Future’s rise to the upper echelons of the rap world across the last five years has been one of the most exhilarating runs in recent memory. In 2017, his journey reached heights that no one could have predicted when he logged not just one, but two different albums at the top of the Billboard 200; a self-titled record, followed by the even more engrossing HNDRXX a week later. Even more impressive, he became the first artist in history to replace himself at No 1. Not bad at all for an artist who totally reinvented himself through the free mixtape medium.
Even for all those accolades, when Future announced his Nobody’s Safe tour earlier this year, the venues he booked were a little surprising. These weren’t the same modest sized concert halls or festival gigs that had been his bread and butter in years past; he was going way bigger this time around, securing 25,000 and 30,000 seat amphitheaters. His stacked openers — which include Migos, ASAP Ferg, Tory Lanez, and for some dates even Young Thug himself — would certainly help fill out the attendance, but the question remained: Could Future bring the requisite energy and intensity to a venue of that size? Could he own a crowd of that magnitude without having Drake batting clean-up behind him? Is the demand to see him big enough to satisfy the supply of tickets?
As it turned out, the answer to all those questions was yes, yes, and yes. At least for his gig at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Tinley Park, just a few miles south of Chicago, the people came out in droves. 30,000 rap fanatics packed the place all the way to the farthest reaches of the lawn, eager and willing to lose their sh*t. Every few minutes or so, before it got too dark to notice, you’d even see a group of two or three people jumping the back fence and disappearing into the crowd.
About half an hour after the Migos did everything they could to set the audience off — “T-Shirt,” “Deadz” and of course “Bad And Boujee” got the masses absolutely turnt, jumping on their seats and dancing in the aisles — the man of the hour made his grand entrance, rising slowly from below the stage, decked out in one of the most elaborate all-yellow-everything coats you’ve ever seen. As he walked from the top of his perch onstage to the bottom of a steel staircase, a frenetic synth melody crackled to life though monitors. The beat dropped on “Draco” and the audience lost their ever-loving minds.
For the first portion of the show, Future held down the stage all by himself. DJ Esco, “the coolest mother*cking DJ on the planet” added some commentary from the shadows, but all eyes were on Future as he raced through material from his most recent albums, songs like “Super Trapper,” “Incredible” and “Rent Money,” as well as older favorites like “March Madness,” “F*ck Up Some Commas,” “Thought It Was A Drought,” “Jumpman,” and “Move That Dope.”
Even with the benefit of large LED screens and pyro, it’s a tall order to ask a single performer to hold the attention of that many people, but Future made it look easy. The songs — he played over thirty different cuts — certainly helped, but Future himself has an almost indefinable cool about the way he operates. You simply can’t tear your eyes off him.
As an interesting note of contrast, one of the worst live performances I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen literally hundreds by this point — was also delivered by Future. It was a few years back in December 2014, and he was in a supporting slot, just before Miguel, on Drake’s Would You Like A Tour? I don’t know if it was just an off night, or a sign of all the trouble to come, but that cold night in the Tacoma Dome wasn’t his finest hour by any means.
Future ambled onstage about 30 minutes after he was supposed to, mumbled his way through an abbreviated set list for 15 minutes, then walked off. I could only look at my brother who was sitting next to me, and who happens to be the biggest Future stan on the planet, and ask, ‘What the f*ck was that?” I’ve seen rappers try and fail before a big crowd, but this was something else. This was total and complete apathy.
In the years since, Future’s apathy turned to pain, and that same pain fueled some of the most exciting music released so far this decade. He’s no longer the monster they tried to make into a pop star. He’s no longer the second or third fiddle to one of the biggest names in the game. Now, when faced with prospect of entertaining tens of thousands of faceless, screaming people, he totally and completely owns the place. As the last fluttering flute notes of “Mask Off” died away and Future slowly descended back beneath the stage, I felt I’d witnessed the next great rock star of this generation.