When Drake opened the door for rappers who sing as much as they rap, we couldn't have predicted Future, the shiny, trippy, groovy-ass dude whose gravely rasp captured radio's vulnerable heart with hits like "Turn on the Lights" and "Neva End," flipping hip-hop into a headspin in the process. Of course, the Atlantan has exceptional rap aptitude — "Tony Montana" and "Same Damn Time" have kept his name heavy in the streets, their quotable choruses as gargantuan as the street boasts the tall 26-year-old artist hopes to convey. But it's his melancholic singing style — like a solo face-first in a fishbowl or the comforting hum of a cat's purr — that helped him to become a rising and ever-more ubiquitous star in 2012.
Pluto, his debut, was re-released mere months after it dropped in 3D format. And in 2013, it is his style that will cement his place among the pop atmosphere: in addition to FBG: The Movie Mixtape and his second album, Future Hendrix, he has been developing his songwriting chops. So far, Future's more involved than some people might assume: for "Loveee Song," his duet with Rihanna on her latest album, Unapologetic, he actually sang out her part and sent her a guide track, which she used to cut the song. When we meet in early December in a Manhattan studio, he's working with Ciara on her next album. (He's also secured a songwriting publishing deal with his label, Epic.) His publicist exclaims that he released 150 songs last year. "That's just released," she said. "I just learned that." He is as prolific as he is versatile.
During an exceedingly stoned studio break, clad in a black sweatshirt, a grip of multicolored embroidered bracelets and sunglasses that he never takes off, Future talks Future Hendrix, his personal style, not using Auto-Tune, being a free spirit, and fashion modeling.
Future Hendrix as a concept is a real statement.
Yep, it's a statement. It's freedom and passion, freedom of expression. Being melodic, being more free-spirited. Just being myself. Not trying to imitate anyone else. Just going into the booth, doing whatever feels good at the moment, capture the moment, whatever's around me, my surroundings. Using everything as a tool. I feel like a voice for the people, nahmean? You walking down the street and you see something and you get a chance to actually record what you just seen: It's beautiful. Because like, aw, he was talking about me. That's what art is. Painting that picture.
Do you feel like you connect with Hendrix as a fellow free spirit?
Yep, in that way, just being yourself. That's what I look at him as: he was a dude who just himself. Just because he was black, he didn't allow that to limit him from where he wanted to go. Sometimes it's just, music don't have a color to it. Do what you feel, and let the fans decide.
Do you have any ideas about the sound of the album? Will you have guitar solos?
Yep, I got guitars! I feel like guitar explains a lot. You can just listen to a guitar without any lyrics over it, you can just feel what kind of track it is. If it's pain... you can feel it. It sets the mood.
You had Pluto released twice in the same year. How did that happen?
I didn't plan for it to happen. It's not a blueprint. I just go along with whatever happens. I'm prepared, because I have a lot of music. So when they asked me for it, I was like, I have three songs, let's get 'em mixed. "Neva End," with Kelly Rowland. Let's shoot the video, see how the visuals come out we did.
You had a little bit of chemistry on that video.
Yeah, we had chemistry. [Laughs]
Did you know her before?
You were just like, hello video shoot.
Yep, at the video shoot, it was like magic. Voila.
Where do you come up with your melodies?
I'm inspired by so much. I remember being in elementary school and having these assemblies, and we might have an Indian tribe come in and make the "ah ah ah" sound. Or Africans from the Congo, to rock'n'roll and the drums. I always love the way that sounds, a dude beating on the drums. Somebody outside beating on a bucket in the middle of the street. It's just reflections, reflecting on memories. Different beats just pop up in my head. I could listen to a beat and it could remind me of an old song, a '70s song or an old Jodeci song, any song. Cause I listen to so many different artists, you know what I mean? From rock'n'roll to country to rap.
Do you write most of your stuff in the booth?
Yep. I'm trying to find that wavelength, I'm trying to find that melody that plays off in my head. That's why you got to listen to all types of music, 'cause you never know where it come from. You never know where you might get inspired from.
I feel like what you talk about is different, maybe because of the vulnerability in there. Or maybe sensitive? 'Cause for instance, "Turn on the Lights" was the saddest song I heard all year.
[Laughs] Man, I just try to find a strong opinion about something. That's like everybody's opinion of how a good girl should be. I'm just trying to pick peoples' brains, thinking what a man would want from a woman, and what a woman would want from a man, you know what I'm saying. It's like, I'm trying to think, this is what you'd want from a relationship; not just your wifey or husband, but even your friendships, what you'd want as a friend.
So you never thought about it as sad?
I never thought about it as sad! It's sad that you can never really find nobody like that! [Laughs]
I've read a bunch of interviews with you and you always seem to say that you're trying to give a voice to the everyperson.
Yeah, 'cause I have an opinion. When [I] write, it's like you're having a debate against me. Like, can I win? Cause you can't really debate with "Turn on the Lights." Any kind of girl, even a girl who done cheated before. She can listen to that song and grow from it. You can't go deeper than "Turn on the Lights," far as finding the perfect person with all those qualities and characteristics. You know what I'm saying? I know that everybody's not gonna be that perfect. But you can't debate with that.
You're like America's relationship counselor.
Also along those lines, you rap, but you've been doing more R&B collaborations, and you've charted on the R&B charts. How do you think of your music?
I think they watching me now. I wanna make my imprint in the game as far as music — hip-hop, and just music, period. Cause I come from hip-hop, that's my background, but I'm not gonna let that limit me from where I can go.
You seem to like to put yourself in character — like Future Hendrix, Tony Montana, Super Future, Fire Marshall Future. Do you envision yourself in different roles? Does it help you write?
Nah, you know, I just found a way to brand my name. A cool way, instead of saying Future, just be tweeting about it, drop a mixtape and launch a whole campaign around it. When I was selling out shows, and the fire marshall was shutting down the shows, I wanted people to know from me that it was not me shutting down the shows, like if i'm booked I'm coming, but if the fire marshall or police tell me I can't come and they're shutting the club down, or if the club has a certain capacity, it's just Fire Marshall Future, cause that's what I bring out. I wanted a way to explain to the fans that I knew I could explain from one tweet, gonna tell you, I'm gonna give you a whole mixtape so you understand if the police standing outside the club, they could be like oh shit, must be the fire marshall. A lot of people don't even understand what the fire marshall is, they just think the fire marshall s'posed to come out and put a real fire out. It's just like, how was it explained on Twitter that the fire marshall shut my show down when there wasn't no smoke in the club!
What does your family think about all this?
They love it. 'Cause it never happened, and now they get a chance to see someone who chased they dream and realized they dream and never gave up. It just goes to show that you can change a generation up in your family because you give the kids in your family something to look up to. I just never stopped dreaming. You can never stop.
You always wanted to make music?
Always. Just some kind of way, be behind the scenes, write, I just wanted to be a part of it.
Aside from your cousin, Rico Wade, how do you feel like growing up in Atlanta influenced your musical style?
It influenced me in so many ways 'cause I understand the roots of it, and how real Atlanta people don't even get a chance to have a voice. They hadn't really heard from the real Atlanta, I'm a Grady baby, born and raised, but they don't understand how a lot of Atlanta rappers that represent Atlanta, they really not born in Atlanta. OutKast was before us but the new generation, they never really told the street side. I'm telling the street side. Atlanta is so many sides.
So as far as your personal style, how you dress, is that Atlanta?
It's international flavor. I take a little bit from everybody and add that to my life to make me, me. I wanna be nobody else but Future. When you look at me I want you to say Future. The way I talk, the way I dress, there's nobody in the world but me. I got a chance, and there's only one life to live, and that's the way I live it to the fullest: what I wanna do. Not what anybody else think I should do. Not how anybody else think I should dress. Because you know what I'm saying? It's your life.
Do you feel instinctively you know what's right for you?
I just go off my instincts with the mood, the vibe, with what I feel.
What do you think is the future of music?
It's gonna be more melodic. You're gonna see it. Everybody's gonna feel like they wanna sing. A lotta rappers gonna try to hit a note.
When you sing and you've got the Auto-Tune on you, and maybe this is why it hits more, but it always sounds raw. Again, a little sad.
That's just my voice. My voice just like this, raspy, you know. People don't even understand sometimes I don't even put Auto-Tune on my voice, I just sing and just be melodic with this type of voice, and when you go a high-pitch voice like this, it just sounds sad. People think it's Auto-Tune, but it's just a delay. Then when I put Auto-Tune on it, it's more raw, give it that gritty feel, give it a whole 'nother tone that they're just gonna connect with the soul.
So you just kinda lucked out.
I found a way to utilize my voice. For a long time, I could never find my tone, and then when I finally found my tone, that's when I mastered it. With or without Auto-Tune, my voice is gonna be how it is, because I know tone control. I just use Auto-Tune for a way to express my words to get through to you the way that I feel.
What do you like to do when you —
Go to the studio.
Yep. I don't like to do nothing else. I don't know why I'm like that. I wish I could change it and be excited about other things than the studio. One day I might be excited about other things like, going on vacation. But right now I just love the studio. I go on vacation, I have to have a studio, or make sure one is close by. I don't like going nowhere if it don't have a studio. I love it that much. That's what I do. I wanna make sure I do it forever. Every day.
When you're not in the studio, are you listening to other peoples' music?
Nope. I only listen to my own music. 'Cause I'm always in the studio. So when I leave the studio, I got to go to sleep. When I wake up, I have an hour or two where I might look at the Internet, I might go to the accounting office. If I woke up too late, I go straight to the studio. If I don't do that, there's nothing else to do for me. Besides go from home to studio to home to accounting office. Get something to eat.
I'm glad you're eating. I guess a lot of musicians maybe do that, maybe they don't.
That's just what I learned to do.
Do you have dreams about making music?
Yep, and wake up making it.
What's going on with your bracelets?
It's just freestyling, free spirit. I'm really freestylin with the lingo, the way I wear my clothes, the way I express myself, I wake up and put it on. I'm just really a free spirit. You gotta be like that. 'Cause life ain't that complicated. It's only that complicated when you make it that way. I just wanna wake up and move with the way it goes. If it's meant to happen it will happen.
That's kinda hippie. You roll with things as they come?
I feel like it's the best way. That's how I'm most comfortable.
So that's a good attitude for going to the studio, going to your accountant. But once you're in this place where you have schedules, and you gotta go to 106 and Park and you gotta make this video. How does that fit into your life? Do you find it tough?
Yeah, I find it tough, 'cause it's normal rap shit, and I don't like normal rap shit. I don't wanna be looked at like another artist that somebody interviewed. Somebody who went to 106 and Park and introduced their video the same way that I did. I wanna do something else, to do it another way. Like I said, it's Future. So when people try to make me do normal things, it's like... I'm not normal.
What's the one thing you're hoping for next year?
I win a Grammy. I just prayed. I just prayed right now.
I think it could happen. Does that sort of recognition motivate you?
No, I don't care if nobody recognizes me, that's what I want for myself. Like I said, I do things for me, I don't do things for nobody else. That's a plus. My music priceless. My vibes are priceless. Bring it on. I gotta do the music first, and whatever happens after that. I know I want a Grammy from doing it. After that, I know I could do a movie, endorsements, whatever happens. I'm down with it. I just wanna get the music done first. And from the music, I wanna see me get a Grammy.
Have you ever done any modeling?
They want me to! But I ain't got that yet. If I get a modeling check, where I can not do anymore shows? If I can stay in the studio, y'all pay me a lot of money to stay in the studio and work with other artists... dammit, I won't have to come outside. On some Rick Rubin shit, I'mma come out with my beard. They not gonna even know it's me! Like man, you just been in the studio for a loooong time.