Future’s all about brevity: nothing he’s made since Honest breaches 50 minutes.
Somewhere between 2014’s Honest and 2015’s Dirty Sprite 2, Future went from one of hip-hop’s most confused stars to one of its most consistent. The former album saw him trying on just about every variety of mainstream rap for size. But somewhere on the way to the latter, he stumbled across his signature sound, now one of the most recognizable in rap—cavernous beats, monotonous auto-tune and nakedly emotional lyrics. Purple Reign is Future’s first mixtape to zero in on that sound, and it’s interesting seeing how his work’s progressed since he’s settled.
On Future’s recent work, particularly Dirty Sprite 2, his misery tended to bubble just under the surface of his bacchanal narratives. Here, he bares it all: this is his most explicitly emotional mixtape since 2014’s Monster. “Inside The Mattress” starts out as a generic money narrative and gradually devolves into a barrage of empty promises directed at either his ex-fiancée Ciara or the stylist he cheated on her with. And “Never Forget” is a tragic family history that’s unusually detailed by Future’s standards; one feels the subject was important enough to him for him to loosen his laconic style to fit in the necessary detail.
But the emotional climax of the mixtape comes during the two songs at the end, both dedicated to Ciara. As usual, Future’s drowning his sorrows in drugs. “Purple Reign” finds him alternating naked cries of “I just need my girlfriend” with the song’s title – a kingly boast on its own, a cry for help in context. And “Perkys Calling” might be Future’s most devastating drug narrative yet, in part because he’s not even fucked up yet. Future starts verses with “I just” pretty frequently, meaning it’s already too late. Hearing him actually sober for a moment, on the way to actually do the drugs that are calling to him, is harrowing. It’s like seeing the cow before you eat it.
The difference between Purple Reign and Monster is cohesion. On Monster, he was screaming, raw-throated, literally monstrous, stumbling over his words. Here, he’s working within his new sound, meaning his voice is almost uniformly monotonous (except on Fetty Wap pastiche “Drippin”). This is Future’s leanest and most economical tape yet. It’s 14 tracks in 39 minutes, and only the two Ciara songs at the end breach four minutes. Future’s all about brevity: nothing he’s made since Honest breaches 50 minutes.
This is Purple Reign’s primary strength. In spite of its emotional intensity, it’s one of his easiest albums to listen to. There’s no filler and no particularly bad stretches, though it does take about four songs to really get going. And despite the wounded narratives, it contains a few of his most fun songs yet. If you just ignore the lyrics, “Never Forget” has an infectious, almost dancehall-like rhythm. “Run Up,” a welcome incongruity, sounds like nothing so much as a ringtone-rap hit from a decade ago. That song and “Drippin” prove he’s quite comfortable and successful when deviating from his style, which hopefully means he won’t run his new sound into the ground.
Some might prefer Future’s poppier work, or his more unhinged work—I, personally, am still waiting for something that fucks with my brain as much as his overlooked 2013 tape F.B.G. The Movie. But Purple Reign proves Future can dish out quality material when he’s not working at the extremes of his art. That, for me, is a sign of a great artist.