Rating:The era of Auto-Tune dominance feels like a lifetime ago. While the climate of hip-hop music makes for a rapidly changing soundscape whose trends can cause songs to become immediately dated, the inescapable three years lead by Akon and T-Pain made the “singing robot voice” a ubiquitous one. Looking back in a post-”D.O.A.” world, only one rap artist (Gorilla Zoe, as heard on 2008‘s “Lost,” one of the decade’s most under-appreciated singles) really seemed to know how to use the program, originally created to correct pitch, in a compelling way. Now, a new artist has done the impossible and somehow made the software seem fresh and intriguing again. His name is Future, and his album Pluto proves he is a visionary.
A native of Decatur, Georgia, legend has it that Future was given his name by lauded rap collective the Dungeon Family (Outkast, Goodie Mob, and TLC’s “Waterfalls” producers Organized Noize) who saw him as “the future of rap.” That moniker in mind, it’s interesting he made such a splash last year on YC’s “Racks” using a tool that’s already part of rap’s past. What’s interesting about Future is instead of using Auto-Tune to either make it sound like he’s singing or a cyborg, he first manipulates his own voice creating a wobbling warble, giving the entire soundscape a ripple effect. Gimmicky as it may read, he’s become an innovator and Pluto is proof.
Outside of a handful of years, rap’s never been a very album-minded genre. That’s why it’s a testament to Future’s artistry that Pluto sounds like such a cohesive fully realized vision. Along with his aforementioned mic presence, the heavily synthesized computerized thumps give the album a unique intrigue. By giving his vocals such a framework, it’s a reminder of how avant-garde the act of rapping really is. Not to be confused with artists who make their name as rappers and then do an album of singy-songy pop songs, Future’s ambitious volition keeps the project assertively hip-hop.
Even if you stripped away the technology that makes Pluto so Tron-like, you would still be able to tell Future is a great and incredibly creative MC. From the almost reckless absurd fun of “Parachute” and “Astronaut Chick” to the impressive weaving of double-time and 6/8 flow on “I’m Trippin’,” it shows Future is a solid talent and the success of his experimentations is just icing on the cake. Even his approach to song-writing is daring, namely on closer “You Deserve It” where he reflects on his success in a way that isn’t bragging or bemoaning, so much as expressing how he feels generally humbled. “It brings water to my eyes just to hear me on the radio” is one of the most vulnerable admissions I’ve heard all year, and is indicative to how different Pluto is.
That said, the only major misfire on the album is sadly its first single, the Drake assisted remix to “Tony Montana.” Scarface references are among the most overkilled clichés in hip-hop, and the fact that it’s the bread and butter of the first release off one of the most hyper-creative rap releases in recent memory is the most tragic of hip-hop ironies. While its status as a hit has hopefully allowed a larger audience to experience a much different release than their accustomed to, it’s a bitter expired Tylenol in the middle of a techno-organic virus epidemic.
That aside, Pluto is likely to either please or alienate a Venn diagram of listeners. It’s rooted in enough recent rap to be familiar for the more mainstream fans, but innovative with the available tools to make for a genuinely boundary-pushing listen. Factor in some great guest appearances by R. Kelly, TI, Trae the Truth as well as the best Snoop Dogg verse in years, and you have an album worthy of rotation in your solar system. The three bonus tracks also happen to be excellent, warranting purchase of the deluxe edition. While the sound is still potentially esoteric enough to make me hesitant to call him the “future” of rap, Pluto shows signs of having quite the promising Future.