Future is back.
Like, extremely back. After going about a year without putting out a new solo project, Future has flooded the game with new work, releasing the self-titled album Future on February 17th and following that up with another, HNDRXX, only a week later. (Plus, there are solid rumors that there could very well be another purple-tinged sunrise on the immediate horizon.)
More than the mere act of returning with new songs, Future is back in a more significant sense, too. The sonic astronaut who boldly drifts out to the outer edges of genre in search of new sounds and styles through which he can convey the depth and breadth and kaleidoscopic color of his emotions and truth; the Future who lost love, found darkness, and in it discovered the inspiration for an unbelievable four-project string of painful, beautiful masterpieces; the Future who brings all his focus and drive and intensity and life history with him on his chase after the muse and consistently returns with something brilliant and new; that Future, after a brief but noticeable break, has returned.
HNDRXX is everything Future fans could’ve hoped for in the next step in this rap legend’s career. Future is also good, mind you, but HNDRXX is The One. The eponymous album feels like more of the same, a continuation of the sound he squeezed nearly everything out of in that Monster-Beast Mode-56 Nights-DS2 stretch. It, like its predecessors Purple Reign and EVOL, has more than a few bangers that stick, mostly due to Future’s impeccable ear for beats and the new flows he cooked up during his off time that will get your neck snapping and shoulders bouncing without you even knowing. (Seriously, a sleepwalking Future is still better than 99 percent of his peers.)
But if you’ve been looking for something new from him—if you love Future-as-guide of a musical journey, navigating through an array of sounds and thoughts and feelings he’d not yet explored, or at least not in this particular way in this particular state of mind—then HNDRXX is just what you’ve been waiting for.
I don’t want to get into an overly detailed assessment of HNDRXX just quite yet. I’m still working through it the same as anyone else who’s only lived with the album these past few days since its release (even if they’ve been days almost entirely soundtracked by “My Collection” and “Incredible” and “Solo” and the rest). What I am compelled to say, though, is that this is some of his best work ever, and what I’m compelled to do is stick this link below, and implore you in the strongest of terms to listen to this song. You won’t be disappointed, I promise:
That’s “Fresh Air,” and it’s incredible. It’s probably way too early to call it but if “Fresh Air” doesn’t end up as my favorite song of the year, I’ll be very surprised. It’s almost too on-the-nose as a metaphor for the post-DS2, post-Ciara breakup funk Future’s music was mired in around this time last year. Future was going through some stuff, took a minute to step back and breath some fresh air, and is now revitalized. More specifically, after wallowing, luxuriating, and obsessing over the dark emotions that bubbled up in the aftermath of his relationship with Ciara through song to such acclaim in 2015, Future seemed to eventually exhaust that particular chapter of his life of all it’s inspiration, and has now struck upon another rich vein of energy and emotion to mine for his art.
The lesson Future appeared to take from the run of great music that turned him from a well-liked figure in rap into an icon was that fans loved when he talked that drug-laden, sex-soaked, gunshot-peppered street talk. This was true in part—Future is truly great at that song-so-mean-I-might-kick-a-puppy vibe—but not entirely. This belief that Future had already founded the general sound and subject matter that by themselves would attract the public’s adoration, coupled with the lack of a sustained break from releasing music to go and find new things to say, is probably what produced the solid enough but sonically and emotionally threadbare Purple Reign and EVOL. Future, too, appeared to be an admittedly improved but still reheated version of the Future we’ve already heard.
Thankfully, Future has never been one to rest on his laurels and always charting his career with an eye on where it’s been and where he wants to take it. And so Future did in fact take the a valuable lesson that was there to be gleaned from his newfound veneration in hip-hop: That listeners trusted and expected Future to take them somewhere they’d never been before, traversing new landscapes and sifting through new experiences and perspectives right along with the artist as he grows as a person. In short, what made Future Future was his progression, the way he communicated his lived experiences to us through words and sounds. On HNDRXX, Future delivers exactly that. All he needed was some fresh air, some time to think and live and feel and record, and from that space he created this brilliant album.
“Fresh Air” is indicative of HNDRXX’s overall splendor in multiple ways. Whereas Future continues along the DS2 lineage, HNDRXX sees the rapper taking back up the R&B-centric threads he left dangling after 2014's Honest album, and weaving them into something completely new. It’s no coincidence that Future himself sees HNDRXX as the culmination of what he wanted to do with Honest.
It’s also no coincidence that Honest was recorded in the height of love. What HNDRXX shares with Honest is an overarching optimism and joy. Future might not currently be in love the way he was back then, but for the first time in a long time he sounds ready to start looking for it again, ready to put the pain of the past behind him and move forward with faith that it’s possible to find something special with someone that might not end in heartache and acrimony.
Which is exactly what “Fresh Air” is about, lyrically and sonically. Over a beat that is the aural equivalent of the morning sun beaming through your hotel window as you awake in the Bahamas and peer out at the beach with a smile on your face on the first full day of a long vacation, the soaring chorus goes, “I’ma need fresh air / When I need fresh air / I need to get out on my own / It’s been too long.”
“Fresh Air” is the sound of spring, of feeling newly confident, getting back in touch with yourself after taking some time for yourself, and it is the feeling of being ready for love. It also makes you want to leap out of your skin and throw your hands all around the air like an overjoyed airport grounds crew member. It’s so happy, so exultant, so damn good. The only person I can imagine hearing this song and feeling anything other than unbridled bliss is Drake, and only because he’d be so jealous that he didn’t make it. “Fresh Air,” like much of HNDRXX, is a perfect distillation and integration of 90s R&B and modern hip-hop. Drake has spent years trying to develop a sound like this to varying degrees of success. Future has swooped in and mastered it right away.
All of this is to say that “Fresh Air” is amazing, HNDRXX is phenomenal, and Future, thank god, still has it. Join me in listening to nothing but this for at least the next week, and thanking Future for blessing us with it. Welcome back, Future. It’s been worth the wait.