Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was — the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period — with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
Future may have secured a foothold in Atlanta’s storied Dungeon Family in the mid-2000s, and cemented a claim to the title of “innovator” as early as 2011, but it wasn’t until his storied nine-month run between 2014 and 2015 that he truly became a legend.
Between October 2014’s grimy, course-correcting Monster and July 2015’s triumphant DS2, Future put out 50 songs across four projects. His buzz was such at the time that any of them, even those not planned as commercial singles, had the potential to go platinum. “March Madness,” a random loosie that snuck its way onto his great 56 Nights tape, did that, and much more.
“The song wasn’t promoted, nothing at all. They even released it for free,” says its producer, Tarentino. “Then they seen how many spins it was getting, and how much hype it had, and that’s when they said, ‘Yo, we gotta throw this on the mixtape ‘cause people are going crazy over this song.’”
Churning and moody, the midtempo track didn’t scream “hit record” like Future’s previous pop triumphs, such as “Same Damn Time” and “Turn on the Lights.” Its “hook,” if you can even call it that, consists of 16 bars that lack a single refrain. But Future had given his fans instant-gratification bangers before; “March Madness” delivered different thrills: hypnotic cadences, romantic savagery, and unlikely as it was, commentary on recent police shootings.
56 Nights arrived five days after “March Madness,” on March 21, 2015. Its immediate predecessor, Beast Mode, only featured one producer (Zaytoven), and that was the original plan for 56 Nights, with Southside at the helm. “I think [getting ‘March Madness’ on there] was a last minute thing, like a, ‘Can we add this song to the tape?’ type situation,” says Tarentino. “Because I think the tape was already complete and it was strictly Southside, except one song that was co-produced by DY.”
Future and his team were reacting to a resounding response that would continue to publically crest over the next few months. “It was one of LeBron’s favorite songs,” remembers Tarentino. “I think he used it as his intro song for when they come out and play, when he was playing for the Cavaliers. Then they started using it for March Madness, like college basketball March Madness. That’s when I knew that it was like, a big, big deal.”
Two months after the release of “March Madness,” DJ Drama had crowned it “Biggest record in da streets,” Chris Brown had tweeted about it, someone had paired it with footage from Interstellar, Future had used its music video as a powerful platform for addressing recent police violence, and the song still wouldn’t be officially released as a single until the last day of August, some five-and-a-half months after it was posted on SoundCloud.
Future’s label, Epic Records, had mismanaged the rollout of his previous album, Honest, selecting three singles before the fourth, “Move That Dope,” finally cracked the Hot 100’s top 50. What we saw happening in real time with “March Madness,” as with Monster cut “F–k Up Some Commas” (which endured a four-month holding pattern before the label released it as a single) before it, was a slow realization of exactly what Future fans wanted, and exactly how many of them were out there. With “Commas” and “Madness,” it was the listeners who were, however briefly in this window of Future’s career, calling the shots.
“I seen [‘March Madness’] go platinum with no promotion,” says Tarentino. “That’s when I was like, man, think about if it had promotion. It probably woulda been Diamond.”