Wow, fall 2015: what a time to be alive. Hip hop fans have eaten good all year with countless album releases, especially at the hands of Drake and his unlikely evil twin, Future. Between these two heavyweights alone, fans have seen three number one albums in a little over six months, all with little to no promotion. All things considered, the content speaks for itself: Drake with his infinitely versatile command of his many styles and tones, and Future with his divine charisma. One common thread between the two artists not always apparent to the casual listener is the emotional nature of both their music. Drake’s ascent to become one of the biggest artists in the world today can’t be discussed without noting the novelty of his initial identity (that he has since tried to shake) as arguably the first rapper to challenge the status quo of the typical feelings rappers express and how they express them (see: emotional rapper). But the reason why Drake’s pairing with Future works so well is that the latter’s music is also rife with emotion; however, the casual fan might gloss over this important facet of Future’s message. Songs like “Codeine Crazy,” “56 Nights,” and even the smash “Trap Niggas” highlight Future’s incessant mental anguish. With Hendrix, it’s less about what he’s saying but how he’s saying it; he’s not always taking drugs to turn up and party (though he’s always taking drugs), but rather to drown his depression in a syrupy haze.
True to his oft spontaneous form, Future’s show at Echostage on Thursday, October 1st was a last minute addition to a long weekend of performances and events celebrating homecoming at Howard University. Due to popular demand and a sold out show booked for Friday, DC’s Quiet as Kept Productions made a brilliant move in adding a second show, which sold out in just a few days leading up to it. The scene outside northeast DC’s premier nightclub was hectic: hundreds of people lined up, people frantically searching for tickets, and dozens of bouncers keeping the endless line out of the street. The anticipation inside the venue was just as palpable, the crowd amped for the early start to one of the biggest weekends annually for hip hop in the district: homecoming at Howard. There were rumors of appearance by Drake (following his performance at Landmark the previous weekend), Rae Sremmurd, and a myriad of other acts. After a tumultuous 3-hour wait for the man of the hour, marked by countless broken promises from the opening DJ, a forgettable opening act by a local group, and a short (but exciting) performance by Freebandz’ Casino, the crowd was re-energized when a FBG-affiliate brought a laptop and swapped it in. Moments later, the purported “coolest DJ in the world” bust onto a dimly lit stage to the 56 Nights slapper (and my favorite Future track) “Never Gon’ Lose.” The crowd absolutely erupted. While Esco danced on his own little planet, Future, donning his signature cowboy hat and mirrored aviators, meandered on to the stage to the roar of the 6,000-odd crowd. After opening with many classic Future cuts from prior to his recent musical rampage, he got into the new stuff, which everyone was excited to hear. Having seen Future last summer, I can say that with all the music he has put out attributing to his growth as an artist, the salience of his recent releases coupled with all the recent shows he’s done have both contributed heavily to his maturation as an artist. His stage presence was undeniable, especially for someone so laid back. It was one of the most exciting shows I’ve seen this year.
In less than a year, Future released five projects revolutionary to his progression and status in the rap game. In his DS2 ballad “Kno the Meaning” where he waxes poetic, reflecting on and embracing his life’s challenges, he notes that his right-hand man and DJ partner Esco spoke candidly to him, telling him he needed to make a comeback. When Esco was jailed for nearly two months on drug possession charges in Dubai during the pairs’ European tour, Future made a move. Having capped off 2014 with his heavy-hitting, Metro Boomin produced mixtape Monster, Future was at a loss, as Esco possessed the hard drive with all of his current work on it. It was at that point that Future recorded Beast Mode, starting from scratch and truly going off. On top of all this, he capped off the trill-ogy with the masterpiece that is 56 Nights, what I felt was his best project to date, recounting his experiences losing Esco in Dubai and their respective torment. With nearly a dozen hits off these three projects, Future rode the wave into the summer, appearing on a handful of highly successful projects, two of which were #1 in their own right: Meek Mill’s Dreams Worth More Than Money and A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP. Although Future seemed to be laying low, he was making big strides, and out of nowhere tweeted that it was time to drop his album, the follow-up to his 2011 mixtape Dirty Sprite. This last drop was truly the last nail in the coffin for anyone else aiming for the number one spot in hip hop, and probably the strongest release cover to cover since Drake’s record-breaking IYRTITL.
All things considered, Future Hendrix is the biggest rapper in hip hop today. Having seen both Drake and Future live in DC in the same week, I can honestly say that Future commanded a crowd of 6,000 hip hop fans just as well, if not better than Drake put on for the 25,000-odd crowd of diverse tastes at the first annual Landmark Music Festival. On top of this, in over a dozen hip hop shows of all shapes and sizes I’ve seen in the past few months, one common thread is that the DJ’s are always spinning Future and the crowd always goes crazy. The duo’s recent project What a Time to Be Alive truly feels like Drake is featured, and the intersection (and overlap) of both artists’ styles yields a enthralling push and pull the likes of which rap fans haven’t seen since Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne. If you weren’t paying attention to Future in 2014, you certainly are now; with two number one albums of his own, many appearances on some of the top albums of the year, and a massive cult following, that man is here to stay.