Future’s in-demand sound is the source of some of the best work to come out of Atlanta in years. Mike Will Made It, record label executives, and the man himself recall how it happened.
It’s a Friday night in late November at NYC’s Highline Ballroom and the lights start to dim after Funkmaster Flex’s DJ set. There’s a video of Atlanta rapper Future riding around in his hometown that’s playing at center stage. Through the screams of fans, it’s Future narrating his struggle to fame, and soon enough the man himself bobs up to the stage to “Straight Up.” He’s decked in a black crewneck sweater with “Rich” penned across his chest in red, dripping-blood font. His dreadlocks are tucked tightly into his black beanie, his wallet chain smacks across his thigh every time he jumps around the stage, and a Sprite bottle filled halfway with what can only be promethazine-codeine cough syrup occupies his left hand. The introduction track embodies his successful year in music—“I’m fly like a plane/And I ain’t go never land,” he screams.
The crowd is energetic and Future plays into it, sparsely rapping over full song instead of traditionally instrumental backing tracks. But Future’s not on stage to showcase his talent; the crowd’s already aware of that. Instead, he’s basking in his own glory.
It’s unrealistic to expect a perfect live performance from the Epic artist, as most of his tracks rely heavily on Auto-Tune and vocal distortion. Between the hits that launched his career, “Tony Montana” and YC’s “Racks,” he pleases fans with new music from his Pluto 3D re-release. On “My,” each line’s ending syllable reaches a screeching height. He wasn’t able to hit those high notes live. Still, he breezed through tracks like “Loveeeeeee Song,” his feature on Rihanna’s Unapologetic, and his No. 1 hit, “Turn On The Lights.” It became abundantly clear that Future wasn’t looking for a good review of the showcase. He was celebrating the most successful year of his life.