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Future has become the antihero for men who believe emotional torture is essential to masculinity. After a splashy, very public relationship with the singer Ciara, the two had a splashy, very public breakup that spilled from the courts and onto Twitter. In its wake, Future measured his pain into cups of codeine-spiked soda and poured it all over his music, most notably on 2015’s Dirty Sprite 2. Dudes who lived vicariously through him dredged up all sorts of relationship trauma in order to wail alongside him, once more with feeling.
After DS2’s 4 a.m. drive through the desert, Future cartwheeling back into the heart-clutching love songs and sweet-street persona of his 2012 debut, Pluto, might have been jarring. But nobody stays in beast mode forever, and FUTURE, the companion piece to HNDRXX, showed a few cracks in his hardened facade. Heartbreaks heal, especially when you’re a Romeo rapper with an R&B bedside manner and an unending supply of Vicodin. Over a well-played hand of wistful, bright-eyed and reflective beats, HNDRXX strikes a near-perfect balance between a man still licking his wounds and a man emerging from a long, dark night.
That’s not to say there isn’t a little bumpiness upon re-entry. For all of us who missed the old Future—that “Turn on the Lights” Future, that love-you-down-in-the-sheets and buy-you-a-new-Range-for-the-streets Future—HNDRXX’s opener “My Collection” is a bit of a mind fuck. Over a wispy lullaby of a beat that sounds like more like an outro than an intro, Future peels off bills before asking, “You wanna come to Pluto?” Yes! Unfortunately, he lapses into light shaming of Ciara’s sexual history before the cringe-worthy declaration, “Even if I hit you once, you part of my collection.”
A trio of standard-issue songs follows, filled with flossy verses flush with cash, cars, designer namedrops and a couple funny lines (“I wanna take you out to Paris and buy you better clothes,” he says in “Lookin Exotic”; “Baby mama back drinking liquor/Now she tryin’ to fuck my life up” in the DJ Mustard-produced “Damage”). The Weeknd’s sniveling on “Comin Out Strong” aside, these all blur together.
But redemption comes on the ghostly “Use Me.” One of Future’s gifts is imbuing his voice with such emotion that lyrics become putty in his hands. As shadows flit across the wall, the plaintive refrain of “use me” is made all the more gut-wrenching when he belts it. By the time an organ warbles onto the song, he’s spent, his heart wrung dry. The shivery chorus begins to fade, and birds start chirping. It’s chilly, but dawn has finally broken, and somebody’s cooking Nayvadius breakfast this morning.
“Incredible” and “Testify” are sun-warmed island beats that smell and shimmer like tanning oil-slicked shoulders. Future sounds like he’s on vacation, loose as his limbs after that hot yoga class. “I was havin’ trust issues/But I’ve been havin’ way better luck since you,” he starts off “Incredible,” relieved to baby talk again instead of bragging about another random bad bitch. Plenty of lines on HNDRXX melt hearts and make up for all games and the lies: “I wanna hear your heart pump pound for pound …We conversin’ back and forth like we real partners/Spiritually we bonded through the turmoil.”
If that’s not enough, he comes bearing a gentle pop duet with Rihanna, “Selfish” (featuring delicate production from Detail, Major Seven, and Mantra), and a seven-and-a-half minute apology, “Sorry.” He’s still airing out grievances and self-medicating with a fistful of ‘scripts, but the run from “Use Me” to “I Thank U” is inspired. The sun burns the edges of the clouds without entirely breaking through, which feels more honest, anyway.
The old cliché is that artists produce better work when they’re in pain, and it did seem like the deeper Future sank, the higher his star rose. Appreciating that without romanticizing or wallowing in his despair is key, as is allowing him freedom to create from a different emotional vantage point. As Charles Bukowski wrote in “Let It Enfold You”: “Either peace or happiness,/Let it enfold you/When I was a young man/I felt these things were/Dumb, unsophisticated.”
But Bukowski got that first part wrong. Peace and happiness do not simply “enfold” you. Sadness spreads like weeds, and channeling that into your music is a means of purging it so it won’t choke you. It’s joy that requires constant tending to grow. With HNDRXX, Future did just that, venturing back into the day for some fresh air with his woman who’s frying bacon. The sand’s like flour between their toes, and the music feels just fine.