Coronavirus

From 'Pluto' to 'HNDRXX': Future's Albums Ranked (Critic's Take)

Each Future album feels like a portrait, from his extra-terrestrial debut Pluto to the not-quite-assured grandness of Honest. Equipped with its own personality and particular sound, the Atlanta rapper's full-length endeavors paint a vivid image of different points of his career.

Within the last two years, the Billboard cover star has pushed through to superstardom with five back-to-back chart topping albums -- an absurd statistic in today’s musical landscape. He continues to build his strong catalog and establish his footing as one of hip-hop’s greatest talents today.

Future and HNDRXX are his latest victories, but does either rank as his greatest album to date? We answer that question by ranking Future’s commercially released albums -- not counting mixtape releases like Monster, Beast Mode or Purple Reign -- from worst to best, throughout the span of his still-young, six-year career.

7. EVOL (2016)

Peak Position: No. 1

Singles: “Low Life” (feat. The Weeknd); "Wicked"

EVOL is quite honestly the odd sibling out of Future’s discography. Wedged in between the powerful DS2 and the history-making back-to-back effort of Future and HNDRXX, EVOL now feels like a transition point between the rapper's two discernable creative peaks.

While it hosts the top 20, double-platinum banger "Low Life" (featuring The Weeknd) and the hit "Wicked," the project doesn’t feature the growth or drastic change in commentary that the Future Hive has gotten used to over his year-plus streak of wins.

This isn’t to say that EVOL is bad. The triumphant crooning of “Lil Haiti Baby," the percolating “Photo Copied” and the rockstar vibes of “Fly Sh-t Only” are enough to keep the album pushing along. But overall it lacks the character, ambition, and style the other projects possess. Even the title EVOL feels like a forced attempt to tap into his brooding, emotionless character as heard on DS2. The overall project feels non-canon in a sense, but still managed to provide him his third No. 1 on the Top 200 in seven months.

6. Pluto (2016)

Peak Position: No. 8

Singles: “Tony Montana”, “Magic” (feat. T.I.), “Same Damn Time”, “Turn On The Lights”, “Neva End”

It was 2011. Two years after Jay Z almost single-handedly washed away the credibility of AutoTune in the hip-hop market, and its most popular pioneer, T-Pain. The days of pitch-correction seemed pretty much over, only used faintly by other Southern rappers like Travis Porter and Roscoe Dash. Future quietly emerged on the scene with the heavily Auto-Tuned, breakout YC hit "Racks" -- you almost can’t recognize Future’s voice on it -- and from there it was off to the races. "Tony Montana" won over the streets, and the contribution from Drake from his debut only added to his visibility. It would set the stage for the release of his 2012 debut, the space-y Pluto.

While he was accepted by critics and ATL’s most interesting, rising talent, looking back, the clunky album fortunately didn’t do any damage to Future’s career. There are a few bright spots where creativity shines through but it’s quickly smothered by the attempt at crossover magic. The natural trap anthem "Magic," which scored Future his first lead hit on the Hot 100 charts, is as creative as hooks come -- but comes after the questionable “Astronaut Chick." The trifecta of "Same Damn Time," "Long Live The Pimp," and “Homicide” pushes the offense a bit more, but then comes "Turn On The Lights" and "You Deserve It" to remind folks of his burgeoning star power.

Pluto’s biggest problems come from the overall sequencing and blatant attempts at crossover success, which eventually would come to fruition through the platinum single "Turn On The Lights." The problem was repaired on the jam-packed re-release Pluto 3D, which featured new takes on old songs and additional records to fill out the original’s weird tracklisting. Future’s debut wasn’t a home run, but fans knew there was something worth investing in.

5. What A Time To Be Alive (with Drake)

Peak Position: No. 1

Singles: “Jumpman”

Hard to say if a rite of passage in every hip-hop great’s career is to drop a collaborative LP with another major talent, but if so, count this as another one checked off Future’s list. What A Time To Be Alive felt more like an event than an actual album with music on it. The grand title. The Apple Music exclusive red carpet. The fact that it was created in simply six days. That all added to the spontaneous narrative of the project. But when it comes to the music, the chemistry doesn’t translate as well long-term as it did on their single “Where Ya At?”.

Future’s presence is heavy throughout this entire project, with Metro Boomin and Southside providing the production as opposed to Drake’s go-to army of hitmakers. The result is a handful of bangers. The urgent back and forth records like "Digital Dash," "I’m The Plug" and "Jumpman" work best for the pair, but there are also moments where Future’s presence overpowers the tracks. Even Drake’s stripper tunes (like "Diamonds Dancing") are reformed in the likeness of Future’s syrupy, hazy image.

What A Time is better than people give it credit for, but it doesn’t feel canon in either of the rappers’ discography like the other major hip-hop collaboration before it. With that said, the release was a moment -- a flex -- as the intersection of two of hip-hop’s top stars in the midst of their rising trajectory. But it also proved that both men provide their best joint efforts in shorter form.

4. Future

Peak Position: No. 1

Singles: “Draco”

It had been an usually quiet 12 months for hip-hop's favorite codeine-sipping superstar. Following the release of EVOL, Future's insane output finally slowed down. His contribution to “X" brought 21 Savage from the trap house to the radio, and his power hook on DJ Khaled’s “I Got The Keys” was invigorated by the stealthy flow of JAY Z. It was a stark contrast from the prior three years of FutureMania running wild in hip-hop.

Then without the standard album fluff and fanfare, Future was announced -- and without fail, interest in the trap star hit a new peak. The first of back-to-back releases, Future felt like a return to basics of sorts -- but now with a whole new perspective. Imagine the Future of the Streetz Calling or Dirty Sprite mixtapes, now with hit-making sensibilities and a bolder unapologetic charisma.

The beefy seventeen-song tracklist however proves to be a gift and a curse. With plenty of ammunition in the tank, he’s able to fire off instant bangers like “Rent Money," "Mask Off," "Outta Time" and "Poppin Tags." He even finds room to be contemplative on the final tandem of tracks "When I Was Broke" and "Feds Did a Sweep." However, throughout the journey, you’re beat down with similar production styles, repetitive concepts, and a few stray unnecessary skits. He’s flipped, chopped, and expanded on his flow, but that isn’t enough to keep the fire hot for 17 straight records.

3. Honest

Peak Position: No. 2

Singles: “Karate Chop”, “Honest”, “I Won” (feat. Kanye West), “Move That Dope” (feat. Pharrell, Pusha T and Casino)

When you look at Honest's album credits, the usual suspects are there. Mike Will Made-It’s genius gave Future his first top 10 hit with "Love Me," while Metro Boomin, in the process of evolving into a dominant force in hip-hop, gives a knock to the piano-driven title track. Sonny Digital, TM88, Southside, and even Organized Noize from his Dungeon Family past are all there. But upon its 2014 release, critics referred to it as a flop. 

Honest is an ambitious album, and at times, maybe too ambitious. While Future's appeal has always been his gritty melodies, his sophomore album is glossed up by top dollar and inorganic features (Wiz Khalifa, Kanye West, Andre 3000). But Future keeps his core fans happy with bangers like “Covered n Money," "Special" and “Karate Chop” -- which see him brazen, introspective, and narcotic-driven, respectively.  

For every one of those tracks, though, we see him testing out forced collaborations like the Kanye West-featured “I Won” or the head-scratching ode to his Dungeon Family days on “Benz Friends” with Andre 3000. Not to mention the distant memory "Real & True," featuring Miley Cyrus, which luckily evaporated before it made the album’s tracklist. Nonetheless, Future’s growth from Pluto is noticeable on Honest, from the expansive production to Auto-Tune control and songwriting.

2. HNDRXX

Peak Position: No. 1

Singles: “Selfish” (feat. Rihanna)

You’ve got to be incredibly bold to release two albums in back-to-back weeks, but the risk was validated. For the last couple of years, Future has been on and off in promising a project filled with melodic numbers. Despite the trap king’s bulletproof persona, as exuded on the thrilling DS2 and its tough-talking follow-up Future, there’s always been a hint of his sensitive side lurking. Beneath the lavish tales of "rich sex" and his bold proclamations like "I don’t care if they’re real sisters" has been a vulnerable artist, and HNDRXX unleashed it to the world. Less about ego, and a little bit more humility -- well almost. “My Collection” still reminisces about his string of Hollywood flings, allegedly including Larsa Pippen (wife of Scottie Pippen) and his ex Ciara, which makes the music that more authentic.

But he slowly spirals into lamenting about his lifestyle on “Damage” and “Use Me," drugs on “Hallucinating” and fast women, leading to the uncharacteristic album closer “Sorry." The young, fast, reckless lifestyle slows down for provocative thought, and as a result Future becomes one of the finest works of his career. The speaker-crackling beats from Metro Boomin, Southside, and 808 Mafia are replaced by the well-woven melodies of Detail (who has worked with Lil Wayne, Beyonce, Wiz Khalifa) and the refreshing soundscapes of Dre Moon (“Incredible”), Major Seven (“Fresh Air”), and High Klassified (“My Collection”).

HNDRXX falls short only in not presenting the full scope of Future. Despite it being a fresh take on the lean-powered bravado with his melodies and songwriting pushed to the forefront, it’s not quite his most definitive work to date.

1. DS2

Peak Position: No. 1

Singles: “Commas”, “Where Ya At” (feat. Drake), “Stick Talk”

“Tried to make me a pop star and they made a monster,” seems like the most telling of lyrics from Future’s magnum opus Dirty Sprite 2. Through the course of his mixtape marathon of Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights, Future shifted his own musical narrative from trap hustler to lamenting, and at times remorseless anti-hero. DS2 is the result of this ruthless transformation. The emotional trap ballads of “Turn On The Lights” and “I Won” are non-existent, making way for gritty, brazen lyrics of “Thought It Was A Drought” (“I’d chose the dirty over you, I ain’t scared to lose you”) and the savagery of “Groupies”.

Instead of tapping hip-hop’s biggest producers, he employed a team that works -- longtime collaborators Metro Boomin, Southside and Zaytoven -- to weave together a backdrop to his promethazine and codeine-soaked tapestry of emotional numbness. It feels like Future at his true core, dialed up to 10.

But beyond the music itself, the gradual build to DS2 added to the merit of its legacy. Hip-hop listeners became skeptics after the slight commercial and critical setback Honest, but the six-month stretch of the aforementioned quality projects re-positioned Future as a force in the genre. Rivaling the mixtape build to classic efforts like 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ or Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, listeners invested in Future and it paid off big time.

Dealing with a cavalcade of issues, from his break-up with Ciara to the under-performance of Honest, DS2 is a reinvention of sound and a reassertion of Future's dominant position in hip-hop. A collection of bangers with no fluff in between, DS2 may not just rank as the best album in the rapper's catalog -- but eventually a classic in the modern hip-hop zeitgeist.

THE BILLBOARD BIZ
SUBSCRIBER EXPERIENCE

The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.


To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.