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Future: The Rapper

Dungeon Family descendant bridges the streets with trap pop



When the video for Future's mixtape hit "Magic," featuring T.I., was filmed last month at Magic City, the stage was set for the money shot to take place on the rooftop of the venerable strip club. The faux Atlanta skyline atop Magic City seemed like the perfect backdrop for a rapper who a) refers to himself as the Astronaut Kid and, b) has titled his forthcoming major label debut Pluto. But after nearly 12 hours of shooting the video, under the direction of Atlanta videographer Decatur Dan, Future slowly scaled the ladder only to discover he didn't like the view from up top.

"I was like, 'Damn,'" he says, recounting the night two weeks later. "Maybe if we would've done the rooftop scene as the first scene when I walked into the video shoot that morning I would've been good. But after I'd been inhaling so many blunts and drinking and consuming these different drugs, you get on top, man, you're dizzy."

Yet his ascension seems undeniable. If things go according to plan, being "on top" is a vantage point Future will get plenty used to in 2012. As a cousin of Organized Noize/Dungeon Family co-founder Rico Wade, and a new signee to Epic Records — the label now headed by L.A. Reid, godfather of Atlanta's urban music industry, responsible for launching the careers of TLC, Usher, and Dungeon Family acts OutKast, Goodie Mob, and so on — Future's future seems predestined.

With the start of each decade, a sea change takes place within Atlanta's pop-rap spectrum, as the city's throne holders cede their reign over to a hungrier, dirtier, seemingly spacier generation. Just as the red-clay sound of the late '90s gave way to crunk, snap 'n' trap in the 2000s, the Dungeon Family begat Future — a sizzurp-sippin' reformed street merchant with a sing-songy, Brillo pad rasp, who found his saving grace by crafting catchy, melodic hooks about all things trap-star astronomical.

Last year he owned the streets with his throaty Auto-Tune-tweaked delivery and a ubiquitous mixtape presence that produced the annoyingly repetitive but equally addictive hits "Racks" (thousand-dollar stacks on stacks on stacks) and "Tony Montana." An ode to hip-hop's favorite fictional Cuban refugee-turned-coke-kingpin, the latter song became so big that Toronto-based superstar/emoticon rapper Drake found it necessary to jump on the remix for some much-needed street cred. No expense was spared on the video, shot City of God-style in the barrios of the Dominican Republic — a respectable stand-in for Cuba.

No doubt, Future's mixtape discography (1000, Kno Mercy, True Story, Streetz Calling) is an acquired taste. One that goes best with his penchant for promethazine-laced drank, or Dirty Sprite, as he named another of his 2011 mixtapes. Sipping, however, is not a prerequisite for his boundless creativity; in fact, Future prefers to hit the studio in the a.m., when his "creative thoughts are flowing," he says. "That's the time when your brain's fresh — when you first wake up — and it's hard to get drugs early in the morning 'cause the drug dealers still be sleep."

Before getting his own weight up in the streets of East Atlanta's Kirkwood, he was a battle rapper of sorts, known as Meathead of Da Connect, a group of second-generation Dungeon Family artists whose album was released to little fanfare in 2003. Afterward, he wound up becoming a protégée of Wade's, assisting with in-house production projects, such as Ludacris' "Blueberry Yum Yum" (Red Light District), for which he earned a songwriting credit in 2004. Despite his time spent in the trenches, earning the treasured DUNGEON FAMILY tats that line both of his forearms, Future is no less a direct descendant of the streets.

"[OutKast] came from high school and met Rico, and they were just strictly music. I came from the struggle. I came from the streets and doing something different, so I got a whole different following that supports me at the end of the day," he says, differentiating his appeal from Dungeon Family's unique legacy. "We cross over, but it's like I come from two different worlds and I bridge them together, and that's what makes me."

Now he wants to bring the musicality he learned from his tutelage under Wade to the other side of the game. "I plan on taking the streets to more melodic places," he says. In his January Fader magazine cover story, he credited his 2011 breakout mixtape success with Wade's advice that he dumb his music down if he ever wanted to be heard. Now that he has his fans where he wants them, the plan is to raise the level of street consciousness starting with the release of Pluto. "You can expect a lot of substance, a lot of messages between the lines."

Epic foresees big things, too — namely numbers. After inciting a mini bidding war, nearly unheard of in the age of free downloads, Future chose to stay close to his hypothetical home by choosing the Reid-helmed label. Epic tentatively plans to release Pluto between late February and early March. Before that, Future intends to stoke the streets with another mixtape, Astronaut Status, on Jan. 11. "I'm gonna explain everything about what I mean when I say 'Astronaut Status' on this mixtape," he says, giving a sneak preview. "It's like everything I do is big. I'm a 'hood dude but I'm over the top. I'm wearing Alexander McQueen scarves, you know what I'm sayin'? That's astronomical."

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