Future’s music has always been crafted on, about and for drugs, from the ecstatic, emotional highs to the paranoid, anxious lows, but ever since last fall, he seems to only be hitting the latter. Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights are album-grade, single-minded projects with none of the joy of Pluto but all of the drug-drenched malice — and understandably so. There have been two threads in Future’s life in the wake of Honest — the mixed reactions to the album and his breakup with Ciara — and DS2 continues the path he’s been on for nearly a year.
Despite a positive critical reception, Honest didn’t live up to the expectations of Future or some of his fans. The nearly two-year gestation period resulted in an uneven album that wasn’t sure what it wanted to be; Future seemed to struggle with the cognitive dissonance of ‘Honest’ and ‘Move That Dope’. He had lost sight of his music, his vision clouded by the advice of others (“Tryna make a pop star and they made a monster / They should’ve told you I’m was just a trap nigga”), and since October’s Monster, he’s been trying to right those wrongs.
While he was struggling musically, he was also losing control of his personal life. As he tells it in mini-doc Like I Never Left, Future was uncomfortable with Ciara’s push to have their wedding be a media event, and was hurt when she passed on working with him and Mike Will (as she had on Ciara) to work with Dr. Luke (who masterminded the lukewarm Jackie). They broke their engagement in August amid rumors of his cheating; months later, Monster painted the picture of a lover scorned, hurt and vengeful, drowning in drugs and back on the streets — an image that continued on Beast Mode, 56 Nights and now DS2. The way he kicks off the album — “Bitch, Imma choose the dirty over you / You know I ain’t scared to lose you / They don’t like it when you’re telling the truth / I’d rather be realer than you” — leaves little unsaid.
On DS2, Future — like many artists before him — has turned this personal and professional tumult into art, simultaneously returning to his roots while also continuing to push rap forward. Every one of his grumbles, groans and grunts packs an emotional punch as he unravels images of Gucci flip-flops, codeine-colored piss and Actavis baptisms. His trap tales are loaded with detail (“I can’t believe the blood ain’t on my shirt / because he got hit close-range”); he casually outdoes fashion rappers (“Alexander McQueen is therapeutic”) and takes shots that others can’t pull off (“My Cuban Linx bigger than the Wu Tang”). He is focused and back in control.
Amid tales of making money on the street (‘Lil One’, ‘Stick Talk’, ‘Blood On the Money’) and spending it on designer gear (‘Blow A Bag’) are dispatches from his post-Ciara single life (‘Groupies’, ‘Freak Hoes’, ‘Rotation’). The lone ballad is ‘Rich $ex’, a welcome return of the rap-R&B bedroom hybrids he mastered on Pluto. But while he’s having fun pulling groupies off Instagram, the loss of love and lack of trust have left their marks.
His prodigious drug use has moved beyond boasts to cries-for-help; if his lyrics are true, he’s doing Xanax and Percocet and Lortabs and molly by the handful, washing it down with Hennessy and the dirty Sprite of the title. He’s self-medicating (“I pour me up some drank, say ‘Fuck my problems’”), heavy with paranoia (“I know the devil is real, I know the devil is real / I take a dose of them pills and I get real low in the field”) and resignation (“Started sipping syrup, I’ve been geeked ever since”) — this is the most sobering portrayal of drug addiction since Requiem for a Dream.
Sonically, DS2 continues to put the crossover attempts of Honest in the rearview. Metro Boomin provides a steady hand behind the boards, with assists by Southside, Sonny Digital, Zaytoven and others, crafting haunting horror scores that seem designed to blow out speakers: distorted basslines, digital screams, pound-your-desk drums and dive-bombing blasts of noise provide the counterpoint to Future’s damaged vocals.
Also gone is the haphazard sequencing of Honest; in its deluxe format, DS2 is a relentless, dud-free hour that adds in most of his recent highlights (‘Fuck Up Some Commas’, ‘Real Sisters’ and ‘Trap Niggas’; only ‘March Madness’ is missing) to complete the story of his last year: as he says in Like I Never Left, the album is about “how to fail in front of the world and bounce back.”
In that way, he is reclaiming the narrative. For nearly half a decade, Future has been the most influential rapper in rap’s most important city, and DS2 is the crowning achievement of a movement that began with the first Dirty Sprite back in 2011. If Honest is the tale of a hustler-with-a-heart-of-gold that finally made it, DS2 is our protagonist’s disillusioned return to the world that made him. It may be a cautionary tale, but at least it’s honest.