Review: Future's Dirty Sprite 2

An exclamation mark on an already booming rap career
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An exclamation mark on an already booming rap career
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By and large, the story behind Dirty Sprite 2—the new Future album—should be the unprecedented run he’s been on up to this point. It’s unheard of today for a bona fide street rapper like Future to do what he’s done in such little time. The (approximately) nine-plus months of dropping three quality mixtapes, generating grassroots hype via fervent fan support; nine-plus months of critical re-evaluation and further acclamation, major magazines putting the Dirty Sprite 2 blip on their radars; nine-plus months of “Fuck Up Some Commas” climbing on the charts; nine-plus months of pan-flash rap acts finally being picked off one-by-one. Even with Dirty Sprite 2 completed and released to the public with less than a week after it was first announced, the insanity just continued: Future's free record release show in Los Angeles was canceled after a crowd overwhelmed the Sunset Strip. Desperate and out of ideas, promoters relocated the show to a larger nearby venue. Then it was shutdown, for the second time.

Although Future doesn't shy away from the spotlight, he has wisely avoided the trappings of the cliché celebrity lifestyle as well as the tabloid fodder that so often comes with it. “My relationship was bigger than me,” says Future in a rare sit down interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club. Future, who is of course referring to his relationship with ex-fiancée Ciara, made a conscious effort to keep his name out of the headlines as he went on his album-quality mixtape tear last October. This tear would produce a triptych in the form of Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights. This trilogy of no-bullshit street-rap tapes chronicled Future’s syrup-drenched headspace after his relationship deteriorated. It was the musical equivalent of driving a blood red Ferrari at full speed off of a bridge and into a sea of codeine.

Which is why Dirty Sprite 2, Future’s third commercial album with Epic, feels more like an exclamation mark on a booming rap career and equally exciting life story than a chicken scratch run-on sentence. Dirty Sprite 2—commercially available as DS2 to avoid a potentially messy lawsuit—is a wake up call for many who have heard the name Future and those arriving late to the party to start paying closer attention. Throughout, Future channels the four-year-old Dirty Sprite and consciously returns to his Kirkwood, Atlanta roots. Although Future is often portrayed, under the imprisonment of the “trap rap” tag, as merely glorifying a... less-than-ideal lifestyle by the Tipper Gores of America, he’s usually very humble and thankful for all of the riches and successes that come his way. “I know I came from poverty, I got my name from poverty/ I know for sure, for sure/ If my Granddad was livin', I know he'd be proud of me,” he declares on “Blow a Bag”. The grinding and hustling to this point—twelve mixtapes, three albums, a reissue, and several singles and features—over the course of five-plus years can be filed under “primer”-era Future and DS2 is the logical summation.

Smartly abandoning the sappy balladry that alienated many on his debut album, Pluto, and trimming all the excess fat that made Honest, an otherwise solid sophomore effort, feel largely uneven, Future goes for the gut and DS2 can pack a wallop. “Thought It Was a Drought” starts the album as effectively as any opening song on a rap album in the last five or so years—with Future quite literally mixing Actavis brand cough syrup with a soft drink of choice right there in the recording booth. To record himself mixing together this dangerous, intoxicating substance on a commercial album gives DS2 an immediate lived-in quality and finds Future finally comfortable in the cockpit of his UFO. “Bitch, I’ma choose the dirty over you/ You know I ain’t scared to lose you,” he mumbles with the grit of his voice scrapping like sandpaper as he reminds the world that no one comes between Future and his drugs.

That isn’t to say DS2 is a monolithic trap banger à la Flockaveli—quite the contrary. Future largely swerves the “turn up” lane and heads directly into the novel “look-from-within” or contemplative bangers space that’s being occupied by fellow ATLien, Young Thug. After all it was Future who, equipped with just Mike Will Made It’s signature production style and his heart on his sleeve, first began churning out “ballads” that would bang harder than, well, the typical “bangers” of the time. (Check out his breakout single “Turn on the Lights” from 2012.) It may seem rather low to put quotes over the words ballads and bangers in 2015 but it’s necessary in the curious case of Future and even a project like DS2—easily his most traditional rap album to date—because of how clear the distinction between the two can often be. Before, when a song featured Future singing (in his trademark Auto-Tune, no less) it was immediately written off by rap purists as tear-stained R&B. But Future has learned a lot about carefully stitching together a good song that gives the listener plenty to chew on. DS2 is a light and breezy thirteen tracks that accentuates Future’s many strengths and elevates his already-powerful stories to Hemingwayesque heights.

Future’s songwriting process on DS2 is a strictly no pad, no paper affair. A freestyle. Something many rappers have alleged to do in the past but rarely ever sounded this believable and palpable. Future’s MO these days seems to be to capture every thought and emotion, no matter or big or how little, he’s feeling at any moment he’s near a recording station. That would explain why just about every track on DS2 features a grab-bag of quotable lyrics covering a wide range of topics and sentiments. He playfully soothes you in with “I had to go to work with heavy metal” before suddenly splashing a bucket of “I done seen dead bodies in the ghetto” in your face. Hard-hitting yet gut-wrenching. Elsewhere, like on album standout “Slave Master”, Future focuses his undivided attention to a singular feeling that connects with the beat and drives that synchronization of the two right into your soul. 

And yet, reading rap lyrics without the context of the actual music and the artist’s vocal delivery is a pointless task, especially when you have the Dream Team of rap producers (Metro Boomin, Southside, Zaytoven) at your disposal. “I make beats come to life,” Future once said. And it’s never been more true than on DS2. At times, the album hits you with a wash of vivid violence, courtesy of distorted synths and rumbling bass. Tracks like these remind me that certain rap songs—primarily from a production standpoint—can blur the lines between experimental and pop music. “I Serve the Base” is one of those songs. There’s a moment in the beat where an ominous pixelated shout (I want to say sampled from the 90s Sega video game Streets of Rage, but I won’t put my money on it) is played up by Future, who slyly uses it to highlight his boisterous lines: “They tried to take the soul out me/ They tried to take my confidence and they know I'm cocky.” You may have thought Future’s d-boy lyrics and machismo would get boring after three albums but they’ve been dialed all the way up to eleven on DS2, which makes for a thrilling listen from start to finish.

Fans, critics and perhaps even Epic head honcho and (technically) Future’s boss, L.A. Reid, have been callously using the unexpected success of DS2 as a vehicle to sweep Honest under the rug. But Future has been quite candid about his conviction regarding Honest, and the lukewarm reception it received both critically and especially commercially. His defense of a project he’s evidently very proud of—one he should be proud of—is telling of Future's unbridled love for music. For him, the focus has always been about music, and frustration arises when he’s doubted and not given full control over his creativity (“Tryna make a pop star and they made a monster”). But that's looking to change very soon with anticipating growing for Ape Shit, Future and Mike Will Made It’s long-gestating collaborative mixtape. Whenever that inevitably drops, perhaps we will mark the moment we begin “legend”-era Future.

B+