The Future is now. With a Pluto and its rerelease Pluto 3D already rumbling in CD changers, hip-hop’s shooting star is crooning his way to the top of the game. For VIBE’s first digital cover, Atlanta’s begotten son Future sits down for a candid conversation on swagger jackers, learning to sing and sobering up after 17 years.
Interview: Jeff Rosenthal
Video: Sumner Dilworth
VIBE: You’re not a typical R&B singer, but you’re making R&B hits. What sets you apart from guys like Usher and Trey Songz, besides a shirt?
Future: A shirt? Pssh. What separates me? I’m a hustler, I’m from the streets. I’m pretty sure Trey Songz has never been in crack houses. I’m from the gutter, that’s where I come through with my music. It touches so many peoples’ hearts because it comes from the root, the bottom of the slums all the way to the top, the upper echelons. I know how to blend ’em and mix ’em together.
But on some level, you’re an R&B singer…
Nah, nah, I’m not an R&B singer. I feel like I’m a poet. It’s just that I use words of expression, I have a different way of expressing my words, and it’s melodic. I also have the R&B characteristics to it, but I feel like it’s just how I express my words. People assume that is what it is, like, “Oh, he’s doing R&B,” and it may sound like that, but I know in my heart that I’m not an R&B singer. I’m just using a different way of expression and it just sounds R&B-ish because it’s melodic.
Right now, a lot of guys are sounding like you. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, how flattered are you?
Man, I feel like I’m flattered by dudes imitating my style ‘cause I know that I’m the future and I’m ahead of the curve. Like, they imitating the old Future. I’m the new Future. [Laughs] I’m flattered, but it always discourages me ‘cause I know as an artist, I want you to look to me as inspiration to go beyond what I’m doing. Try to add something to hip-hop or music itself. They’re limiting their chances by imitating Future. You pushing me in a direction I wanna go, and that’s just staying at the top.
Have you ever turned on the radio and wondered if it was you or someone else?
I did it one time! I did it one time because—I don’t know where I was at the time. To tell you the truth, I was riding and my friend was like, “I thought that was your song!” I was listening to it and I was like, “This dude sound like me!” It was trippy. I thought I had gave a song to somebody! But it was cool because I don’t really listen to the radio. Besides that, I hear about it more than I listen to it. I didn’t even check nobody out to see it, but I heard about some things.
A lot of famous artists say that they started singing in church: Aretha Franklin, Whitney, Brandy, Monica…but where did you learn to sing?
Man, I feel like a poet, so I get inspired by the littlest things. When I was in elementary school, we had an assembly, and an African tribe came to the school, beating on the congos, dancing. One time we went on a field trip to an Indian reservation and they was going “Uwh wuh wuh wuh.” Just being intrigued by those little melodies, the little things in music; looking at Beat Street and knowing the breakdancing and the be-bopping from the Fat Boys—looking on TV, you used to see them. Dudes in school, we used to beat on the desk with the pencil; loving the way that sounds, you know? Every step of music, I always loved it.
You and French Montana are going to be putting a mixtape out together, called Medusa. Who thought of the title: you, French, or Dr. Robitussin?
I thought of the title. Medusa is just rich and elegant, style and class. It’s just old, vintage. We’re in a time when everything is vintage and just seizing the moment.
You’re fairly obsessed with space; a bunch of your songs and mixtapes and albums talk about astronauts and Pluto. If you could go to space but you have to stick to a strict diet, which would include no alcohol or drugs, would you do it?
Um…that’s a hard question, but at the end of the day, man, I’m not afraid of change. That’s one thing I’m not afraid of. I was just thinking—I never went sober for a day since I was like ten years old. I always smoke weed and got high, used drugs to substitute for other things that wasn’t right in my life. 2013, I’m gonna try to go some days sober.
Because like I’m saying, I’m not afraid of change and I feel like I’m grown. I’ve got kids. I have a team where a lot of people are depending to me; my head’s gotta be more clear. It’s for the people around me, the people I come in contact with: my associates, my friends, my family…That’d be childish of me to not change and to not try to better myself.
I can think of a few examples of words or phrases becoming too popular too quickly, until they become corny: swag, ratchet and YOLO immediately come to mind. Do you worry the same thing will happen for ‘turn up’?
Man, I believe ‘turn up’ is like ‘bling-bling’. It’s a word that’s gonna be in the dictionary. It just gives our generation something to say that’s ours, something to claim. That’s that new millennium word for ‘crunk’ or ‘hype’. Everything we do, we do it our way. Then we can look back when we 40 or 50, like, “Turn up? Man, you don’t know about ‘turn up’.” They gon’ be saying something else.
You’ve put out something like 150 songs in less than a year. Do you ever get the feeling that this is too easy? Where’s the challenge for you?
Man, the challenge for me is getting somebody else hot. It’s to do the same thing I do for me, for another artist. To get them to see the bigger picture, just to get them to have the drive, the ambition; being self-motivated, knowing that hard work is gonna get you there. That’s the biggest challenge for me, to put that on somebody else. For me, making hits is easy. I knew from day one, this is what I know how to do. I make hits in my sleep: I’m literally dreaming, excited to wake up to come to the studio to lay down what I was thinking in my head. Art! It’s art.
[Publicist: That’s ridiculous.]
[P: He said 150 songs, I’m looking in the computer and trying to see if you did 150 songs…and you did it.]
It all comes with good intentions. The reason I did 150 songs, it went by so quick before people noticed it, because I didn’t do it for bragging or boasting. I didn’t use that for competition, just to flood my competition. I just used that for a vehicle to show my versatility. They were just all to showcase my versatility. It wasn’t just to say to my competition, I can do more than you. Out of 150 songs, I can guarantee you 100 sound way different; you wouldn’t even think I’d wrote them.
One of the last people who ran both the streets and the sheets were Ja Rule and then 50 Cent. What are the lessons, if any, that you’ve learned from their careers?
From Ja Rule, to never stop working. Even when you frustrated, even when people throw shots at you, you gotta keep dropping hits, drop smashes, do what you do. Stay in your lane. Let all the negativity go behind you, and all the hard work will pay off through any situation. And 50, I learned just let the music speak for itself, let the movement speak for itself.
You and Drake had a little misunderstanding last year after the “Tony Montana” video.
It was most definitely a misunderstanding.
But now you guys were just back in the studio not too long ago. How did you clear that up?
Because we let our personal relationship be our personal relationship and our business be our business. At first, I didn’t know how to take that, me coming straight from the streets off of mixtapes. When he did it, he did it for me without me signing a deal; just our personal relationship. Then when I got the deal, it started getting so business-savvy. There were lawyers speaking for me, managers speaking for me; it wasn’t me just speaking for myself. It was the labels coming in, trying to get things cleared. I was stepping out of the way. We do the music, man. Whatever come after that, man, let them work that out.
So, who reached out first? How did that all work itself out?
It was a situation where we was down in Orlando, Florida for the All-Star Weekend and we was at this house party. Both of us was in the party. I probably was on “Same Damn Time,” my album had probably done dropped…my third Top 10 song. It wasn’t so much about Drake even when it was about “Tony Montana.” It wasn’t a situation so much as it was about that video, that visual, my passion and my drive – everything I feel was taken away from everything I’d worked up until that point. I had to find a way to move past that. When I found a way to move past that, I was over it. When we seen each other at the party, it wasn’t no tension, it wasn’t nothing. I was over it. Like I said, I was on my third Top 10 record. I was off “Magic,” I had done dropped four mixtapes after that. Why would I hold grudges? This business is not about holding grudges like that because you can’t burn bridges that you’ve got to cross back over. These same people that understand this game is the same people that’s been here 20, 40 years. It’s not a business like the streets, where you think you can burn and go to the next person and not no customers. There’s not born junkies every day, you know? These are the people, the makers and shakers, in the business—you’ve gotta keep those relationships, make sure the politics all the way there. Make sure you thank all the people that did something for you, cause you never know when you’ve gotta see them again.