Q&A: Future on Solo Tours, Rap Radio, and the Power of a First Take

Future's uniquely modern take on hip hop is finally giving the artist the spotlight he earned years ago.

Atlanta’s Future is midway through a 45-city tour, which lands in Dallas at South Side Music Hall on Thursday night.

That it’s the first headlining jaunt of his career is a bit surprising—2012’s Pluto was a singles machine. Rap radio scraped all it could from it. Drake lent a nasally verse to “Tony Montana”; Kelly Rowland made “Neva End” into a duet; T.I. returned to form on “Magic”; and the success of “Turn on the Lights” proved that sensitivity could sell.

Yet, for whatever reason, he hasn’t gotten his own spotlight. He snagged third billing on a tour with Drake and Miguel last year, playing to stadiums moments after the doors opened. Before that, a dual-headlining tour with Pusha T got nixed. Maybe that’s why he’s gone his own way, making the music he wants to make without consideration of the radio or the label or anyone but himself and his fans. This is why even casual listeners should make an effort to be in the Cedars Thursday evening.

He’s now touring in support of Honest, this year’s odd, hook-laden barrage of screams and moans and croaks and barks. He took time to chat with me last month before the tour started, touching on his recording process, his peers, his career, and, yes, whether fiancé Ciara will be bringing their two-month-old newborn along on tour.

 This is the first national headlining tour of your career. How is this different than going on the arena-sized tour with Drake and Miguel last year?

The stage is really different. The arenas I be doing are like House of Blues, and we don’t have as many things to set up. Drake had his setup and we had to work around it. I get to set my stage like how I want it. I’m still rehearsing, I’m rehearsing this week with the lights and everything but it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time for me to go on tour.

I’ve wanted to ask you about this quote from The Fader’s cover story about you back in 2011 when you’re recalling something your cousin Rico Wade told you about hooking your audience:

 “Rico was like you need to dumb your sh*t down, or you ain’t never gonna come out,” Future says. “But then when you got ’em, that’s when you come and give ’em substance. Take ’em somewhere when you got ’em. Now they feel like they growing with you, when you already was there, you just dumbed down to they level.”

Is your audience at a level where you can be uninhibited with experimentation in your music or are you still testing those waters?

Right now, I’ve tested the waters and I know what they want. I go above and beyond my expectations, you know what I’m saying? Especially since they always wanna write you off after every hit. I found a way to come back and come back with a different sound and set the trend. Just because I didn’t give them all of me at first, I was testing the waters. Now they expect the unexpected. They know what I’m going to deliver and the quality I’m going to deliver on. I’m always trying to top my last hit and step outside that box and continue to be as versatile as possible.

When you’re in the studio, are you thinking about making a hit or is it more of a space of you having fun and seeing what comes out?

I feel like I got back to that space like when I was making Dirty Sprite toward the end of Honest. When I was recording “Move That Dope” I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, I didn’t want to think about, ‘man is this gonna be a hit.’ I didn’t want to beat myself over the head to make a hit. I changed the fans and changed the radio, the way it sounds. You don’t want to do the same thing that’s on the radio. You want to create our own lane. I created my own lane. People expect great music from me and they gravitate toward my music. I set the trend from how it’s supposed to go.

I’ve read interviews where you say you often use the first take of whatever you record. What’s the advantage of that?

It was because of that raw feeling. You want to get that raw feeling. I talked to a fan of mine, and he said that’s what they love about me, that it sounds so raw.

When my voice cracks, when it sounds like it’s about to give out, that’s what they like about me. I feel like you can’t get that back. I can’t do that again. My voice isn’t gonna crack the same way. I’m not going to be running out of breath like that last take; it’s all about keeping the music raw and giving all of me. So I don’t give a chance to re-record it, I just gave it to you raw the way it came out of me.

You became popular when rap radio largely sounded pristine and polished. Was it surprising that your fans were so receptive of the opposite sound?

When it started working that way, I thought man if my sh*t is working, why try to fix it? But it wasn’t surprising. It was like, people like this and I’m gonna keep doing it this way.

Is there something in a beat or a production you look for that lends itself better to that style?

When I’m recording, I feel like I just pick a beat and gravitate to it. Personally, it has to connect to me, it has to give me something to talk about, I don’t want to feel like I have to record on the track. When I record on the beat it’s because it stands out, it connects to me in some type of way. I don’t have to, like, force anything to go over the beat. It just comes out of me and just flows.

It’s natural.

Right, right.

There’s a whole group of strange artists who have arisen that have been influenced by your style, folks like Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan. They’re taking cues from you and doing different things with it, like Quan’s throaty croaks or Thug letting the beat ride for half a minute on “4 Eva Bloody” similarly to the way you did on “Paradise.” Do you feel you changed the way people listen to rap?

Of course, I add melody to rap. And like, they embrace me. Dudes like Young Thug embrace me, he always shows me a lot of love. And I love working with Young Thug, but it’s not only him, it’s so many artists. But, man, it’s like, it don’t make me feel any kind of way, they’re not telling me that I was influencing they style, I just pretty much understand (that I am). But at the end of the day I just make great music. I feel like I’m always stepping outside the box to rap in another lane. And I make it OK to be the person that you wanna be.

You’re bringing Rico Love and QUE on tour. How’d that lineup come about?

Rico had pretty much happened, I wanted to go on tour with some guys that wanted to be on tour with me. We’re gonna be able to get along and work with each other and have fun on this tour so it doesn’t seem so hard. We’re going to be around each other two months straight, you have to be around people you’re going to be having fun with kicking it every day.

What about Ciara and the baby, will they be coming along?

Yeah of course, she got to.

I assume they’ll be on a different tour bus.

Yeah, I got a separate tour bus.

Was Honest just Future Hendrix renamed or is that a different album that’s still going to come out?

It’s going to come out at a later time.

How’s it sound?

It’s gonna have a lot of guitar in it, let’s just say that.