“Tony Montana,” last summer’s earwormy single by Future, may have helped lock up a major label deal for the rising Atlanta rapper, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing you could bank future (no pun intended) artistic excellence on. It would have been easy to dismiss the song as the kind of thing you’d hear blaring out of car windows for a few months, after which its lead artist wouldn’t be heard from much again. But with Pluto, Future has delivered a near-artistic statement of a debut album on which many of the best songs sound very little like that initial street smash. And if you’re lucky enough to approach the album with low expectations, you may well come away pleasantly surprised.
For starters, there isn’t a whole lot of conventional “rapping” on Pluto, which makes sense when you consider how little interest Future has in following conventions (as evidenced by the intro to the album: “No longer can I remain Earthbound…moving in my own eccentric orbit/a rebel amongst conformists”). Future instead delivers his borderline croaking vocals in a mushed mouth melodic sing-rap that sounds just as suited to reggae as Hip-Hop. To top it all off, Future’s “raps” are perpetually submerged in Auto-Tune, making his already distinctive voice even more singular, delivering Pluto at least in some part as another entry in the post-808s & Heartbreak era of Hip-Hop.
Not to say Pluto is one note; far from it. Even the female-oriented tracks show range, stretching from the raunchy R. Kelly collaboration “Parachute” (its foreign bounce reminiscent of adventurous early ’00s R&B) to the downright sentimental “Neva End” (an ode to staying together) and “Astronaut Chick” (which is made more so by woozy synths and sugary piano). “I’m Trippin’” efficiently synthesizes collaborator Juicy J’s dark-tinted rap (rock) star aesthetic; the sombre “Permanent Scar” reflects on Future’s unenviable upbringing; and “Straight Up” proves that Future knows his way around a catchy melody. Perhaps the best of the bunch though is the surprisingly soulful “Truth Gonna Hurt You,” a Mike WiLL production that harkens back to UGK at their most heartfelt (fittingly, Future also pays homage to Pimp C on “Long Live in the Pimp”).
“Same Damn Time” compares to “Tony Montana” in terms of Future harnessing his ability to effectively beat a song into your brain through repetition, but he otherwise gets himself into trouble on the more straight-up rap songs. When he’s not relying on melody, Future falls into spots where it sounds like he’s talking more than he’s rapping. And let’s just say the lyrical acumen on display doesn’t make up for those failings, with Future dropping unfortunate lines such as “I’m rolling like a rolling stone” and “We hot like May and June.” But getting too caught up in Future’s shortcomings as an emcee in the traditional sense risks missing out on some weird pop-rap tunes that he’s assembled on Pluto. He’s made something genuinely interesting and there’s a long list of conventionally good rappers who can’t say they’ve done the same.
Label: Epic/A-1/Freebandz Entertainment | Producers: Organized Noize, Mike WiLL Made It, Sonny Digital, Nard & B, Da Honorable C.N.O.T.E., DJ Spinz, Rico Wade, K.E. On The Track, DJ Pharris, John Blu, Luney Tunez, Will-A-Fool, Jon Boi