Future doesn’t get caught up in the nuances of his growing fame. Despite a packed promo schedule for his second album, “Honest” (due April 22 on Freebandz/Epic), it’s his future wife, singer Ciara, and their forthcoming collabo — a baby boy — he’s thinking of on a March afternoon, leaning back in a booth at an upscale Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. “I know I haven’t always done things the right way,” says Future, 30. “I’m just trying to reflect on how to make myself better, how to become a better man, a better father, a better person, a better artist. I wanted to touch on subject matter that doesn’t always get touched on.”
He’s discussing next single “I Won,” in which he and Kanye West drop funny but sincere lyrics about their respective fiancees — “trophies,” they call them giddily. Future built his rep on street hits — his first two, “Tony Montana” and “Same Damn Time” became club classics, helping his 2012 debut, “Pluto,” hit No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and sell 368,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And there’s no shortage of that hard-knock sound on “Honest.”
The recently released “Move That Dope,” featuring Pharrell Williams, Pusha T and Casino crushing bars over a screwface beat by Mike Will Made It, is a snarling dealer’s anthem.
But “Honest” is Future’s most diverse work to date, with trunk thumpers bumping up against songs about fulfilling dreams (the jocular “Benz Frenz” with Andre 3000) and, of course, love — open-hearted, crooning romance/sex jams similar to “Turn On the Lights,” which hit No. 2 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 2012. It’s R&B for sensitive thugs, and it’s what allowed Future to move from dope-boy favorite to budding pop star duetting with Rihanna and Miley Cyrus.
Future featured the latter on a spacey rap/pop ballad titled “Real and True,” released late last year, when his plan was to drop the left-field, guitar-centric “Future Hendrix.” But he didn’t feel the time was right — and neither did his fans: Despite a hook from one of the biggest pop stars around (and Brit-soul singer Mr. Hudson), “Real and True” only reached No. 32 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Future went back to the drawing board, recorded harder songs like “Move That Dope,” renamed the album and scrapped “Real and True.”
“I don’t want to lose the connection with fans, and with Future Hendrix, there was going to be a weird disconnect,” he says. “Fans who love me for ‘Same Damn Time’ and records like that, they would have felt disconnected. I’ve got to show my fans why I’m going in this direction — these are people who’ve been following me since my first mixtape. Honest is the missing link: It touches on subjects that are going to help them prepare for Future Hendrix so it doesn’t feel like a curveball.”
Among these new subjects? Fatherhood. (“My baby is going be in the studio every day,” he says.) “Blood, Sweat and Tears” and “Special,” for example, are directed at kids, and setting a good example for them — certainly a far cry from “Move That Dope.” “I want to let little kids know that no matter what situation they come up in, that they’re not exempt from success,” he says. “All I ever wanted was for people to believe in me, and just recognize my potential. I came, I struggled, I made it, I conquered.”
Moments later, a waiter brings the rapper a big bowl of ice cream, and he grins. “Want some?”