Growing up in Atlanta’s rough and tumble Kirkwood neighborhood forced Future to keep his guard up at all times.
“Man, the neighborhood, it was just about pimps, hustlers [and] whores. It was this drug-infested area,” said the singer/rapper, born Nayvadius Wilburn 30 years ago, in a mid-May phone interview. “At the time, I didn’t know I could stand out because I always found a way to blend in, and … once you adapt to your environment, it is what it is.”
At the same time, he described his former neighborhood as “all love,” adding that residents tended to accept one another’s flaws and eccentricities without judgment.
“People accepted you for exactly who you were,” he said. “That’s just the neighborhood [I’m] from. There was no sugar coating.”
Future, who visits the Newport for a concert on Tuesday, May 27, adopts a similarly unvarnished approach on his sophomore album Honest, tempering some of Pluto’s more alien explorations with songs grounded in comparatively day-to-day realities. Further highlighting the transition, the musician employs less Auto-Tune this time around, allowing the rawness of his vocals to reflect the candor in his words rather than disguising himself as some kind of punch-drunk, melodic cyborg.
“That’s why I didn’t use [Auto-Tune] as much … [because] I wanted to be honest and I wanted to give people a better understanding of me,” he said. “I had to just express myself as much as possible. In some ways it was [challenging] at the beginning, but I was like, ‘To make the best music … I have to let my guard down.’”
Understandably, this proved a difficult transition for someone who grew up absorbing a fighter’s lessons, and there were still a number of times he held back rather than throwing open the doors to his family home.
“I didn’t put as many songs on Honest that were a reflection of the person I am in a relationship (the singer is currently attached to R&B singer Ciara) and the person I am as a father (he has four children),” Future said. “I held back the emotional side of me just a little.”
It’s a facet of his personality he plans to express more fully on his next album, tentatively titled Future Hendrix after the guitarist who inspired some of his most out-there musical experimentations. Indeed, the singer initially planned on releasing Future Hendrix, which he described as a more layered, guitar-centric effort (“I feel like guitars have a lot of emotion,” he said), first, but the emergence of songs like the gritty, pulsating “Move That Dope,” a street-level tale that could have been penned by one of “The Wire’s” corner boys, forced him onto a different path.
“When I first started recording I was expressing that emotion through the guitars and … then [the music] took a different direction toward the end of the [sessions],” he said. “It meant a lot for me to be able to showcase my versatility. I wanted to make sure I could be diverse on this album and give up every side of me.”
Songs, in turn, veer from tender (“I Be U,” a swooning, lovesick sigh of a tune) to tough (the glitzy banger “Covered N Money”), anchored by a wealth of inventive beats courtesy of Atlanta producer/brother-in-arms Mike Will Made It. But while skittish, rumbling cuts like “Sh!t” give Honest its muscle, the best moments here arrive courtesy of relatively humble numbers like “I’ll Be Yours” and “Blood, Sweat, Tears,” an inspirational poster of a track where Future recounts his mad scramble from the bottom of the pile to the top of the heap. True, the tune just barely scratches the surface (rather than saying “they will never understand [my struggle]” one wishes he’d offer up novelistic details of these various hardships), but credit the musician with finally ditching at least some of the armor he’s encased himself in from childhood.
“It took maturity. It took making a lot of records. It took growth,” he said of the gradual transformation. “It didn’t come natural, but it was something where I had to make a sacrifice for the music and just to be able to give my fans all of me without holding anything back.”
Photo courtesy of Future