pattern might be familiar, Future’s quick-paced rhythms are balanced with held notes that glide over that wondrous bass thump, adding something unique enough to buy in. Plus, I’m a sucker for the sharp-witted basketball references that swallow up a good chunk of the second verse, until he cascades into an A$AP Ferg-lite “I’m on a new level” cadence to close it out. Though Future largely finds our title character stuck in neutral, its standouts are invigorating enough to return to — even if you’re slightly embarrassed when you do.
Lambert: HNDRXX’s title is the clue that this is the volume where he gets more experimental and tries out some weirder shit musically. The robotic cha-cha claps and menacing bass synths on “Fresh Air” capture both the feeling of claustrophobia that seeps into a bad relationship and the euphoria of finally escaping outside. “Neva Missa Lost,” with its chorus of “I’m losin’ you and you know it,” is more sentimental about what exactly has been lost. “Your pretty body soft as bird feathers” is the most flat-out romantic line in rap since the bards Rae Sremm said “Sent flowers, but you said you didn’t receive them / But you said you didn’t need them.”
“Hallucinating” has another Dre Moon beat, this one a smooth and creepy pilled-out affair that makes it freshly clear that HNDRXX is a headphone album. “Hallucinating” has a little harpsichord part that is totally Jimi Hendrix wearing flowered green velvet from Granny Takes a Trip. The Wheezy-produced “I Thank U” is another heartbreaker about a woman who inspired him to work harder, as he sings “Girl, I thank you, I thank you, I thank you, cause you made me hustle.” That he never names Ciara on the album makes it feel even more intimate. Then there’s the twisty “Keep Quiet” B-plot about a romance with a taken woman. I’m not saying it’s Larsa Pippen ... but it’s probably Larsa Pippen.
Love: I truly pray that Scottie Pippen is somewhere dissecting the lines to “Keep Quiet,” asking neighbors what they thought they might’ve heard. If “Keep Quiet” is a rumination on the possible breakdown of a fuckbuddy-friendship, then the Rihanna-assisted single “Selfish” is a rosy-eyed portrait of how even mismanaged love can work when two willing parties become one. Because the celebrity lifestyle is foreign to most of us, we seldom think about the vigilance it takes to stop celebrity from mucking up love or turning it into spectacle. The cost of signing away parts of your private self for public consumption is made clear when Future croaks, “We gettin’ more popular / Wrong is right when it comes to us.” When every aspect of his life is covered by tabloids, Future’s call for selfishness feels more like self-care. Overall, though, "Selfish" feels like Future’s groaning into an abyss. They sing of reconciliation, but in his heart, Future understands how dissolvable love has proved to be (“Roses turn into dust”). The fantasy is made visible through dreamlike crooning from the two moody superstars — “Empty thoughts fill the room / Breathe for me and I’ll breathe for you.” Both of them have come far in creating richly touching records when the moment is right.
Lambert: The seven-minute album closer “Sorry” is Future’s long shredder of an apology: “Ain’t really mean to hurt you, sorry it’s gotta be this way.” The whole album is soaked in regret, but also fatalism — a sense of an inability to alter the events in any timeline. That’s what makes it sooooo sad, and also sooooo good. And so castles made of sand slip into the sea, eventually.