Future is quickly becoming your favorite artist's favorite collaborator. The Atlanta rapper/singer appears on four singles on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart this week: Lil Wayne's "Love Me," which sits at No. 4 (and No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100); Ace Hood's "Bugatti," which also features Rick Ross and hits No. 14 in its fourth week; Rihanna's "Loveeeeeee Song," at No. 16; and lastly, his own "Karate Chop" remix featuring Lil Wayne, the lead single from his upcoming second album, "Future Hendrix," which peaks at No. 33 in its second week. Future also co-wrote "Body Party," the new single from Epic labelmate and girlfriend Ciara, which debuts at No. 43. Cumulatively, the singles have sold more than 1.5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, led by "Love Me," which has moved 913,000.
Future attributes his recent chart success to his seamless mix of Auto-Tuned rapping and singing, which has drawn comparisons to T-Pain, hip-hop's go-to hookman in the mid-2000s. "I step outside the box," he says. "I got my own lane. There's a hip-hop lane and an R&B lane, and I'm in the middle."
Epic Records director of marketing LaTrice Burnette notes that Future's crossover move began with his 2012 ballad "Turn On the Lights," which peaked at No. 50 on the Hot 100 and No. 2 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs, with sales of 582,000--his biggest solo hit yet. "Once people saw that he was able not only to rap but also to create a record that he's fully singing," she says, "it opened the window for him to work with other artists and in other genres."
Devi Dev, a radio personality at KBXX Houston, says that Future's hybrid style is conducive to programming throughout the day, explaining that her station plays "Loveeeeeee Song"--an emotional, downtempo ballad that Future also produced--during the daytime, but switches to the hard-edged "Bugatti" at night. "These songs can really go from the club to your car to the office seamlessly," she says. "He fits in with every kind of person."
Phillip David March, PD of WGZB Louisville, Ky., meanwhile, praises Future's catchy choruses and simple, singalong melodies. "[He] makes it easy so that even I can sing the song almost as good as he does," he says with a laugh. "He's got a hook formula that's working for him."
Future made his debut last year with "Pluto," which bowed at No. 8 on the Billboard 200, and its holiday rerelease "Pluto 3D." Together, the albums have sold 291,000 units. Still, Burnette says the label sees Future as more than just a singles-driven artist. "It takes some time as a new artist for people to buy into you and who you are," she says. "We knew that Future wasn't a one-hit wonder."
Future claims he has no qualms about being typecast as more of a supporting collaborator than a leading man. "I never worry about that," he says. "The ultimate goal is to get your art across the way you want to get it across. A hit song is a hit song. It's all about teamwork."
But is there too much of a good thing? As Future and Epic prepare "Future Hendrix" for release later this year, Burnette notes that overexposure is "definitely a concern," and says the label is now staggering releases so as to not dilute demand for the album. "You have to analyze whether the records are being released in the best possible way," she says. "You just want to make sure everything is timed correctly and in sync with each other." Burnette says Future Hendrix will be supported by the release of further singles after "Karate Chop," as well as webisodes, heavy touring and a documentary.
Future, meanwhile, says he'll do his part musically, promising the new album will be more melodic and poignant than anything he's done before. "I'm touching more hearts on every song, every line. I'm trying to change a life," he says. "I'm giving you my all."