Home Genres Hip Hop From “March Madness” to “Mask Off”: Future’s career in five songs

From “March Madness” to “Mask Off”: Future’s career in five songs

From “March Madness” to “Mask Off”: Future’s career in five songs
Image: Paras Griffin / WireImage

Yesterday, Future released THE WIZRD, his sixth solo album in five years—excluding the myriad mixtapes and numerous collaborative records with other artists. The Atlanta artist born Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn has a work ethic that’s intimidated lesser rappers and assured him years of omnipresence in hip hop.

Taking in the scope of Future’s discography—from the releases he’s put out, to the producers he’s linked up with, to the many guises he’s adopted—will make your head spin. The only task more difficult than that is narrowing it down to the five most important songs of the lot—but that’s exactly what we’ve done.

“Turn on the Lights”

Before his debut album Pluto, Future was known for a few things: his association with Atlanta’s infamous Dungeon Family, writing the hook on YC’s “Racks,” and the single “Tony Montana,” which featured the rapper’s entertaining attempt at impersonating Scarface.

Of all the tracks on Pluto, which dropped April 2012, “Turn on the Lights” was an undeniable highlight. The slow-grooving song centers on Future’s garbled vocal delivery, perplexing critics but laying the blueprint for a later generation of marble-mouthed rappers (Fetty Wap and Desiigner, we’re looking at you).

It also let the rapper’s vulnerable side shine through the murk of the club: “Turn on the lights! I’m lookin’ for ’er,” he pleads. And despite the lean-fueled nihilism that underscores Future’s entire discography, that romantic streak is what keeps listeners coming back, and what the rapper himself is increasingly willing to acknowledge.

“I want unconditional, I’d die for you love. I die for you; you die for me type of love. I ride for you; you ride for me love,” he told the FADER in a recent interview. “I feel like true love just happen. It just come from nowhere, like blindside you.” Truer words have never been spoken.

“Fuck Up Some Commas”

Future tries to outdo himself every year, but even his most diehard fans must admit that the period of late 2014 to 2015 was special. The rapper bounced back from a disappointing album (Honest) and a failed relationship (with Ciara, with whom he co-wrote “Body Party”) to drop a stunning triad of mixtapes—Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights (officially a DJ Esco release, but ‘hosted’ by Future)—and topped the whole thing off in 2015 with the acclaimed DS2.

Released October 2014, Monster was a roaring comeback. “Fuck Up Some Commas” was one of the most successful tracks from the mixtape, and for good reason. DJ Spinz and Southside’s spidery piano lick is a helluva calling card, and Future breezes through cadences and moods like a mean winter wind, from the triumphant hook to the sharp, finger-snapping delivery on the third verse: “Fit it, critic, get it, hit it, run it, drill it, wet it, I’m in it.”

“March Madness”

To most of the US, “March Madness” means basketball season. But to Future fans, it’s one of their most beloved songs.

The platinum-certified track off DJ Esco’s 56 Nights, which featured Future on all songs, was the only song on the mixtape to be produced by 808 Mafia’s Tarentino. It thrums with tension from the beginning, the soundbed a churning melange of 808s, tinkling effects and undulating synths that buoys Future even as he sounds like he’s on his last legs.

And the rapper holds on long enough to serve up everything you could want from him: luxury rides, sexcapades, enough drugs to stock a pharmacy, and musings about police brutality (“All these cops shootin’ n***as, tragic”). It’s Nayvadius at his prime—which is also Nayvadius at his lowest.

“Where Ya At,” featuring Drake

2015 was a massive year for Future—and Drake. Their zeitgeist-defining releases, DS2 and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, dropped within months of each other. And later that year, they would link up for the collaborative album, What a Time to be Alive, that all but sent the rap game into hysterics.

And yes, despite “Diamonds Dancing” and “Jumpman,” it’s “Where Ya At” that is the sweetest Future-Drake collab of this era. From Metro Boomin’s instantly iconic production, to Future’s perfectly rounded syllables and tumbling raps, to Drizzy’s smooth slide into the pocket, this DS2 cut remains unbeatable for its boastful bars and disdain for the disloyal.

And who can forget the music video, which starred Future, DJ Esco and Young Metro vibing out on a rooftop as machine gun fire reflects off the rapper’s shades? Esco’s hilarious freestyled dancing became the stuff of legend on social media, and his Prince- and Mick Jagger-esque moves will live forever in infamy. Take that, Fortnite.

“Mask Off”

Future kept up the pace in 2017, putting out not one but three releases: Future and Hndrxx, which dropped a week apart in February, as well as the Young Thug collab project Super Slimey months after. Out of all that music, the song that most captured the world’s imagination was, of course, “Mask Off,” from the self-titled album.

When the record dropped, fans seized upon the entrancing flute solo that floats like a cloud throughout the song. Sampled from a 1978 track, “Prison Song,” by the playwright Tommy Butler for his musical Selma, the lick is light, but haunting. Add Future’s hypnotic, repetitive hook— “Percocet, Molly, Percocets… Mask on, fuck it, mask off”—to Metro Boomin’s stroke of sampling genius, and it’s no surprise that “Mask Off” went viral in a matter of hours.

It even spawned a social media challenge in which classical musicians—not just flute players—put their own spin on the trap banger. Future even implicitly endorsed it when he flew a flautist who’d participated in the challenge to perform the lick live at Coachella 2017.

Stream THE WIZRD here.