Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Future’s ‘Pluto’ is an album marked by a voice that’s unlike anything else you’ve ever heard. Auto-tune in rap isn’t anything new – Lil Wayne pushed his sound to strange new places with dirty pop excursions like Lollipop, and Kanye West changed his voice to evoke a distinct emotional landscape on ’808s & Heartbreak’ – but Future takes things to another level. He even sounds apart from the crop of fellow Atlanta stars like Ca$h Out, with a voice that’s raw and sinewy, taking more cues from dancehall than anything more local. Towards the end of the album he says he’s got so much pain that he can’t rap any more, and just needs to sing. It’s less a means of side-stepping or accessing particular themes than the theme itself; his frenetic, shattering vocals embodying a life that’s being lived on an edge.
It’s an affective move that’s proved very effective, and it’s made Future a popular cameo star this year. He’s recently added the creak to Pusha T’s stone faced Pain, gone demonic on the riotous DJ Khaled club banger Bitches & Bottles and pleaded with Rihanna on the duet Loveeeeeee Song. The Rihanna collaboration is a smart decision because of the way her ice princess demeanor and tone contrasts with Future’s, but his cyborg crooning can sound too broad and odd in other contexts, swamping an otherwise quite nice Kelly Rowland feature on a remix of Neva End.
‘Pluto’ is at its very best when it’s unhinged and brimming with energy; in particular, the love songs are the most powerful moments on the album, told with drama and a decadent flair. When Future starts to set the scene at the beginning of Truth Gonna Hurt You talking about how it’s a “cold, cold world” you just know he’s going to make sure the coat his partner’s wearing is a fur: “preferably chinchilla baby, mink.” On the other end of the spectrum, Same Damn Time manages to mine joy from an endless hook despite being both over-played and over-remixed; and there’s Straight Up, with its cascading drops that crest with the manic line “Molly with the lean/feel like you come from another planet!”. When he stops talking about druggy love and clothes to open his closet of skeletons, you get tracks like Permanent Scar that open up about dead friends, disgraced street heroes and suicidal family members, and even You Deserve It – which may seem hugely self-congratulatory, but is really as much about the positive light his success reflects out from as it does back onto him.
Future – Straight Up
‘Pluto’ does have its troughs as well as peaks, with lower points like the weary Drake-assisted Tony Montana or slightly rote Long Live the Pimp. Dramas need intermissions though, and there isn’t a single track poor enough to overshadow the great parts. You could also say it’s not very artful or considered – particularly when compared to other standout rap releases of this year like Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ or Roc Marciano’s slow-cooked ‘Reloaded’ – but the album still sounds singular and rich, with producers like Mike Will Made It, Nard & B and Jon Boi combining the directness of trap with rootsy and exotic touches that are often heavy with synthesised melodies and guitar licks. Future is actually the cousin of Rico Wade, one third of the production team Organized Noise and a key part of the legendary Dungeon Family. This fact is only made overt in a grand Big Rube introduction, but the core ambition and ATLien influence is apparent throughout.
More than anything else, the album is a terrific listen: full of highlights like R Kelly gracing the opening verse of the first song fresh from career-threatening vocal surgery, or the way in which all the destructive, doomed relationships on the album build to Turn On The Lights – a crowning ballad for a Platonic ideal of a female. It’s exactly this kind of rapturous, unsystematic appeal that, when tied with distinct and innovative sonics, makes ‘Pluto’ a real winner this year.
Graphic design courtesy of Luke Corpe.