The fact is that Hippies and Punks have long been absent from the cultural vanguard. Hippies represented the last hurrah of post-WWII prosperity and social democracy. Their contributions to the avant-garde ended in the early 1970s, even prior to the time that the Punks arrived on the scene. When the Punks showed up in a big way in 1976 it was to herald the arrival of the "No Future" paradigm of neoliberalism.
Punk quickly went Post- and splintered; it happened at a time when Hip Hop first appeared. So Hip Hop can make a claim as well to be present at the creation of our current neoliberal paradigm. As the decades have looped by Hip Hop has only grown in stature and relevance, while Punk and Hippie music are merely marginal curiosities.
Future's third studio album, DS2 (Dirty Sprite 2) debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 charts this summer. If there is a pop cultural avant-garde in the United States now I have absolutely no doubt that its manifesto is Future's DS2.
I have been immersed it all week. All I can say is that it says it all about late-stage neoliberalism: a vacant, joyless celebration of money, drugs, pussy and violence. It's End Times. No doubt about it. Fucking 'em two at a time, dodging bullets, pissing codeine and gobbling Percocet -- "They got blood on their money, and I still count it." Boy, does it sound good. It's Nietzsche after rejecting Schopenhauer's pessimism but somehow fast-forwarded to the doped-up care of his sister Frau Förster.
I was aware of Future at first because living in Seahawks country the news of the off-season was Russell Wilson hooking up with Future's ex-fiance Ciara (and mother of one of his children). There was some social-media kerfuffle when a picture of Seattle's QB pushing Future's son in a perambulator with Ciara at his side went viral. Then I read an excellent piece by Jon Caramanica, "In Atlanta’s Ever-Shifting Hip-Hop Scene, Future and Migos Keep Innovating," and I was intrigued. It seemed to me that what we were dealing with here is a moment when the Owl of Minerva takes flight not at dusk but midday. The Zeitgeist is being revealed in real time. According to Caramanica:
Future is digging into his weird. “DS2” (A1/Freebandz/Epic), his third major-label album, is full of psychedelic angst, girded by Future’s uncanny gift for melody. He’s as singular as ever here, and also more accessible; “DS2” topped the Billboard album chart last week.
Future has already made his concessionary album — “Honest,” released last year, which was widely maligned but wrongly so. Few rappers are as well suited for pop’s melodic tenderness as he is — the album showcased that gift.
That was one version of Future retreating into his feelings. But since then, and especially after his split from the R&B singer Ciara, with whom he has a son, he’s tried another way. Now when he turns inward, his lyrics emerge as a catalog of savage boasts and self-destruction, his sadness made manifest in the severe desiccation in his voice and the digital fog that obscures it. This approach has made for some of the most bracing music of his career, as heard on the three largely outstanding mixtapes he has released in the past nine months: “Monster,” “Beast Mode” and “56 Nights.” (Future has released as many impressive full-length projects as any artist in the 2010s.)
“DS2” isn’t quite as consistent, but it’s exceptional at its peaks. The album’s cold tone is established early, on “Thought It Was a Drought.” “Bitch, I’ma choose the dirty over you/ You know I ain’t scared to lose you,” he raps, later sinking deeper into narcotic haze: “Have these meds on me, I’ma do ’em/ I take these pills and I’m having a thrill.” Much of the album is produced by Metro Boomin, who knows how to make low rumbles feel epic, like on “I Serve the Base,” with its terrifying scrape; the surprisingly warm computer melodies of “Blow a Bag”; the milky “Rotation,” which showcases Future’s phenomenal mumble.
Future’s vocal approach is impressionistic, which means that when it’s ineffective it can feel faint. But it’s also absorptive and affectingly tragic. So much of this album is devoted to drug consumption — “Take me a Xan and I levitate,” “Ain’t no fabrication, I’m on medication/ Cough syrup, I’m infatuated” — that it begins to take on an air of trauma. Even though the album closes with the mayhem-inducing song whose abbreviated title is “Commas,” Future mostly sounds as if he’s gasping for air, and that dangerous place is where his creativity thrives.
My best friend of the last several years has been a young woman, a coworker. She is a black woman, part Latina, part African-American, who has two boys, one in middle school and the other in elementary. She went through a divorce while we worked together. And even though she had a lot of the other women in the office gunning for her because she is attractive and was being rapidly promoted following a change in leadership at the local, she kept it together, showed up to the job everyday and consistently worked hard.
We share a history of being raised in the debris of broken families; that, and we are both fervent Levellers. We did Occupy Seattle stuff together, PAC for our union local, Labor Neighbor, etc. It is rare to meet a person who doesn't harbor tacit attachment to notions of a divine chain of being, who believes that privilege --all types: skin, money, cronyism -- needs to be scrapped. She has the spark.
When I left the local where we worked together to take my present job, she was very generous. As a thank you for her generosity, I bought her a copy of Future's DS2. Before giving it to her yesterday, I had peeled off the cellophane, opened the CD jewel case and loaded it into my iTunes. That's what I have been listening to all week.
When I saw her yesterday, she said that she had been on the road for three-weeks straight and was burnt out; she hadn't seen her sons in almost a month.
My relationship with this young woman -- never sexualized, always supportive and real, never phony -- is one of the only things that I can point to in my recent life and say that it is an unqualified success.
Future's DS2 capture of the Zeitgeist is proof to me that we're coming to an end here.