By: Thomas Rodriguez
Future season is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. As the advent of Future’s upcoming studio album and documentary The WIZRD, continues, we must reflect on our lives before we met Atlanta’s lean-drenched balladeer; before he dropped his infamous la-di-da verse on “King’s Dead”, before the back-to-back number 1 albums Future and Hndrxx, before “Big Rings” was the obligatory sports anthem of 2016. It’s time to discuss Future’s most iconic and important stretch of his career: his triple threat of brutal mixtapes that lead up to his acclaimed DS2 album.
This is how Future turned into a monster on these hoes.
Big to Bigger
Now, Future was far from a nobody before he began his iconic mixtape run of Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights. His commercial album, Honest, was a good commercial jumpstart for Future on April of 2014, receiving solid critical praise and sales for its equally solid track list. Future was no superstar though; the biggest hits he had were the sappy “Turn On the Lights” and hard nosed “Move That Dope”. Solid, to be sure, but nothing like what Future is now…
Then Monster came out, and everyone lost it. Nevermind the damn near perfect mixtape art, the iconic DJ Esco tags, or the fact it was produced so quickly after Honest (it came out six months after!). Monster was monolithic, memorable, and truly defines what a “fire” mixtape was both then and now. The bombastic trap production handled by Metro, Southside, and TM 88 (to name a few) was executed with equal aggression and finesse, almost like watching a boxer land a perfect punch in the ring. Future was the star of the match however; his rapping and hooks were melodic, hard hitting, and catchy; “Monster” is instantly quotable, “After That” has an insane flow and god-tier Lil Wayne feature, and “Fetti” has the cutthroat feel of the true gangster Future was at the time. Future even strengthened his softer side on the tape, making a haunting love ballad in the form of “Throw Away”, dedicated to his ex: Ciara. It encapsulates Future’s equal amounts of lean soaked fun and depression on both of its hard hitting and soft stroking halves, the yin and yang to Future’s ethos. It seemed like a project too good to be followed up…
And then Beast Mode dropped.
The Zay Way
Beast Mode was, in many ways, the more refined little brother of Monster. It was tighter, shorter, a bit prettier. It still had the heart and hard edge of Monster, however, only now Zaytoven was on the boards.
And these are some of the best Future songs ever crafted, period. “Oooooh” serves as a perfect introduction to Future’s quirky sense of coolness; he spends the whole song moaning and it still manages to sound menacing as hell. The snappy trap drums and expert piano playing truly play to Zaytoven’s nominal comparison to Beethoven in terms of planning and execution. “Layup” has a simply breathtaking violin melody that’s monstrous, dramatic, almost like Future is starring in his own grimed-out Atlanta opera as he takes us through his clubs, cups, and women. Beast Mode is lavish as hell, but even on its softer side (like on “Just Like Bruddas”) it bangs. Future had somehow made two excellent tapes, equally memorable and incredibly low on misfires.
And then 56 Nights dropped two months later.
As Future began this mixtape trilogy, fans could definitely notice that there were plenty of cinematic moments throughout, either with the dramatic production, Future’s intense flows and choruses, or the spare interludes that helped paint a picture of Future’s debauched lifestyle.
56 Nights is the closest thing Future will have to a concept album, and cemented the idea that Future just might be the chosen hero of Atlanta’s trap scene.
56 Nights definitely separated itself from Monster and Beast Mode; it was produced almost entirely by Southside, making the tape grimy, raw, and nasty as the Dubai prison DJ Esco served in for 56 nights (the inspiration behind this tape). The surprisingly realistic opening skit to this album only settles the crowd down to hear Future, a drug-addled Hercules ready to cement his status as a mythical figure in trap music on this trip through his mind and Esco’s stint in jail.
Of course, he succeeded effortlessly.
“Never Gon Lose” has an incredibly woozy synth line alongside one of Future’s best refrains ever, while “March Madness” is the quintessential Future song in the beat’s spacey electronics and Hendrix’s braggadocio. “No Compadre” will destroy your car’s sound system with its 4 dimensional bass, and you will still be grateful for having heard one of Hendrix’s greatest bangers. Nothing else can really be said about 56 Nights; it’s easily Future’s most aggressive album, and if it is the third act of this mixtape trilogy, it is worth a standing ovation. As a final warmup before DS2, it got the job more than done.
In retrospect, these three tapes were arguably the biggest reason Future is on everyone’s map now. It’s insane to think that even today, people are still playing this man’s trilogy of amazing mixtapes, especially in the age of waning relevance and samey trap production. Future, although maybe a bit too dependent on his usual style, deserves to use the platform he built using these three musical statements of power. DS2, upon its release, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200, and was all but a confirmation that Future pretty much ran 2014 and 2015. These tapes are the reason he could create a mixtape with Drake, the reason “Mask Off” was a number one song on the charts, the reason why everyone freaks out when an album is announced by the Atlanta demigod.
They’re still playable today, and they still bang. Perhaps they will blast until the end of time. Thank you, Mr. Hendrix!