By teaming up with one of Atlanta hip-hop's biggest cult heroes and trimming all the fat, Future has not only put out his definitive album, but perhaps one of 2015's as well.
Despite the overwhelming perception that the internet has allowed artists to flash and burn at record speeds, most of its greatest stars have followed an all too familiar trajectory. Gucci Mane, Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, Drake et al toiled for years as scene favorites before stumbling onto a truly cohesive project worthy of their immense hype. The average wait time appears to be about three years, and depending on the math Beast Mode arrives directly in that creative maelstrom. Because of that, I'm not necessarily surprised it's easily Future's best release - full of melody, eager to present an idea and do what can be done with it in three minutes or less before getting on to then ext one - but it's definitely pleasant to finally have a Future release that isn't overstuffed with attempts to satisfy various "markets" within the pop rap scene.
Granted, Future's music has never fallen specifically into "pop". But the crooning nature of "No Basic", a track full of moderate gun threats, misogyny and car porn is certainly a far cry from, say, T.I.'s "Rubberband Man". Beast Mode thrives by constantly dancing on the line between what today's gangster rap entails and what today's pop music thrives on. Much of the credit is due to asking Zaytoven to score the whole tape, as it likely finally casts the producer in his most satisfying light. Gucci Mane acolytes (such as myself) have long attested that Zaytoven was the best weapon in his deep arsenal of producers, but as the years have worn on and mixtape audio quality has grown alongside Gucci's stable it's been a harder and harder case to make. The allure there was Gucci's deeply nihilistic comedy clashing heavily with Zaytoven's 808-laden, piano-strewn Sunday-cum-Monday corner store beauty.
By combining with Future, it's a much easier sound to describe, and honestly a much easier sound to digest. Rather than engage in active competition, Future and Zaytoven's is a sound that from its opening moments feels in complete harmony. "Lay Up" is ostensibly a song about sleeping with easy women, but between Future's groaning autotune and Zaytoven's plaintive piano lines the song is able to deftly swerve the listener from braggadocio to melancholy and back again, often within seconds. So to does standout "Just Like Bruddas", a song full of sorrow and regret backed by an incredibly ragtime-like beat from Zaytoven that just happens to feel like trap music because the bass is so mean. But truthfully the song has more in common with something from Bessie Smith than, I don't know, Shawty Lo.
Not only does the tape constantly satisfy, at nine tracks and less than a half hour it does what nearly every truly fantastic hip-hop album does: it makes its motives known and gets the hell out. There are skits here but they're barely noticeable within Beast Mode's rapid fire environs, and due to their brief nature each song brings its own blasts of dopamine in the way hand-picked songs from his previous releases have. It's rare for an artist to put out a project that raises the question "is this (Artist X)'s best song to date?" over and over again, but Beast Mode is just that release. Whether it's the jubilant tribute to Juvenile's "Ha", "Ain'tchu" (featuring Juvenile), the dreary egoism of "Where I Came From", pedal-to-the-metal swagger of "Oooooh" or completely Chicago level from Perfect Dark solemnity of "Peacoat" and "Forever Eva", Beast Mode so consistently confounds and engages that if I had drank just a little more alcohol before writing this review, I might have tried to argue its perfection rather than mere excellence.
Beast Mode sets the bar stupendously high for whatever contemporaries intend to follow it in 2015.