Stereo Embers’ TRACK OF THE DAY: Future’s “Mask Off”

Written by:

Back in February, Atlanta’s Future Hendrix made a record breaking power play by releasing two chart-topping records in as many weeks. As soon as both albums hit, I’d begun tapping out what became a gargantuan review of both records on my iPhone, trying to capture the highlights and lowlights of Fewtch’s market flooding move. But since iPhones are made with all the durability of tissue paper and I’m not exactly diligent about backing my phone up, that article was never to be.

Now, however, I have the perfect excuse to write more about Future’s recent output with his newly released video and even newer remix for the anthemic “Mask Off.”

First, a bit about the video, which is the latest in a now lengthy line of stunning rap visuals. Hip-hop is in the midst of its second golden age, and directors have been putting together videos worthy of the fantastic music that serves as their starting point — check the videos for Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.,” Danny Brown’s “Ain’t It Funny,” Young Thug’s “Wyclef Jean,” and ScHoolboy Q’s excellent video series supporting his recent Blank Face LP for proof. Directed by Colin Tilley (responsible for Kendrick’s staggering “Alright” video), “Mask Off” takes more than a few cues from films like The Purge and the eye-popping post-apocalyptic masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road. Dark, neon-lit city streets turn into an anarchic warzone that Future navigates in a Bentley Continental with supermodel Amber Rose at his side. Fewtch is, of course, completely unphased by all the destruction and bloodshed around him.

 

Most videos with this basic concept would probably try to position the artist as someone who can calm people down and bring peace through the power of their music. But, you, I, and Future all know that he doesn’t give a fuck about anything. As such, there’s no real arc to the video — there’s just a bunch of crazy, cool-looking shit happening that Future simply kicks back and observes, blunt in hand.

It’s a fitting summation of the bleak, hopeless attitude that’s become Fewtch’s calling card. A lot of people write the Dungeon Family sort-of-rapper/sort-of-singer off as a completely vapid trap rapper. And it’s certainly true that he’s got quite a bit of filler material, but the tracks that do hit the mark — tracks like “Mask Off” — do their part in building on his fully-formed and achingly destitute worldview. I mean hell, the centerpiece of Future’s hook — “Mask on / Fuck it, mask off” — communicates more in six words than a lot of artists do across entire songs.

Quoth French Montana on the classic “Work” remix, “When they mask up, [they’re] comin’ for your ice / When they bare faced, [they’re] coming for your life.” With that in mind, Future is saying that he’s planning to go out and rob some people and either doesn’t care if they recognize him or doesn’t mind killing them in the process.

It’s a shockingly brutal image, but one that Future’s conveyed before. Whether confessing that money and his drug addictions are inextricable on the monstrous “Codeine Crazy,” letting slip his inner demons on “Live from the Gutter” (“I see girls everywhere / I see scales everywhere / I see hell everywhere”), to literally proclaiming his view of the world to be pitch dark on “Sorry” (“If I open up my eyes, it turns black for real”), Future’s shown time and again that he lets his negative view of the world consume him. And I could care less if any of that is fabricated or exaggerated — it’s powerful stuff nonetheless.

So what makes “Mask Off” a smash hit when similarly grim Future tracks haven’t been nearly as successful?

The flute.

ATL production phenom Metro Boomin forms what’d otherwise be an extremely simple beat around an utterly intoxicating flute sample lifted from “Prison Song” off the soundtrack to 1976’s Selma musical. I’ll leave to someone else the job of pondering the implications of sampling a heartfelt tribute to one of the most important people in American history to drive a track tailor made for people to get high as shit to while listening to another guy who’s high as shit rap about molly, percocet, and robbing people. All I can say is that this one dextrous flute loop sends the song skyrocketing towards the upper echelons of trap bliss.

Even Kendrick Lamar has gotten in on the hype, contributing a massive, post-DAMN. victory lap of a verse to the song’s remix. His bars make for an energetic counterpoint to Future’s depressed lethargy. As ever, K.Dot nimbly weaves together images that run a huge emotional gamut; we get socially astute brags (“How y’all let a conscious n**** go commercial while still making conscious albums? / How y’all let the braids on TV? / How y’all let the hood at the table?), more Butterfly-esque ruminations on shared musical legacy (“She said she broke down when Prince died / Bitch, my hair down — Prince lives through me”), and more of the urgent warnings to better yourself before it’s too late that defined DAMN. (“Get your ass up and be inspired / You know how many bodies in the street? / Take the mask off so you can see”).

 

There’s already been plenty of debate as to whether Kendrick’s verse adds to or diminishes the song’s hypnotic power. I’d say it does neither.

Much like Kung Fu Kenny’s collaboration with Jay Z on the remix to his own “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” back in 2013, the “Mask Off” remix isn’t about surpassing or adding more meaning to the original. It’s instead simply about bringing two iconic artists together to do what they each do best, cohesion be damned. Future and Kendrick (and Metro Boomin, too, for that matter) have each added to their resumes in huge ways this year, and for them to celebrate their accomplishments by putting out more good (if not as impactful) music is just fine by me.