Story originally published on The Demo Tape on May 20, 2020
“Athletes wanna be rappers, rappers wanna be athletes” — or at least that’s what Lil Wayne said in a 2014 interview with ESPN. While words hold weight, actions prove to be the true measure of veracity. Names like Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and the late Kobe Bryant all have their jerseys in the rafters. The three of them are heralded as some of the best players of their generation on the court, reaching a household name status where their surname alone is enough to garner recognition in any barbershop conversation. Even with that said, all three shared a love for Hip Hop that went beyond fandom and resulted in them recording their own records.
Lil Wayne’s comments held true in 2014, just as they would have held true when Master P suited up for the Charlotte Hornets and the Toronto Raptors 15 years prior. His statement still applies today, too, with athletes such as Iman Shumpert and Victor Oladipo having released music under the same names they take to the court with.
Since their induction into pop culture, rappers have been at the forefront of it. The music, the dress, the vernacular, and everything Hip Hop’s elite represent transcends all things just music. For that reason, athletes aren’t the only ones that want to be rappers — everybody wants to be rappers. For a bevy of reasons, everybody wants to be like Future in particular.
However, Nayvadius “Future” Wilburn is a super villain; one with an ability so uncanny, as to straddle the line between garnering compassion and bringing into question his own disaster-fullness, that only the late Bob Kane could create an outlaw worthy to rival his catalog. If you listen closely and often enough, you may even begin to find his character admirable. Future makes his own rules and does an even better job of making trap music sound consecrated. While many within Atlanta and beyond have attempted to recreate him sonically, none have been able to deliver the entire package with such a high level of charisma coupled with a consistent work ethic that delivers music to fans sometimes before they get the chance to ask for it.
At the pace Future has released music to date, it serves him no favors in preventing the feeling of his content feeling redundant at times. However, his latest offering sounds more lugubrious at certain moments than what we’ve become accustomed to. High Off Life feels both like its namesake and a false proclamation.
Coming into his eighth studio album, Future has been engaged in a high-profile relationship with Lori Harvey and an even more newsworthy lead single for High Off Life, the Drake-assisted “Life Is Good.” High Off Life proves to be a cohesive body of work not because it’s sonically built around “Life Is Good,” but because it offers a full glimpse into the duality of life. “Life Is Good” is the single — life is not, and has not been, good is the story told in the other album cuts from High Off Life.
The 21-track project leads off with “Trapped In The Sun,” sounding off as a somber precursor to an hour-long therapy session from Future. Throughout the duration of the 70-minute album, memories of trauma and hints of survivor’s remorse ring in harmony with the 808s provided by Southside, ATL Jacob, Wheezy and others. Future gives listeners his origin story and attempts to justify his past’s sins not only to us, but to himself, by cataloging the current fruits of his labor including his yellow Lamborghini and his green Ferrari.
Future feels confident at times, vulnerable some, and at other instants able to seamlessly maneuver between the two in euphony. “I was tryin’ to tell you, ‘Be cool,’ ’cause I ain’t never wanna see you goin’ through it/ I ain’t even have to trap no more ’cause I was doing it too fluently/ I told myself I would never rob nobody and then end up doin’ it,” he cries out before the beat drops on “Posted With Demons.” Here, Future is able to recognize his wrongdoings in an effort to save someone else from the same cycle of despair that entrapped him.
The stories he tells are less so inherently malicious and more closely aligned with tales like Cain’s; of someone who has lost their way and is attempting to right their morality. It’s here where the appeal of Future lies.
Athletes wanna be rappers, rappers wanna be athletes, and everybody wants to be Future because they see what they believe they want to be in him or they see the worst parts of themselves that they engage in a constant battle with and find understanding in Future’s struggle. Whether they believe he’s putting up a valiant effort that they hope to also do or succumbing to his flaws and in turn becoming the villain that people aspire to be in retribution for the way they feel the world has operated in coercion against them is a decision left to the discretion of the listener. His origin story either resonates with the listener and inspires hope, or his villain status makes a fight with universal morality seem not worth the while.
Either way, people want to be like their idols to some extent. Idols would not be idols if they did not have any redeeming qualities. This concept can be taken on the most superficial level and applied to parents and teachers that interact with impressionable youth on a daily basis. This same notion can be applied to more impersonal relationships, stemming from things like media consumption through avenues such as film, music, and even social networks.
“Trillonaire,” assisted by YoungBoy Never Broke Again, offers both the perspective of a 36-year-old Future reminiscing on his past transgressions and the 20-year-old Baton Rogue native, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, growing up as a victim to that now same, distant, upbringing Future is reflecting on throughout High Off Life. They trade lines in call and response fashion, with YoungBoy rapping “reportin’ straight out the slums” as a living reality and Future replying with “from rags to riches” as his triumphant story.
YoungBoy’s appeal with his younger audience closely aligns with that of Future’s appeal with his fan base. The stardom and wealth that comes with being a rap superstar is appealing, but the lasting connection both artists have with their listeners lies within their ability to be vulnerable with their audience who hear stories of their current realities in these songs.
On “One of My,” Future enumerates through a roll of his accomplices, stating that some got rich from selling drugs, some got rich from robbing, some got rich from scamming, and some failed to reach financial success and instead fell victim to the jail system. While growing up around these influences, Wilburn now makes his living off of his music. And as he raps on “Trillionaire,” he was able to take on the role of provider for his mother in their single-parent home and look after his sister whom is battling with sickle cell anemia.
“MY LIL’ SISTER DEALING WITH SICKLE CELL/ HIT ME WITH A TEXT JUST A FEW MINUTES AGO/ SAY SHE LOVE ME, I TOLD HER I LOVE HER TOO” — FUTURE, “RAZZLE DAZZLE” (2017)
Here lies the aforementioned appeal in Future from a reliability standpoint for those who can relate because of the grey area that forms when attempting to justify ends by means — those means coming out of a state of survival and care-taking.
On “Accepting My Flaws,” Future seeks to do just what he titled the song as, with his musical therapy session now reaching an apex in High Off Life. The Southside production feels spectral, striking as the perfect melody for Future to summon his demons to and rap in uncompromising unison with.
“I’VE BEEN TRYNA FIGHT MY DEMONS, I’VE BEEN TRYNA FIGHT MY CUP/ I ALWAYS TELL HER SHE MY THERAPY, I TOLD HER IT WAS ROUGH” — FUTURE, “ACCEPTING MY FLAWS” (2020)
The barrage of statements made in jest, labeling Future as a “toxic” sociopath, are done without close review of his music that would better categorize him as a hopeful romantic. In Lori Harvey, Future raps of finding a confidant; one whom, while not sharing similar upbringings, he can share his story with. Harvey, 23, is from an affluent background with her stepfather being Steve Harvey. Future’s environment was not such, as he’s rapped about throughout his career. “You out the garden, baby, I’m from the jungle with the leeches,” as he continues in his open letter for Harvey.
High Off Life is a rollercoaster that reaches braggadocios summits, assisted by tracks like “Ridin Strikers,” “Harlem Shake,” and the Travis Scott-assisted “Solitaires.” While some people in the present want the tangible items Future name drops, the lasting impact of his music is ironically felt in the abstract ones — like the pursuit of love, desire for peace of mind, and hope for forgiveness. Or maybe we’ve lived long enough attempting to be heroes that we are willing to play the villain; and Future serves as the perfect template. That’s why everybody wants to be like Future.