The Future of Trap Masculinity – Future’s Self-Titled Album
Atlanta-based musician Future released the eponymous Future last week, and it took me several tries to get into the record. I know my rap tastes skew New York, but as a fan of Future, I was surprised that I couldn’t just press play on the album in my car and let it play out for the whole of my commute. I kept stopping myself a few tracks in and changing to other music. It wasn’t until I played the album at home, taking breaks to YouTube videos of earlier Future tracks that the reason dawned on me: I see Future as a visual artist at least as much as a rapper, and having solely the aural experience of new Future music was somehow disappointing.
I blame “Move That Dope” for this problem.
I had friends try to turn me on to Future’s music back in 2011, but I didn’t give him a chance until his 2014 album Honest. That album’s fourth single, “Move That Dope,” set the bar in my mind for grimey-ass trap music, and its video showed me that Future had the potential to distinguish himself in trap music, and in the wider world of hip hop. In the video, which starts with a shot of Pusha T rocking a gold chain and a Ronald Reagan mask, I saw a lot of standard hip hop video imagery: guys in front of cars, miming how to cook and mix cocaine into crack, running from the police. Then, Future drops a verse that’s staccato while still sounding soaked in lean. He rhymes Maserati with Maserati and it was one of the best verses I heard that year, despite being nearly eclipsed by Pharrell’s verse later in the same song.
After Pharrell’s verse, the video returns to the same basic trap imagery I’m used to seeing in videos for Desiigner, Migos, and others. But among the cuts are a couple long takes of Future in what can only be described as a too-tight denim jacket that is designed to look as if it’s being worn backwards. The jacket’s popped collar is straight out of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending, and he looks simultaneously feminine and pretty in the jacket. Like, okay, fine, he’s a pretty dude. But not only is he leaning into and acknowledging this prettiness—something rappers, whether they’re handsome or not, try to underplay in their videos—he’s presenting it in a deliberately feminine way in a song that is only about cooking and dealing drugs. Rappers, like plenty of musicians, like to inject haute couture into their videos, but for men, this has been almost categorically limited to clothes that read instantly as masculine. By leaning into this feminine aesthetic for a moment, and staring directly into the camera when he does it, Future dared me to see him as more than trap music, more than hip hop, and more than a rote expression of black masculinity.
All of this is to say, Future set a high bar in 2014, and his guest work with Drake and others has generally stayed interesting. In this new self-titled album, he set the personal challenge of creating an entire album with no other rappers. Every verse is his. And while that’s incredibly rare in hip hop, this album isn’t more than something fairly hot to bump in your car when you feel like driving a little too slow in the city or a little too fast on the highway. The Southside-produced “POA” is a standout track on the album, with a beat so hard it had me wishing I could go back to 2003 and cruise my hometown streets in my ’91 Eclipse with the asymmetric hood. “I’m So Groovy” is similarly fun, with a listing flow that he controls with crisp, auto-tuned braggadocio, like Pablo-era Kanye. Musically, the best entry on the album is “Feds Did a Sweep,” produced by Grammy-winning producer Zaytoven. Future reconciles his success with the price he paid for it over a masterful blend of trap style drums and synthy Chinese woodwinds.
Hip hop needs road bangers, for sure, just like it needs club tracks and strip club music and protest albums and albums that are so raw and emotional that fans intentionally put them in hibernation for months at a time between bouts of heavy rotation. But Future has to contend with a reinvigorated Tribe, Kendrick constantly plumbing new depths as a writer, Childish Gambino reincarnating Prince for you and your mama, Migos pioneering a stupidly infectious flow, and Kanye continuing to be Kanye. It’s not enough for Future to be visually adventurous. The real heads need him to find some of that playfulness and put it in the music, too.
Snub List – Christine
I subscribe to the idea that the Academy Awards, which air tomorrow night, tend to honor the wrong films, and the right actors and directors at the wrong times in their careers. This idea has gained traction in pop culture criticism ever since Al Pacino stole Denzel Washington’s 1992 Oscar with his performance in Scent of a Woman, while Denzel didn’t get his Malcolm X award until a decade later, for Training Day. These kinds of awards are nicknamed the “make-up Oscars.” In that same vein, I think Viola Davis has a good shot at earning an Academy Award tomorrow, for an incredibly moving performance in Fences—but really because she stole a scene from Meryl Streep in Doubt nine years ago.
Podcasts like The Cracked Podcast and Fighting in the War Room hold annual re-litigations of past Academy Awards ceremonies, usually on a five or ten-year cycle, and these episodes make for great listening for movie lovers and podcast fans alike.
Because tracking the transitive properties of mis-allocated Academy Awards can be a drag, I decided to skip watching an Oscar contender to watch a bona fide Oscar snub instead: Antonio Campos’s Christine, a drama based on the final weeks of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida news reporter who committed suicide during a live news broadcast in 1974. Chubbuck, who struggled with depression for most of her life, is played beautifully by Rebecca Hall. Hall plays Chubbuck as brusque and self-deprecating, unable to take compliments while, in each alternating moment, craving validation and love from her co-workers and her bosses. Her physicality is heartbreaking, her swings from depression to mania terrifying. Michael C. Hall and Maria Dizzia play two of her co-workers at a struggling news station, and both actors amplify the tragedy through their sympathetic performances.
While it would have been a pleasure to see Christine nominated in categories for acting or costume design, I’m just glad the story was told and it’s available in at least two video on-demand formats. And on Sunday night, instead of getting overheated about sweeps and upsets at the Academy Awards, I’m going to pin my hopes on a slew of as-yet-unrecorded podcasts, to be released five or ten years from now, all titled some variation of La La Who?
 Pharrell flawlessly drops 14 “niggas” in 12 seconds, all in the same year he recorded and released “Happy” for that movie about penguins. The man has layers.