About a week ago, an invite for a trip to London with Future showed up in my inbox. Reebok would be taking a handful of journalists to the UK to spotlight the launch of their newest sneaker, the Zoku Runner, which is their first foray into knitwear, and Future’s second collaborative launch with the brand. Since he was currently in the middle of releasing two back-to-back albums that put him on pace to set a historic precedent of achieving two No. 1 records in just two weeks, this trip was more than timely, it was newsworthy.
In 2017, the only rapper who could challenge Future’s surging dominance is the guy who took him on tour for months at a time in an attempt to harness his glow — and that was before the world heard HNDRXX. Drake’s next unrelenting smash record may be just around the corner, and respect to Chance and Kendrick, but Future is the reigning king of rap right now. HNDRXX has unquestionably cemented that. And this is coming from someone who struggled with his dominance, even during the height of his late 2014 through 2015 monster-making run of success.
What’s more impressive than making a steely-eyed rap record is growing as an artist, so while Future picks up DS2‘s swirling light blue touch and walks further into menacing trap-rap gloom (see: “Mask Off” for the finest example of this), HNDRXX sheds light on a corner of Nayvadius Wilburn’s heart that we knew was there, but haven’t heard much from since the “Turn On The Lights” era.
On HNDRXX, the lights are blazing, and the view is spectacular. Future once rapped about looking for a jewel, a partner to restore his faith. Now, it sounds like he’s recognized that gleaming within himself, and all the old self-discovery adages ring true; once you learn to love yourself, and articulate that to the world, the rest falls away, and into place. If HNDRXX is a love story, it’s one directed toward himself and his own growth first, and the pleasure of being able to share that with someone else second.
Future’s complicated past relationship with his ex-fiancé, R&B singer Ciara, has been a defining factor in the public perception of his work for the past few years since their split in early 2014. On the lead up to his latest album(s), the rapper even publicly requested media knock that lens out of their hand, and judge him on his own merit. Nearly three years later, that’s finally happening, but in no small part because of the way he’s changed, too. In the wake of DS2 Future expressed some of his own pain about custody battles with Ciara on Twitter. Recently, before Future and HNDRXX, he took a social media break. Maybe none of us learn the power of silence until we’ve said far too much.
Plenty of rappers have a misogynistic lyric here or there, if you analyze their words closely enough, but the media storm around CiCi and Future’s breakup, which occurred right around one of my own, meant a personal vigilance on my part. As she was slandered by his fans, as the two sparred in court, as DS2 received almost universal acclaim in the process, I lost my faith. I wasn’t alone. Soon, the tide turned a bit, and his next slew releases, Purple Reign, EVOL, and a mixtape with DJ Esco called Project E.T. (Esco Terrestrial), flew under the radar or were even met with disappointment.