Disclaimer: I am a fan of Future’s music and have been longer than most people that will be upset by this article.
If you’re the type of person that believes most things are never “that deep”, or the kind of person that enjoys using phrases like “fake outrage,” you might want to stop reading here.
This would also be a nice place to stop reading if you are averse to conversations about self-reflection, evolution and accountability.
After the recent release of Future’s HNDRXX, there has been yet another boom of online chatter regarding men, self-awareness, and emotional vulnerability, most of which has begun to praise Future as a sort of leading figure in this moment. This conversation has even evolved so far in some circles as to begin drawing comparisons between HNDRXX and Beyonce’s 2016 movie-album, Lemonade.
This Future definitely my Lemonade. What's the male version of having my wig snatched? Mfs brushed my waves the wrong direction or sumn.
— Piff Pilly (@LilHerb_Kent) February 24, 2017
My relationship with Future’s music extends way back to the days of his early mixtapes and much simpler times. Times when one could see him perform at hole-in-the wall clubs from Atlanta to Charlotte, always for around $10. These days are long gone. I’ve been able to watch his fame ascend from casual lunchroom banter to the top of our collective hip-hop consciousness.
There are many areas in which I would never attempt to discredit Future. Future is extremely passionate about making music and that is demonstrated in the frequency of his releases. Future has an infectious way with hooks, he knows how to ride a beat and more importantly, Future keeps his ear to the streets.
Future has made claim to two very different sounds, and he demonstrates his ability to flex his command over both of them with his recent releases: the self titled Future and HNDRXX. Ultimately, the conversation about Future’s self titled album, released a week prior to HNDRXX, will boil down to preference, which for many can be identified in when you became a fan of Future. I prefer Future to HNDRXX but do believe that Future executed a better album over all for his fans that tend to exclusively prefer the HNDRXX sound.
These arguments will mostly prove to be useless though, as there are many Future fans who never quite got into “Future the crooner,” and you can’t expect this album to change that. I’ve also been able to bear witness to growth, and even sometimes regression in the content of his songs. From an objective standpoint, the biggest thing I hear on HNDRXX is a Future wrestling with cognitive dissonance. A Future who longs for love and loyalty, but is mostly unwilling to love or be loyal to anyone. His words, not mine.
There’s nothing wrong with calling a bop, a bop, but let’s not get carried away. This is not our Lemonade (or whatever that’s supposed to mean.) In fact, it’s a pretty solid case study in the practices of our everyday lives that sabotage our romantic relationships. It’s a sonic representation of the assembly line of bitter and damaged people. From “My Collection” to “Sorry,” Future struggles with processing feelings of betrayal and sadness alongside feelings of freedom and individual success (often driven by his obsession with sexual conquest.)
These are complicated yet universal themes to navigate and we see them play out in music all of the time. While I am glad that Future is receiving praise for being open to self-expression, I’m afraid that culturally we so desperately want to evoke emotion in men that we forget to demand introspection and honesty. It is important to note that cookies shouldn’t be awarded to rappers who express themselves. That is the basis of hip-hop. A bottom line. A bare minimum. Fellas, we’ve got to have a talk about emotional maturity.
“Any time I got you, girl you my possession”
For so many of us, love is conditional. When the conditions of our love are not met, its human to feel let down. But we often need to re-examine what those conditions are, and if they make sense. A “good girl” who has a history of dealing with your less than desirable personality traits, deciding to move on, is not betraying you. It is not rational to believe, “If she loved me, she’d put up with my shit. She wouldn’t move on and be happy.” “Any time I got you, girl you my possession/Even if I hit you once, you part of my collection” is not a part of healthy belief system. What Future alludes to a lot on this album are not feelings associated with loss of love, but rather a loss of control. Control and love will never be synonymous.
Compassion for other people, particularly for our romantic and sexual interests, seems to be a thing that a lot of men struggle with. I am only beginning to learn compassion with age and after a few experiences of being emotionally manipulated by people I’ve chosen to invest in. There’s nothing like a taste of your own medicine. And while I could go on and on about what I’ve experienced and how it’s been paramount to my individual growth, I can’t do that without reflecting on the people I’ve hurt en route to these realizations. Me learning compassion has come at the expense of others and it shouldn’t have to.
In building this culture where men are encouraged to vocalize our pain, we must always keep that in mind. Men having conversations in which we process feelings of sadness is great in theory, but not if we don’t afford ourselves, and others, the privilege of introspection. I use introspection here to mean looking inward and examining one’s self— more simply put, taking a look at the man in the mirror. It is not my intent to stifle men’s ability to talk about feelings of betrayal and abandonment in romantic relationships. Those feelings are valid and there are countless men that have had genuine experiences with those feelings. I’d prefer we’d be honest with ourselves and others when these topics come up.
Future got that perfect balance between talking about how he feel & keeping it real but not being in his feelings haha
— ⚡️Sensei⚡️ (@_Outofthenormal) February 24, 2017
While I always appreciate conversations that encourage men, particularly Black men, to explore and develop emotional intelligence, I fear that often times the scope of our conversations is extremely limited and lacks honestly. Some of us have lied so often and for so long, we genuinely believe the lies we’ve told. Yes, men are highly capable of experiencing feelings like betrayal and abandonment, but men are also highly capable, and more likely to betray and abandon. We don’t get to be the gaslighter and the victim.
“Yeah, ain’t really mean to hurt you, sorry it’s gotta be this way”
What makes Future a particularly polarizing figure in the context of his music is that he seems to believe he can exist as two different people; one being a manipulator-superstar who lives life with reckless abandon, and the other just a product of his environment, a victim that is constantly misunderstood. Unfortunately, these two things can’t both be true in one body. Humans are whole people that lead lives propelled by action and consequence. Not only is this belief absurd, but it’s also unfair. None of the people cast as shadows in narratives like “My Collection” or “Damage” are given that same level of almost head-ass acceptance and understanding.
During his most introspective moment (and this is generous) on the album, Future says “ain’t really mean to hurt you/sorry it’s gotta be this way,” which is a classic go to line for small scale emotional manipulation. Intent has very little to do with consequence. “Ain’t really mean to” does little to comfort a person that’s been hurt. When we take time to explore how that thing we may have done has had a negative impact on the people in our lives, we explore why we felt comfortable taking that action in the first place.
Once we figure out why we’ve hurt someone (intentional or not), we are able to ensure that the hurtful behavior won’t happen again, which is more important to human interaction than any amount of “sorry” could ever be. The end result is ultimately being able to avoid creating a discography of songs in which (or living a life in which) we’ve wholeheartedly convinced ourselves that all of our relationships go south because of metaphoric “so called good girls” who have “turned on us.” Being honest and introspective raises self awareness.
“With this dope in my system, I know you gon’ turn on me, I been away too much, I know you gon’ turn on me”
“Hurt people, hurt people” is a rather lazy approach to understanding cycles of heartbreak and disappointment. We need to commit to building upon this statement or releasing it all together. Yes, “hurt people, hurt people” but my God, after repeating this saying for decades, at what point do “hurt people” realize we’re being redundant?
While there are many fun and lighthearted moments on the album like “Fresh Air” (my personal favorite), a large portion of the album feels like screaming out loud in a dark room. The light switch in this room is self-reflection. Whether that is reflecting on why things ended the way they did between you and the mother of your child, or a meditation on the ways your actions strain relationships, there is nothing to be found in dishonesty but darkness. Future shows us that it is possible to chant “I can never miss a loss” a million times and still make (multiple) albums about one. In that regard and so many others, HNDRXX is not “our Lemonade.” Lemonade was a response to, and a road map for, dealing with the effects of emotional manipulation. HNDRXX in many places, is the emotional manipulation.
Future makes fun music. Future is not the founder of a new movement of emotionally aware Black men (especially if you’ve read his full deposition in the court order brought against him by Ciara.) That is a lane that has been occupied by men, queer and straight, since before many of us were born. HNDRXX is a good album. HNDRXX is not the mecca of healing. HNDRXX is an example of where our conversations about healing often fall short. Men deserve better and more honest places to begin the healing process, and for his own sake, so does Future.
Healing begins when men dedicate ourselves to listening more and being more observant. Healing begins when men are able to admit our wrongs and are willing to stew in our truths. Healing begins when we are honest and compassionate in our romantic relationships. When men commit to breaking loyalty to every single thing our “OGs” taught us, and instead allow ourselves to evolve based on the desires of our own hearts, men begin to heal.
Sonically, HNDRXX still bangs. Music will always be a cathartic tool for escaping the turbulence of every day life. While many are able to compartmentalize their belief systems and the message in the music, we have to be critical of the way we continue to mold these fresh conversations about masculinity and self-expression in men. When we trade genuine emotional processing for dishonesty dressed as “feelings,” no one wins. I’m just being Honest.
Wallace Mack currently resides in the city that never sleeps and can often be found staring off into space, tuning you out, with his earbuds in.