For a major label artist embarking on a nationwide stadium tour with two of the current biggest names in hip-hop and R&B, Future is still a bit of a mystery. Just don’t expect that to last much longer.
Even if you don’t know his face, you probably know his voice: a hoarse, warbled, semi-digitized Southern drawl that’s fueled a slew of recent hits, whether used for crooning soft come-ons (“Turn on the Lights”), ominous threats to would-be foes (“Tony Montana,” where he channels the voice of Al Pacino’s “Scarface” character) or simply exhorting in his prodigious multitasking abilities (“Same Damn Time”). Following the release of his debut album “Pluto” last year, that voice became one of hip-hop’s most in-demand, with the likes of B.o.B., Tyga, Ace Hood, and YC (of “Racks” fame) calling for collaborations. By the time he finishes his part as the opening act for Drake’s 40-city tour, which arrives at the TD Garden on Wednesday with Miguel, his fan base will likely have grown exponentially.
Yet in speaking with the 29-year-old Atlanta native ahead of the tour’s opening date, there’s a feeling that, for all his success thus far, he’s still being overlooked as simply a memorable voice with a knack for writing catchy hooks.
“I wouldn't say I’m underrated, but more reserved,” he says on the phone from New York. “Only time will tell, but I’ve been good so far in being consistent and making hit after hit writing for myself and other artists, from rap to R&B, and being able to make those different records. I’m a show-and-prove kind of artist, so you could say underrated, but you can go through my track record and you can see that I’ve been putting it down for some time, as far as being able to come back with multiple hits.”
That track record stretches back to the late ’90s, where a young Future, born Nayvadius Cash, would spend hours soaking up knowledge while sitting in studio sessions alongside his cousin Rico Wade, a founding member of the influential Dungeon Family production team that helped push OutKast and Goodie Mob to national prominence.
There he developed his unique rapping/singing vocal style, but on his new album, “Honest,” he hopes it can deliver more than just another round of radio singles. While keeping the details relatively vague, Future promises to give fans a more insightful look at his personality and background than on “Pluto.”
“I went more in depth with this album,” he says of “Honest,” for which he’s released an eponymous single but has no release date as of press time. “The first record was just about making club bangers and records that feel good and gravitating toward what the fans like. Now it’s about taking the fans to another level and engaging with my audience and being more personal and opening up, because at first I was more mysterious.”
When asked how he would get more personal, he replied, “It’s some of everything, from my experiences when I was young, to what I’m going through now, what I went through in between the last album and this album, going on the road, all the new experiences from the last year and a half. I went from dropping ‘Pluto’ to now knowing how to make a complete album. I added all the different elements of music into a great album.”
The tracks released thus far, the title track and a second single with an unprintable title, give a glimpse into Future’s continued development. The latter is a dark nod to Atlanta trap music, his voice tilting somewhere between shouting raps and singing them as he reiterates his street credentials over a menacing instrumental from frequent collaborator Mike WILL Made It. Contrast that with “Honest,” a mellower reflection on success, though not without his omnipresent confidence (“Live a rich [expletive] life, I’m just being honest,” he admits). Though confessions like those aren’t exactly revelatory, Future asserts that he's willing to go places other rappers aren’t.
“The direction I was going with the album was just trying to be honest with my fans and to show my growth and me being more mature,” he says of the LP, which features guest appearances from Nikki Minaj, Mr. Hudson, and Miley Cyrus, who slots in on the romantic ballad “Real & True.” “I need to let people know who I am and instead of just trying to make great records, just be honest and make it more personal and make it more passionate, to make records with emotion and not be afraid to express that.”
But until the record drops, Future has plenty on his plate. The Drake tour, from which he was rumored to be briefly axed from by Drake himself after disparaging the Canadian rapper’s new album in what he believed were off-the-record comments to Billboard, is his first ever, and he’s not exactly dampening expectations when he says to “expect greatness” from his new LP. But, maybe he’s just being honest.
“I’m putting everything on the line in being able to express myself in a different way than rappers normally do,” he says. “They might say ‘it’s rap’ or ‘it’s R&B,’ but I’m stepping outside the box and making music for me and making music for the fans to understand me. I’m going the extra distance to be able to come across different. I’m not steering away from things. I embrace my fears and I embrace the growth.”Martin Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.