Is Future’s ‘Honest’ The Most Misunderstood, Underrated Album In His Catalog?

Two VMP Writers Debate

On May 26th 2020 » By Vinyl Me, Please Staff

Future

Two Vinyl Me, Please staff writers try to figure out why Future’s sophomore studio album, Honest, has gotten such a bad rap.

Andrew Winistorfer: Michael, I write to you today from day 50-11 of social isolation, to ponder an existential question that has vexed me re: the rap internet since, say, late 2014: Is Future’s Honest the least-respected classic in rap music of the 2010s? But before we get there, we have to go back, no Kate, to early 2014, before Future released Honest at all.

In those days, we both lived in Madison, Wisconsin, but more accurately, we lived on Twitter. And what’s hard to overstate now, in the wake of the six years since, is how huge Future was on the rap internet in 2014. He was bigger than Uzi, he was bigger than Carti, he was bigger than anyone you could think of. Future’s then-new album was originally titled Future Hendrix and had been rumored to be imminent for the better part of two years by then. In every interview, which would cause wildfires of speculation on Twitter, Future played up how he was going to lean into the R&B that made him into a crossover smash — “Turn on the Lights” was a religious experience every time I heard it out at 2 a.m. from 2011-2020 — and he kept saying it was going to be a classic, a big Blockbuster of an album that stood alongside albums from his Big Brothers Outkast. The pump was primed, as they say.

And then Honest came out and… it was literally exactly that. For my money, it’s the peak of that Trap&B sound of that era of Atlanta, and was widescreen enough to include classic guest star turns from Pusha-T, André 3000, and well, Casino. It could literally be everything you wanted it to be: the pop-rap radio slammer (“Move that Dope,” “Honest”), the “I’ll step on your throat” street record (“Karate Chop,” “Shit”), the southern fried posse cut (“Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)”). Not to mention that it was one of the few records ever that was about drugs that made you feel like you were on drugs. This was syrup and Molly rap from the peak era of syrup and Molly. It was Future’s King Making moment, and it debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts. He had done it! One of our heroes made his big pop album without selling out!

A month later, I saw the first night of the Honest tour, and a highlight of my adult life was smoking a blunt with a group of strangers next to me who recognized my Juicy J T-shirt, and then bought me 20 McNuggets next door to the concert so I could sober up to drive home. We were bonded in the hot fire of the Future show, and I never saw them again.

But then, something weird happened: six months after Future released Honest, he released Monster, basically disavowing Honest and going back to the SuperFuture mode of making bleak raps about bleak things. In going dark again, he turned his back on the Trap&B he had invented. He basically remained unmoved from that mode until 2017’s HNDRXX, some mixtapes coming out better than others (much love to 56 Nights). And at the same time that Future moved on, it seemed like the general consensus around Honest changed too: It was now his least beloved album, an album you had to apologize for loving, somehow. It gets called “trash” now, and is ranked below basically every other Future release when it’s Future’s turn to be on the “LETS RANK RECORDS BY A BIG ARTIST” carousel on Twitter.

And I didn’t get it in 2014, and I don’t get it now, and part of that is in fact why I pushed our team super hard to do the first vinyl pressing of Honest. I still think it rules! The songs on here are so fun, and Future tries so many different flows on here. Imagine 2020 Future doing a song with André 3000 where he tries to match his flow; can’t do it, can you?.

So, I guess my question is, as my Rap Internet Obi-Wan: Why did the public perception toward Honest change? Is it because we’re supposed to idealize the violence and despair, and Honest was mostly about partying? How do you feel about the album now? Like me, do you secretly prefer it to all of the mixtapes that came between it and HNDRXX?

Michael Penn II: Big Body Storf, I come to you from my living room in Chicago. I refuse to use the quar shorthand, but alas, I’ve effectively been alone for months. The rainwater’s dripping from the ceiling, making a damn mess, and I can’t fathom a maintenance man sliding through to do anything about it. I bring that up because I spent last Thursday evening indulging in the new round of Misogyny: Expansion Pack that King Pluto bestowed upon us… High Off Life. Then the thunderstorm clapped my building’s power out, and I went on my back porch to distance talk to my downstairs neighbors for the first time about anything.

Why mention any of this?

Well, setting remains of the utmost importance when receiving Future’s music. He wields a mastery of immersion, using his vessel of obscene wealth and premium trauma to launch a listener into an unattainable extension of their deepest desires. Think of the power a cishet male mainstream rapper holds when he litters brand names and foreign islands into the ear of a growing child who’ll never have either. Did you know where Turks were until Future and Drake and Gunna started mentioning it (almost in sync) like a year ago? Did you know they were plural islands? I googled the shit today: $600 roundtrip. Can’t slide, Trump Check aside.

Nudy voice Yeah, ANYWAYS: For some, the latter implications remain heavily accessible: poverty, violence, surveillance. These are callbacks to the man Future once was, and may remain, given the PTSD that oozes from songs like scar tissue in the offering plate. Future’s so damn huge, ain’t no way a regular nigga (it’s me) finna walk down Lil Mexico for a scenic tour of the trenches Future talks about. He’s a rich-ass addict, he self-destructs in romantic relationships, there’s no counting the folks he’s lost. It’s a condition of the hypercapitalist fantasy: He deserves all the head from Becky because he came from nothing. His patriarchal cup runneth over with Bible memes and Halo music. He’s an invincible id of the American way, doing the dollar’s bidding.

To begin answering your questions: Honest wasn’t the party record, but it was the first glossy one that explicitly posited Future as a Rockstar for Life. This came two years after Pluto, which held damn near the same framework considering how “Turn on the Lights” and “Neva End” got the crossover Top 40 light that a record like “Tony Montana” couldn’t. Future wasn’t new to blockbusters, but he wasn’t primarily feeding the street core anymore… Pluto was challenging himself and leaving the stratosphere. Then we got “Move That Dope,” the kinda mainstream smash you couldn’t avoid. Even the album’s self-titled single carried maximal gloss in a way we hadn’t seen as a focal point for Future’s work; it’s like opulence with the brightness turnt up.

But to your point, Honest threatened to excel in any shade Future wanted to occupy. Big as they were, I don’t hear a record like “Covered N Money” ever getting elevated in the canon in the same way. And “Shit” is a goddamn classic! Remember the tweet where someone said the beat moves like the cadence of an ass-whuppin’? I went dolo to that tour the day after Summer Jam 2014, which meant it was like Summer Jam, Jr., with half the Sunday lineup poppin’ out to get their shit off. I’m pretty sure Future looked me in the eyes when I was in the pit for “My Momma.”

But anyway, there was no way to foreshadow the massive mixtape-to-album run he went on after this moment… when he became the Monster right before our eyes. So the opinion shift makes sense in the way Critic Twitter — overlapped or adjacent to Future Hive — was so infatuated with that particular run, they rendered the precursor insignificant in comparison when Future gave us such a wide swath of good music to debate on. It’s like he exceeded in quality and quantity for a good long while, but anything outside that particular window falls outside the purview of the discourse. Hell, it’s worth wagering that plenty of Future stans were minted in that era… I know I was!

But (still) liking Honest isn’t something worth apologizing for, nor should it be a fringe opinion. It’s not that we didn’t get the daily nutritional value of despair when records like “T-Shirt” and “Special” were on there… Honest just doesn’t mark the start of Future’s Peak Period for many folks who adore him, which leaves it a little undervalued. It got a lukewarm critical reception as is, and you know how fans are: You’re too boring and redundant when you stick to the shtick, but you’re inauthentic when you make the drastic changes they asked for. That’s why you shouldn’t give a fuck about our whims, forreal.

Andrew: Yeah, I guess maybe that’s what my real issue is, and the general underrating of Honest is just the symptom of a greater disease. There’s this propensity, especially among the staunchest stans of big artists, to narrow the window of their purview to an insane degree, when we’re living in a time of damn near all information being at our fingertips. It’s how Andrew Barber at Fake Shore Drive can share videos from 106 & Park with Lil Wayne freestyling in like 2003, and people are like SHOCKED at what he sounded like then. It was on a show watched by millions of people, and it’s on YouTube! Just because you discovered Wayne in 2010 doesn’t mean he wasn’t hot before then, you know? Which extends to Future: if your exposure to him didn’t kick into high gear until 56 Nights, it’s not hard for you to go back in the catalog, and digest it based on the context of the day, you know? Honest is not trash; you just don’t take the time to know the catalog. Rap stans, do better!

But I do want to push back against the idea that Honest was not well-received critically: This is a case where the critics were demonstrably more right than the Stans. I know people like to pretend they don’t care about Pitchfork — you should see our sales of an album when it gets Best New Music, lol — but they do, and the God Craig Jenkins gave Honest what was, at the time, his highest score on their site (Dirty Sprite 2 is the only album to top it critically, and coincidentally, is the only album in my “Future peaked with Pluto and Honest” theory that threatens to blow it up). Granted, they underrated the fuck out of Pluto, but it’s also in the top three for his highest rated albums on Metacritic. You could retroactively say that Honest was his “most mainstream” album but, again, it has “Shit” and “Karate Chop” on it! He didn’t sell out! It was only in the light of Monster that Honest took on this “this is the worst album in Future’s career” revisionism; Stans can’t use critical consensus as a cudgel (see: West, Kanye) and then ignore it when they want, you know?

So I guess I’m saying if you try to come at us for doing this record, I’m going to chop you? Here’s a follow-up: I think it’s clear that HNDRXX was made in Honest’s vision, and it’s obviously less successful, but still has its peaks. Do you think Future will ever go back to sounding like that, though? You think he’s got another “Turn on the Lights” left in there? Or will he be eating cheesecake at night time for ever?

Michael Yeah, but people go up for HNDRXX like issa late-stage Future classic or sum’n. And then they never give FUTURE (self-titled) its credit for the gems he had on there! I think Future’s established himself as a man of range to the point where he can do absolutely anything, but likely won’t bother retreading such archaic territory. He’s a hitmaker, he’ll be a hitmaker as the currents change. And I wouldn’t pine for that era of Future in particular as is, considering the global stakes… what would a Future song sound like when made for an empty Blue Flame? What if Turks were evacuated and he had to face his Monster alone with all that beauty in the background?

I dunno, man, I just be dreamin’ of shit. I think the Monster character’s overtaken so much of the oeuvre the same way our general infatuation with such depravity overshadowed the older shit. HNDRXX might be the last stand of that particular bag, and it’d take another major sonic shift to return to the vulnerability and (believe it or not) the tenderness that enabled a “Turn On the Lights” and “Neva End” to exist. Coincidentally, that same tenderness even underscores the works where he’s at his shittiest! You don’t make “Throw Away” without feeling things, that song sounds like the six-step program to patriarchal ego death. He’s rich, he’s over her, but he can’t look away from how she’s over him. When you cut shittiness with sincerity, the latter explains the former at the minimum. That blend makes for his most interesting opportunities to flex that pen.

But don’t expect Honest Future back. The lights are already turnt on. Go home. At least that album’s namesake remains a promise he’s kept to us.

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