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Future - BEASTMODE 2 Music Album Reviews

The newly vulnerable Future and the hyper-expressive Zaytoven offer up a sequel that doesn’t just reprise the original’s magic but improves on it.

Even at the top of his game, Future said he was “halfway happy.” The story of his run from 2014-15 is the stuff of real-life legend—the four-project streak from Monster to DS2 that remains some of the most vital rap of the past decade. You could say the Dungeon Family heir had every reason to be thrilled, but that’s not how it works; I’ve yet to hear anyone make counting money sound so fucking depressing. In that same “halfway happy” interview, Future admitted he’d seen ghosts. Asked where, he answered simply: “Everywhere.”

Those ghosts haunted the periphery of the original Beast Mode tape—the early 2015 collaboration with trap virtuoso Zaytoven that sounded like nothing Future had released before. It felt like January: frozen, hungover. Where Monster before it was powered by red-eyed death drive, Beast Mode was elegant, deceptively unfazed. When I spoke to Zaytoven about the project recently, his mood turned tender, almost awed: “You listen to something like Beast Mode, and it's almost like looking at a pretty painting.” But in spite of its beauty, the tape’s most telling line—and the thesis, really, of that stretch of Future’s career—was tucked inside “No Basic”: “Took all the pain and I ran with it.” Literalists might say the tape glamorized drug abuse as a coping mechanism, but that would suggest any of it felt remotely glamorous. Mostly, it seemed, Future just wanted to forget who he was; nothing felt as good as feeling nothing at all.

The three years since have brought Future some of his highest highs, career-wise—last year’s duo of FUTURE and HNDRXX debuted with back-to-back Billboard No. 1s—but no full-length release has matched Beast Mode’s emotional tenor. With the surprise release of BEASTMODE 2, Future and Zay join the ranks of Raekwon and Francis Ford Coppola (and, well, Future’s own DS2) with a sequel that doesn’t just reprise the original’s magic, but improves on it. The 2015 tape may have felt more revolutionary as a shift no one saw coming, but musically, BEASTMODE 2 has the edge. And in its best moments, the unknowable rapper lays his cards on the table, vulnerable in a way he’s never been before.

Like its predecessor, BM2 takes a few tracks to warm up, retreading familiar territory before baring its soul. With its vaguely sinister orchestra of synth flutes and strings, “Wifi Lit” feels like a spiritual continuation of Beast Mode’s “Lay Up”; its opening reference to the recent “I’m good luv, enjoy” meme is a move few other than Future could pull off without sounding desperate to cash in their virality tokens. “Cuddle My Wrist” is one of those quintessential Future catchphrases, the kind that doesn’t look like much on paper but transforms, through his delivery, into something you catch yourself muttering at random—a turn of phrase that evades meaning and conveys feeling at the same time. Even the banger here—“31 Days,” a dead-hearted romance and solid anti-UTI PSA with bass that straddles the threshold of dubstep—head-fakes towards profundity before sinking back into decadence. “This is a moment of clarity,” Future opens, before it becomes clear he’s referring to the quality of his diamonds.

But with “Racks Blue,” Future starts to sink. The beat feels expansive and expressive, like Zaytoven is playing from the heart with Future following where he leads. And though its hook, typed out, reads as a flex—“What I’m supposed to do when these racks blue?”—it feels more like a sigh when Future sings it, or a corrective to Howlin’ Wolf’s definition of the blues as brokeness opening the door for evil. What Howlin’ Wolf didn’t account for is how that door never really shuts.

Which leaves us here: “Money got me hesitant, what I got to live for?/All this fame getting terrible,” Future croaks on “Red Light,” BM2’s heartbreaking centerpiece, which repurposes Zaytoven’s beat for Trouble’s “Ms. Cathy and Ms. Connie” to stunning effect. For the first time, Future introduces us to his father: “All the times he lied to me, gave up on my arteries/I was such a worried child, just wanted you to be a part of me.” He has sketched portraits of his childhood before, but never as plainly as this. And if “running through the red light, looking through your rear view” describes the his very real paranoia behind the wheel, it’s also the perfect metaphor for Future’s entire thing: barreling forward but never fast enough to shake his past, which clings to him in a way that almost makes his name feel cruel.

Everything—the album, and frankly, maybe Future’s entire catalog—builds to the final track, “Hate the Real Me.” Zaytoven’s gladiator horns scream “triumph,” the kind of beat over which Rick Ross or Drake might toast themselves without a second thought. Instead, Future takes the opportunity to lay bare the undercurrent of self-loathing that’s coursed through his music over the last four years. “Pouring up in public, damn I hate the real me,” he sings, his throat tight as he cracks the seal of the lean bottle. His mother’s worried about him. He’s hearing voices; they’re turning against him. “I’m trying to get high as I can,” the chorus repeats over and over—the only way a traumatized dirtbag who knows the devil is real can sleep at night. And suddenly, Future’s roster of alter egos is cast in a bleak new light—just another way to avoid himself. But the mask can’t stay on forever.

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