Future keeps his cool while heating up T-Mobile Arena

Updated July 1, 2017 - 5:18 pm

The darting figure up on stage, rhyming about having adult relations with your special ladyfriend (while wearing Gucci flip-flops, no less) had mastered a highly lucrative new occupation: Rapper as repellent.

Future smiled frequently while delivering words as serrated as a steak knife, his voice sonorous, his subject matter, by contrast, as discordant as the sound of a car muffler backfiring.

The song: “Thought It Was a Drought,” a pharmaceutically-enhanced checklist of vices ranging from slinging dope and urinating codeine to recruiting drug mules and practically swan-diving in cash.

Now, Future (born Nayvadius Wilburn) is but one in a long line of hard-nosed rappers who act almost like war correspondents, reporting on all the carnage bloodying the streets they once inhabited. It’s a rugged job and a necessary one: the struggles they chronicle are real and deserve to be documented, as unsettling to outsiders as they may be.

Where Future differs is how ceaselessly derisive his catalog is and how pleasing to the ear he makes all this unpleasantness seem.

That an artist this taunting, dogged and in-your-face can fill a venue as sizable as T-Mobile Arena and have the aisles vibrating with bodies in perpetual motion is no small feat.

In a way, all of this was foreseen.

Future earned his stage name as an aspiring, twenty-something rapper in his native Atlanta, and he’s lived up to the title: His last five records, including a collaboration album with Drake, have all debuted atop the charts. This year alone he delivered a pair of them in consecutive weeks, “Future” and “Hndrxx,” making him the first artist to ever drop back-to-back No. 1 albums.

Future has become a superstar in somewhat novel fashion, musically speaking: His repertoire doesn’t lack dynamics, but at the same time, that’s not what it’s predicated upon either. He tends to favor a sing-songy drone, his heavily Auto-Tuned voice hugging slithering, slow-moving, subwoofer-testing bass lines and skittering beats. It all congeals into a lugubrious, pulse-slowing menace, where Future never attempts to pacify his demons. Instead, his demons pacify him.

This being said, there’s a reason that it’s all so popular: Basically, this is trap music at its most tuneful.

Future can carry a tune, as evidenced on Friday by the finger-snapping R&B of “Incredible” and the full-voiced bluster of “My Savages,” where he doffed his sunglasses to make fleeting eye contact with the audience, which is about as close as he got to establishing a human connection with the crowded house.

That’s not a criticism.

Detachment is inherent in Future’s music for a very specific reason: It’s a survival mechanism in the narratives he spins, the life he leads.

And so much of his songbook leaves you feeling cold, almost by design. Songs flow into one another; the monotony is deliberate, it sustains the hazy, narcotic mood.

On stage, Future does attempt to invigorate things with all the bells and whistles of a lavish arena production: massive plumes of pyro shadowed his movements, clouds of dry ice hovered at his feet as if he was traversing a swamp, a quartet of back-up dancers exchanged moves with him.

Energy was expended, emotion was conserved.

“I gave up on my conscience / Gotta live with it,” Future explained on “I Serve the Base,” the fire occasionally bursting from the back of the stage doing nothing to thaw a cold heart.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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