The advent of high-access internet, the music industry’s increasing insularity, and a perpetually fragmenting culture has veritably killed the age of the musical supergroup. Today’s music culture has instead absorbed the ethos of mass collaboration wholesale, so much so that high-profile collaborations between artists are no longer just standard, but commonly expected: indie acts pen hits for pop giants, superstar rappers call on boundary-pushing producers to fill out their albums, and some musicians trade feature spots more often than they go solo. This is a world where Bon Iver regularly links up with Kanye West, Daft Punk enlisted Panda Bear, Julian Casablancas and Pharrell to give voice to their music, and Flying Lotus gave an album of beats to Kendrick Lamar — all well within the mainstream. We’ve been spoiled with a compulsively collaborative industry.
Future Brown is just one result of this global paradigm shift, where music is no longer confined to being the product of a single mind but instead the realization of an expansive universal consciousness. They’re the quintessential supergroup of the 21st century, made up of star producers of the underground: J-Cush, Fatima Al Qadiri, and the duo Nguzunguzu. Their debut album bounces layers of futuristic trap and grime beats off one another, richly textured and cleanly mixed, often inflected with South American and Caribbean sounds and rhythms for a global, multi-cultural feel. The guest vocalists shift from, among others, American, English and Jamaican accents, while some songs are multi-lingual. Future Brown is the manifestation of our post-modern obsession with a universal social uplink, a record prophetic of a global future where world cultures converge and evolve as one, thereby representing the progressive ideals of contemporary life.
The disparity of influences at play within Future Brown’s music is not distracting or disjointed as one might expect; in fact, it’s the entire point. The combination of auto-tuned R&B, steel drum melodies and slow motion trap on “Big Homie” is as infectious as it is original, and the dark, Latin feel of “Vernáculo” cleanly merges the sonic components of North and South American electronic music. “Asbestos” takes grime rappers and drops them over a dynamic industrial noise beat in one of the more creative stylistic pairings on the album, while “No Apology” imbues that same dour energy with a reggaeton feel. With the experience of the producers at the helm, the mixed genres and musical modes and don’t often clash. Instead, the unique sounds easily coalesce, and the record feels expansive and worldly as a result.
On the other hand, songs like slogging club jam “Killing Time” and the braggadocio-fueled “MVP” are less inventive. While charming in their own right, these songs reveal how thin Future Brown’s methodology actually is when the novel elements don’t come together, resulting in sterile and shallow — albeit well-constructed and cleanly produced — party tracks. Future Brown walk a thin line between progressive and conservative electronic music over the course of their debut, a frankly predictable result of such extreme stylistic disparity. If anything, it’s bound to be one of Warp’s more divisive releases in recent memory; at the very least, it’s not an album for electronic purists.
But futurist music is so rarely appreciated in its time. In a collaborative music culture, Future Brown is a succinct thesis for the advancing changes facing the industry and the art. Unlike most supergroups of years past, Future Brown fulfill all the criteria for success: originality, intellectual and commercial value, and a healthy predilection for the familiar. They’re one of the few electronic artists eyeing the singular global culture of the future, and their quietly evolutionary debut successfully advocates for universal progress without sacrificing mass appeal. Whether that’s a disappointing compromise or an intelligent artistic decision is up for debate, but either way, Future Brown is an encouraging prophecy.