I thought we’d relegated auto-tune to the dungeon of yesteryear’s kitsch, but apparently that ear-curdling vocal effect still carries enough cultural currency to form the backbone of a major label hip-hop debut. The album in question is Pluto, and the man behind it is Georgia-based MC Future.
A curious mix of hype and discomfort trails Pluto, much like comets behind the demoted planetoid of the album’s namesake. While enthusiasm for the LP remains in scarce supply, Future has built his reputation so methodically over the past two years that his momentum is now simply a matter of rote.
A member of Decatur’s Dungeon Family hip-hop collective, Future (short for Future of Hip-Hop) has released six (!) mixtapes in the past two years, each of which offered up enough winning tracks to successfully inculcate Future into the constellation of hip-hop up-and-comers. He has his own aesthetic preoccupation (space, duh), a respectable series of A-list collaborations, and a berth on XXL magazine’s 2012 Freshman Class. If these credentials weren’t enough to earn him a major label deal, then surely Future would have endeared himself to Epic Records’ A&R reps by virtue of his broadly commercial tastes.
Both on Pluto and the mixtapes that preceded it, Future raps in a drawling sing-speak that liberally blends R&B with hip-hop. Between an R. Kelly guest spot and a laconic production style, it’s not until the fourth of Pluto’s fifteen tracks that Future gets around to doing much in the way of actual rapping.
Once Future does begin displaying his skills as an MC, he offers a mumbling, cyclical cadence that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time listening to southern hip-hop stars such as Ludacris or Big K.R.I.T. (the latter of whom may wind up stealing Future’s steez in the long run). “Tony Montana”, a holdover from Future’s True Story mixtape, offers the best example of this style. Rumor has it the track resulted from Future’s in-studio indulgence in two things that should by all rights be detrimental to a hip-hop recording session: codeine-spiked Sprite and a cartoonishly inaccurate impression of Al Pacino’s cartoonishly inaccurate Cuban accent from Scarface. Somehow these elements managed to sidestep the swampy region of “awful” and pass on to the respectable waters of “catchy”.
This is usually the point at which I’d quote a few of Future’s lyrics but, honestly, to do so would be beside the point. Future works his way down the Southern Gangster lyrical checklist with dispassionate aplomb. Weed is smoked, coke is sold, Porsches are driven, etc. Future’s true strength resides in the hypnotic cadence with which he alights upon these thematic touchstones.
The stylistic motifs on display in Pluto—auto-tune, drawling hooks, thin production—recall the hip-hop zeitgeist circa 2006, which is to say they sound like ringtone rap. Future has skill enough in crafting auditory candy to put forth a decent example of this genre, but, like his predecessors, the gaping chink in his armor is described on one side by an overeager desire to please a commercial market, and on the other side by an unfortunate lack of depth.