Hip-hop superstardom happened to Atlanta rapper Future in much the same way it happened to a hundred rappers before him and will happen to a hundred more: the breakthrough album (“Pluto,” 2012), the guest spots that blew up (Ace Hood’s “Bugatti,” the remix of fiancee Ciara’s “Body Party”), the well-chosen lane (sci-fi trap with heavy effects and hooks for days).
Some artists become the Rapper of the Moment because their talent is undeniable (Kendrick Lamar, Rapper of the Moment 2013), or because they’re expert zeitgeist surfers (Wiz Khalifa, 2011). The anointment of Future, born Nayvadius Wilburn, upon the release of his second album, “Honest,” is due to a more mystical set of calculations.
It may be because he’s hugely influential, and just so good at everything — wobbly-kneed jams, loved-up R&B — that it doesn’t matter that he’s not necessarily brilliant at anything. It may be because the people who determine these things simply decided he was next.
“Honest” isn’t merely a compelling sophomore album, it’s a coronation, so extravagantly overstuffed with features from Future predecessors such as Drake (Rapper of the Moment 2010), Khalifa, Lil Wayne (2005), and Kanye West (ROTM Emeritus), it’s the rapper equivalent of a clown car. In the 2010s, feature overload is usually the surest sign of rapper insecurity (just as excessive sampling was in the 2000s), but you can’t blame Future for trying to make a point.
“Honest” isn’t a great album, but it has a carefully tuned inner calibration. It does everything right: It’s eccentric but not gratuitously so, poppy but not shameless. “Honest,” which used to be called “Future Hendrix” and was subject to repeated release delays, is also slightly less reliant on vocal tics and vocoder-like effects, once signature Futurisms that were adopted and overused by other rappers (Rich Homie Quan comes to mind) during Future’s long post-“Pluto” winter.
Future stretches his rubber band voice around some of the season’s best bangers: “Move That Dope” is a celebration of drug slinging and bottomed-out bass featuring Pusha T and Pharrell. The inspired opener, “Look Ahead,” rides the back of a slippery Amadou & Mariam and Santigold sample (of their 2012 track “Dougou Badia”). “My Momma” is an X-rated ode to Givenchy that probably doesn’t really have much to do with Future’s mom. Taste-wise, it’s questionable, but its employment of Khalifa — whose enthusiasm for weed, his medium-profile baby mama and overall air of harmlessness make him seem like Future’s slightly befuddled spirit animal — is inspired.
“Honest” takes its sticky, doused-in-sizzurp love ballads as seriously as its trunk rattlers. When Future recently said that his new album was influenced by Coldplay, these songs are probably what he meant, although his willingness to move beyond typical R&B signifiers such as R. Kelly doesn’t always translate into something memorable.
Future approaches the club songs as if he were walking on to the showroom floor at a Lamborghini dealership, but on the ballads (such as the soggy but sweet “I Be U”), he uses Auto-Tune like an invisibility cloak. And after one too many songs depicting women as mere objects, Future’s soft side doesn’t seem as enchanting as it otherwise might.
The exception: “I Won,” Future’s I-made-a-baby-with-Ciara victory lap. Oh, and Kanye’s on it, rhapsodizing about Kim Kardashian in ways you will wish you could erase from your memory, because sometime around the release of the “Bound 2” video, Kimye began to seem corny and endearing and embarrassing, not much unlike your parents.
“Baby we should hit the south of France / So you could run around without them pants,” croons Kanye (come on, it’s sweet) over what sounds like angry sea gulls mating. He then name-checks every single female Kardashian (that includes the teenage Jenner girls), plus Kim’s mom because everything is completely ruined.
Overall, “Honest” is a confounding mix; familiar, pop-minded trap imbued with utter zonked-out weirdness. The references to Birkin bags, fancy watches and purple drank, the moment when he rhymes “chores” and “whores” (Future isn’t much of a lyricist), it’s all familiar, although there’s plenty of willful strangeness. Future’s delivery is almost everything: sometimes he raps, sometimes he mutters-sings, other times he just makes sad, gurgling noises inside his space suit.
Too many of the disc’s songs aren’t as good as Future is, but the best ones are good enough to tweak the competitive natures of the visiting superstars, who have been known to sleepwalk through their feature obligations. Lil Wayne, a zombie version of himself in recent years, all but sets fire to “Karate Chop (Remix),” a twisty, woozy jam that was a small hit last year but is now relegated to the album’s bonus edition.
“Benz Friendz (Whatchutola),” a giddy collaboration with Andre 3000, sounds like a long-lost Outkast song somebody found floating in space. A nifty distillation of one of the album’s main themes — money changes everything — it won’t make you believe Future deserves to be the next big thing if you’re not already convinced. But it will make you really want some new music from Outkast.
Stewart is a freelance writer.