Prince’s 1984 release Purple Rain was one of extravagance, emotional authenticity, and ornate sexuality. It redefined the artistic possibilities that came with making pop music, largely aided by it being the soundtrack to Prince’s accompanying film of the same name. “When Doves Cry” would go on to become one of his most adored tracks, and the ceremonial synth beginning of opener “Let’s Go Crazy” remains one of music’s most renowned introductions. The record is a nonstop ricochet of synth-pop and R&B sounds, neatly brought together by a conceptual story of a rock star’s familial tribulations and rise to fame. So why then, over thirty years later, has Future boldly decided to stylize his album title and album art as a reimagining of Prince’s pop masterpiece?
The choice could be written off as a mere play-on-words that twists the sentimentality of Purple Rain into a dramatization of lean’s hold on the Atlanta rapper’s life. But there’s more at play here. Both albums tackle the issues of growing up in a home monopolized by crime. Prince touches on the harrowing difficulties of growing up with an abusive father, while Future speaks of a childhood surrounded by drug dealers and an overwhelmingly easy availability of prescription pills. The albums climax similarly; building tension through snapshots of their respective lifestyle that culminates into the final, titular track. The looming thunderstorm that exposes itself throughout Purple Reign serves to underscore the coming destruction and finality of Future’s dependencies and reign over the genre. He’s keenly aware of the harm he’s doing to himself and the disappointment of his family, but he presses on anyways, blinded by his seemingly unending success.
This forward-thinking mentality is one that Future is not unfamiliar with. He’s long recognized his dependency on drugs, but he continues to surround these moments of vulnerability with tracks that glorify and sensationalize their effects. It’s a conflicting message that no doubt clouds his mind, but it ultimately makes for a trip that’s conceptually unbalanced.
Future is at his best during his moments of sobriety, gazing back on the fuzzy memories left uncertain by an endless drug binge. The penultimate closer “Perkys Calling” is the 2016 answer to DS2’s highlight “The Percocet and Stripper Joint”, which featured Future unapologetically and dejectedly sighing, “I just need a whole lot of drugs in my system”. Now, when trying to stay away from the constant need for another double-stacked Styrofoam cup of dizzying syrup, all he can hear is an array of substances calling his name.
Lyrically, Purple Reign doesn’t offer much that Future hasn’t already shown. Though we’re given a better background as to why he’s become so transfixed on xannies and percs, the lyrical monotony becomes tiresome. And although the instrumentals sometimes become too indistinguishable as well, the production mixed by DJ Esco helps establish this tape as one of Future’s better outputs. Purple Reign ditches the screechy siren-synth that was popularized on “Fuck Up Some Commas” and prominently shrieked throughout DS2. Instead, Future relies on off-kilter, atmospherically booming bass beats with a trap tinge, akin to Young Thug’s Barter 6. The snare hits are as tinny as ever, but the synths are much hazier and murky (though not without their party appeal), as if played through a smoke screen.
The mix of song types, from the airy introspective tunes to the uproariously intransigent addict-anthems, makes for an odd play on the expected collection of banger beats from the fan-adorned trap aficionado. Future is, at times, as incoherent as ever, but makes sure to make his most impactful lines clear. There’s no doubt he “came from the trenches and turned into art” or truly does “dare you [to] try to run up” on him. The first thirty minutes are, for the most part, typical of what the artist has promised to offer with his frequent releases. He promises to give his crew hookups for no charge. He brags of the stacks he has, resorting to stuffing cash under his mattress. And he knows the friends and women he surrounds himself with love him for that, despite his inherent downfalls.
There’s a certain endearing quality that comes with embracing flaws, but when Future considers bettering himself, it shines so brightly it leaves you wondering why the rest of the album didn’t follow suit. It’s no accident that Future’s emotionally wrought finale is the same length as Prince’s “Purple Rain”. The combined final eight minutes of “Perkys Calling” and “Purple Reign” take a beautiful 180 and denounce the album’s moral message and stance on self-destruction. Future admits that the purpose of his life isn’t to get lost in a daze of pill popping and syrup-drinking. Instead, he admits, “I just need my girlfriend” in that all-too-familiar, sighed delivery. He sounds hopeful that his direction in life will be something more lasting, and leaves us more hopeful that his next release will feature more of the poignancy and less of the routine debauchery. Purple Reign may not make the same impact as its pop counterpart of the same name, but it does show Future has a growing yearning for change and a want for his time in the spotlight to not be shrouded by his now tedium trademark trap sound.
– Zach W.