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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Future's 'Honest' is Atlanta's repetitive, abstract, and visceral now

When Future stormed OutKast's Coachella reunion, the Dungeon Family descendant sounded like a distant relative. His three snippets of songs re-established to rap fans that, while Andre and Antwan's earliest, funk-rooted discography offers photo-realistic portraits of Atlanta then, Future's trap pop is Atlanta's repetitive, abstract and visceral now. It's immediate and vital enough to make all circumstances - his lineage, Kirkwood work history, initial efforts as Meathead - irrelevant to his Astronaut-by-way-of-the-Streetz appeal.

Fans and detractors agree: Future has made people question what qualifies as hip-hop, while serving as default comparison/inspiration for ATL's rising mixtape circuit stars (Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug, Migos). Honest, the follow-up to 2012 debut Pluto, offers proof of the royal family ties seen at Future's Coachella gig - in "Benz Friends (Whatchutola)," he and Andre laugh off Mercedes-digging women nearly 20 years after OutKast's carjacking anthem "Benz or Beamer." More importantly, Honest takes another hard left into the seedy underground. While not quite as ambitious, mostly thanks to goofball features, Honest still shocks while delivering some of the most singular hits rap will reckon with this year.

"I'm a rock star for life, I'm just being honest / Got a check on me right now, I'm just being honest," Future croons over a lone piano in the opulent title track and lead single. The rest of Honest's humble-bragging isn't nearly as subversive. Instead, Nayvadius veers between emotional extremes, from sentimental ballad ("I Feel U") to turbulent banger ("Covered N Money"). Both songs, plus the equally addictive bonus track (and No Sleep mixtape highlight) "How Can I Not," sound as if they resulted from the same, inspired session as the bleak, harrowing triumph "Sh!t," where Future barks sharply as if trapped.

When Future isn't in solitary confinement, Honest finds him playing host to famous friends. No cameo hits as hard as breakout single "Move That Dope," where Pharrell Williams sounds elated to do naked yoga, Pusha T sharpens his cocaine puns (Get it? He nose better), and Casino just sounds happy to play with the big boys. Instead, Honest's other guests sound as if they've wandered in accidentally: the ever-clumsy Wiz Khalifa in the thunderous "My Momma," an unconvincing Kanye West in trophy-wife ballad "I Won," the perma-listless Drake in the droning "Never Satisfied." They all sound like smartasses cracking wise during a feature presentation.

But they're also too self-absorbed to see where Future's wandered. Mike WiLL Made It, the crossover Bangerz producer who reintroduced hedonism to rap clubs last year, serves as executive producer to this pitch-black room of a record. As a result, Honest can feel less a game-changer than a guarantee that Future keeps playing, though it's still satisfying. Once, Future described Honest as "music that has a unique sound but will still play in the club." But it's more like a statement from an artist who touches down where he pleases and refuses to ever look back.

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