opinion byAUSTIN REED
What to say about the likes of Future Brown, a production superteam comprising Fatima Al Qadiri, NGUZUNGUZU’s Daniel Pineda and Asma Maroof and Lit City Trax’s J-Cush? Well for one thing, Future Brown is a collection of really busy people. Both Qadiri and NGUZUNGUZU released prolific, masterfully produced full-lengths in 2014. Lit City Trax jumps at any opportunity to promote underground dance music on a global level by throwing huge parties and calling them raves (side note: Where did the term “rave” go? All of a sudden, we’re too important to use that word to describe what we’re doing? Where is our gumption? We’re in the middle of an abandoned warehouse at 4 a.m., and the only light in the whole building is the fucking laser grid from Resident Evil. Let’s call a spade a spade.), and J-Cush seems to be at the very center of all of them. To say nothing of the ever-evolving identity of Future Brown’s sound, these people don’t seem interested in giving themselves a break.
Which isn’t an issue if you can rest laurels on the fruit of your labor. Some of the most tireless artists in the industry are successful because rest equals a step backward. What most musicians call “a co-produced mixtape,” they call “a timeout.” The less they stop, the more their talent and their vision grow.
But in the case of Future Brown, the same just can’t be said. It’s tough not to diminish the pace, especially when it’s difficult to tell where the pace originated. Barring the few brilliant moments (and there are a few), Future Brown’s debut full-length feels tired and inconclusive.
When it comes to production, trap music really should wear a label that reads: WARNING: Unless you’re one hundred percent confident in the direction you’re going, maybe sit this play out. See, in any other subgenre of dance music, mistakes can be hidden. A bad sample can be forgiven in five-to-seven minutes, because by then we’ll be on to a completely different sample. But within the uber-delicate fabric of trap music, it’s so easy for one misstep to fry the entire project. Too many moving parts (or worse: not enough) and production maladies have led to terrible outings, even from producers who know better.
The good news is that Future Brown don’t suffer from the same afflictions. The bad news is that the good news isn’t all that good. The issue is in direction, and the real issue is that there doesn’t seem to be any. A shitload of guest spots aside, the material on Future Brown mostly seems duplicative and regurgitated. Album opener “Room 302,” features Tink laying down a two-layer vocal spot atop chamber-deep beats and a sample that sounds recorded using a drumstick and a bunch of semi-filled water glasses. From an innovation standpoint, “Room 302,” looks like a banger on paper. But the result seems surprisingly shallow—the almost-there track that is only lacking the X-factor necessary to make it larger than life.
Other tracks—notably, “Big Homie,” “Vernaculo,” and “Killing Time”—have similar issues: street-sized bang for the buck but an indescribably missing payout. Even with heavy hitters like Sicko Mobb, Maluca and Johnny May Cash throwing down sinister vocal tracks worthy of outstanding marks, the big picture just doesn’t play out.
I suppose it’s in the delivery. Certain elements of Future Brown are so derivative it’s infuriating. Despite a promising intro, “MVP” takes 14 seconds to sound like Ne-Yo auditioning for Bone Thugz-N-Harmony. Dead-serious: “Y’all can’t fuck with us/Cuz she with them drugs/Fuckin’ with them thugs/You know you motherfuckers know what’s up,” are actual lyrics. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. And if you think “MVP” is unnerving, I won’t even bring up “No Apology.”
All of this being said, Future Brown doesn’t exactly die a winless death. Certain tracks on the album illustrate the kind of promise you’d expect from four of the world’s most eclectic production entities. “Dangerzone,” features Kelela and Ian Isiah delivering a sweet, sultry vocal sample atop the kind of viscous beat Sonny Digital would feel honored to claim for his own. It’s the best track on the album, and Kelela is absolute flames. Meanwhile, “Talkin Bandz” boasts the kind of production I had hoped the entire album would feature. As the best of the pre-album releases, “Bandz” gave me high hopes.
I don’t know. I guess I just expected this to be something bigger than it turned out to be. And how am I not supposed to feel that way? I mean, have you heard Skycell? It’s bonkers, and “Mecha,” might be the dopest song of all time that samples video game laughter. But I digress. If you’re interested in hearing what it sounds like when four of the most sought-after production artists almost get it right, check out Future Brown, I guess. C