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Purple Haze: Future at SJSU Event Center

In Music
Purple Reign: Future lit up the San Jose State Event Center on Saturday. Photo by Greg Ramar.

Purple Reign: Future lit up the San Jose State Event Center on Saturday. Photo by Greg Ramar.

In the 32nd year of his life, Future stands at the vanguard of hip-hop. After a couple false starts and niche-satisfying mixtapes, the gritty Atlantan just charted three No. 1 albums. They lack front-to-back polish, but in the Internet era, prolificacy, innovation and viral slappers—all strengths of his—count most. The aptly named artist’s sonic experiments epitomize the melty vocals and robo booms nascent in the world’s biggest, broadest genre.

On Saturday, he capped his Purple Reign tour at the sold-out, sweetly hazy SJSU Event Center. The number of people over 35 could be counted on two hands and a foot. With his bleach-tipped dreads pulled back, clad in an all-white ensemble and drenched by overlapping blue and red spotlights, Future initially stood onstage alone–sans band, backing DJ or posing hype men—literally and figuratively peerless.

Backed by rollicking oceans of lean and 15-foot-tall speakers that rumbled like Godzilla’s footsteps, Future whipped the crowd into a unceasing frenzy, kicked off by his “Thought It Was A Drought” bar about sexual infidelity while wearing Gucci flip flops. He received hype assists from DJ Esco, popularizer of the dab—Cam Newton’s end zone celebration of choice, which looks like a person sneezing into their elbow, but is way cooler for whatever reason.

Future sneered and stomped during “Stick Talk.” He tiptoed and strutted like Jagger during “I Serve the Bass.” He swirled through the stuttering drops on “Diamonds Dancing,” then struck Heisman-like poses while victory lapping on his biggest banger “Jumpman.” Finally, his lanky frame pumped triumphantly as purple confetti flipped and flapped from the rafters during his timely single, “March Madness.”

Future’s music washes over you in waves. He benefits immensely from his stellar, quintessentially modern production, provided most notably by Metro Boomin—you know, the guy you better hope trusts you. Their sound smacks of Southern rap, but is injected with the steroidal enhancements of trap EDM and filtered through multi-layered, wobbly psychedelia. The colossal kicks, ratatat smacks and hypnotizing plink-plonks form an angular base that cradles Future’s gooey rap.

A pair of Future fans pass that fire. Photo by Greg Ramar.

A pair of Future fans pass that fire. Photo by Greg Ramar.

Plus, Future helped to transform autotune from a cheap pop trick into an immersive effect that roughens his drawl and wraps it in a chilly melancholy even when he’s at his most braggadocious. The effect blurs his lyrics to near unintelligibility, which isn’t a bad thing.

Like Young Thug and Fetty Wap, Future has chosen melody over complete coherence. He mumbles, swells and scampers through each track—punctuating his stanzas with signature, feral ad-libs that careen in the empty spaces between lines. He works his voice like a jazz soloist does a trumpet. His blurred verses stand alone melodically and unearth sentiments that lie in ineffable realms.

But despite his stylish obscuring, Future’s lasting appeal lies in his lyrics. He paints sneaky depth into his vivid pictures of debaucherous luxury. Throughout his discography, he wrangles with the fleeting pleasures of his (lightly fictionalized) drug usage that brought Xanax, Molly and Percocet into the mainstream rap vocabulary. He’ll detail nights where he’s draped in shiny things and entertaining bi-curious baddies with elaborate sex—then, he slips in a line about the pointlessness of fame’s trappings or the rampant police brutality he and his homies know all too well.

Hip-hop fails if it isn’t personal. And Future ranks among the most singular in the game. The long-anonymous artist flooded the market, yet his at-capacity San Jose stop testifies to a continuing thirst. The sonic explorations at the frontier of his genre earned him his lauded place. But he remains fascinating for his subtle musings on the problems that even an unprecedented level of success can’t fix.

Future at SJSU Event Center.

Future at SJSU Event Center.

For the entire gallery of Future photos, click here.

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