“Break you off, yeah, made myself a boss, yeah…” Future trails off before the hook on “F*ck Up Some Commas,” the fifth song on Monster (2014), replays for the fourth time. The verse ends with his crew’s slogan: a muttered, sardonic rendition of the usually triumphant tagline. Monster, the rapper’s ninth mixtape, can be considered Future’s first foray into muffled introspection alongside his usual checklist of general indulgence. It was, arguably, the first instance the character Future Hendrix had become self-aware of what he really is: a monster, lost in his cycle of drug abuse and incessant hedonism. Even three years after its release, it’s a rare display of pensiveness and emotion, especially in a scene as vicious as trap music, and Future pulled it off with precision.
Monster is worth recalling here in order to provide an instance where Future succeeded in creating a sound of nuanced vulnerability — a welcome foil to his failure of overblown catharsis on HNDRXX (2017), Future’s second and most recent release this year. Through his discography, it’s clear that the guy is not incapable of being more than a banger factory; he is a clearly talented artist who found a comfort zone and ran with it.
And, from time to time, we still get to see glimpses of his more conscious or melodic aspects, such as on the still-life trap portrait of “Trap Niggas,” or through the smooth radio bait, “Low Life,” which, while well-received, have been sparse on Future’s discography thus far. His reluctance to fully explore outside of his usual drug-sex-bass cocktail have irked many a listener because, evidently, Future is a musician capable of much more. So, when I —as a listener who wished for Future to implement some kind of change — was given HNDRXX, why was I not satisfied?
Because HNDRXX is not the summit of Future’s emotive aptitude. Instead, it is arguably his most manufactured, plastic effort to date. At first glance, it shouldn’t be too jarring of a release — after all, he’s rapping about mostly the same things. Maybe his sideways remarks at his ex Ciara are given more presence over drug use and stick talk, but it’s nothing surprising. The production is respectable, poppy at worst, and rides alongside the current trend of mainstream-leaning trap. Dre Moon or DJ Mustard are not to blame for my disdain for HNDRXX, especially since the album’s beats are largely representative of Future’s quality record. Rather, it’s because the man himself, Future, dropped the ball like he’s never done before.
There are few things more grating than Future Hendrix wailing his promethazine-clogged heart out on songs like “Use Me” and “Fresh Air,” his vocals a hilarious mess of ringtone-rap era and T-Pain imitation howls. Out of all the markets to try and enter, it appears that R&B may be Future’s worst bet yet. He mumbles alongside the Weeknd on basic bitch anthem “Comin’ Out Strong” and gives his all to keep up with Rihanna on “Selfish,” yet both features may as well claim the songs as their own. Even with layers of excessive production propping his vocals up, Future’s singing is out of place and borderline embarrassing.
You truly haven’t felt uncool listening to Future until you’ve heard him yell the chorus on “Keep Quiet” fifty times. And trying to endure him being cute on “Incredible” is a feat on its own. Even when he manages to make this pseudo-melancholy sound work, like on late-night-drive-alone lament “Solo,” he follows it up with a whopping seven and a half minutes of “Sorry,” which seems like a nice cut — until he robot-karaokes the chorus four times.
Future changed, just like I hoped he would. But unfortunately, it’s not what I wanted to hear. I may have been vaguely disenchanted by a Future that made the same kinds of songs, but I can barely stomach a Future who tries to rebrand himself as a sensual, passionate popstar. Here, his usage of Auto-Tune — typically used to give his voice a soulless, drowning cadence — is excessive and, as if taking a step backward, is used to keep his artificial attempts at singing barely afloat.
His hooks are weakened by bored melodies and asinine lyrical content, and the subject matter of his songs are rarely consistent with what the title suggests. Future has the range to make depressive, self-indulgent, or even emotional music, but with the approach he’s taken on HNDRXX, I don’t think he wants to make his own music at all.
Preceding sister record FUTURE was run-of-the-mill for Future, and while I wasn’t disappointed, it only heightened my curiosity of what he would sound like if he ever tried to change. In retrospect, I’d prefer if he kept doing him.
Written by Adil Siddiqee