Future Pledges Allegiance to Highs & Lows of Self-Medication on 'Dirty Sprite 2': Album Review

Future
Dirty Sprite 2
Album Review
3.5
Courtesy of Epic Records

On DS2, the third major label album from Atlanta's Future, the rapper makes things clear from the outset: "I just f---ed your bitch in some Gucci flip-flops," he announces on opener "Thought It Was a Drought." He then admits to drinking so much codeine-laced "dirty Sprite" that it colors his urine, declaring, "Bitch, I'm a choose the dirty over you/ You know I ain't scared to lose you." There's no civility to be found here. A year after splitting from singer Ciara, his ex-fiancee/son's mother with whom he's still publicly feuding, Future is defiantly marking his allegiances -- and they're not to any genteel sensibilities. DS2 is a heavy dose of medication as entertainment, and it's not for those with a low tolerance.

DS2 is short for Dirty Sprite 2, his 2011 breakthrough mixtape, but it's not a sequel as much a course correction. Future's first two studio albums -- 2012's Pluto and last year's Honest, recorded during his courtship of Ciara -- were thick with A-list guests and songs that vied for crossover success, pushing shiny, happy roles he played well but never quite relished. He even released a gleaming love song ("Real and True") with Miley Cyrus in 2013. But now? "Tried to make me a pop star and they made me a monster," he rhymes on "I Serve the Base," a droning oath of fealty to street life. "They should a told you I was just a trap n----."

In the past few years, Future has become one of the most influential, recognizable voices in rap, singing hooks for Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj and paving the way for artists like Fetty Wap with his starry-eyed, Auto-Tuned warbling. But here, following the lead of his recent mixtapes (Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights), Future retreats back into lean-filled Styrofoam cups, eschewing pop duets and focusing on internal monologues of regret, ultra-conspicuous consumption and a grinding work ethic. Future's delivery, which drunkenly swings in the dark spaces between Meek Mill's urgent yelp and The Weeknd's forlorn balladry, is put to discomforting effect.

When he repeatedly intones "Now I'm back f---ing my groupies" on "Groupies," it encompasses nearly everything that he's about now -- meaty chunks of atavistic earworms, glassy stares at objectified women, a detached desire for fame and absurdist egoism. Like Drake (the only other rapper to appear here, on "Where Ya At"), Future has a gift for distilling songs into loglines that speak both specifically and universally. When he confesses that "they got blood on that money and I still count it" on "Blood on the Money," he sounds as broken as anyone who's ever compromised their morals to make ends meet.

Produced by a handful of trusted Atlanta trap producers, DS2 is gothic, narcotic and full of overcast skies: The glimmering synths of Zaytoven's "Colossal"; the mutating, minor-chord flourishes of Metro Boomin's "Where Ya At"; the fearful twangs and muted squeals of Southside's "Stick Talk." "Rich Sex" strives to be a sexy, lush R&B song -- but Future sounds more turned on by his own jewelry than his "number one freak in the sheets," as if he's selling a happiness he doesn't believe in.

Such is the effect of downers -- the pain is real, but the joys ersatz and the escapes empty. Yes, Future started this album off by having sex with a girl while wearing designer sandals. He said it as a boast, but he never said he enjoyed it.