Getty Images / Christopher Polk

Hendrix had his guitar, Miles had his trumpet, Future has his voice. In many ways that’s the key to understanding his genius; namely, his ability to use his voice as an instrument that can unpredictably weave its way through tracks.

Take “King’s Dead,” a song where Future makes Kendrick Lamar seem completely ordinary simply by hitting a high-pitch falsetto and singing the Three 6 Mafia-honoring lyrics: “La-di-da-di-da, slob on me knob.” It doesn’t matter that Future’s verse is lyrically simplistic (or kinda sounds like he just got punched in the unmentionables), what matters is that there isn’t another rapper in the game capable of producing such an unexpected yet playful shift in tone. It isn’t the stories that Future tells, but the complex way in which he tells them — somehow, the ATL rapper allows the beat to guide his voice like the two are spiritually intertwined.

Since entering the game as a junior member of legendary ATL rap collective The Dungeon Family, Future has been tipped for greatness. Grinding on the mixtape scene with early classics such as Dirty Sprite, Black Woodstock, and Astronaut Status, Future graduated to major label status with Pluto back in 2012, and ever since, he has consistently brought us into his hedonistic world of too many drugs and one night stands with exponential allure.

Fortunately, there’s a complexity underpinning this life of excess, with Future’s lyrics making it obvious that even when he’s popping bottles in the strip club, he’s experiencing deep disquiet, basically creating the concept of emo rap — something made abundantly clear by sobering songs such as “Hardly” and “Perkys Calling.” Just like Howlin’ Wolf before him, Future sings the blues – it just so happens that he sings them in an era of trap beats, xannies, and lean. Or, as Pusha-T told Pitchfork: “Future made people understand the mumble and, for that, he will go down in history as a GOAT!”

Future will look to extend his purple reign with the release of seventh studio album THE WZRD, and to celebrate its release we have undertaken the near-impossible task of wading through his back catalog to pick the 25 best Future songs of all time. Every Future mixtape, studio album, and EP is fair game, with only guest verses out of bounds. These 25 songs will, at the very least, show the world why he is such a pioneer.

25. “Scholarships” ft. Drake

“Jumpman” might have made Taylor Swift dance, but it was more a showcase for Drake’s hit-making turn of phrase than Future’s baller melancholy. “Scholarships” is a much truer reflection of Drizzy and Future’s chemistry, providing us with an atmospheric insight into how being at the top of the game can also be a draining experience. When Future croons: “I wake up, and pray every morning/ these demons, they calling my soul/ I’m balling outta control,” you believe every single word.

24. “Can’t Turn Me Down” ft. Gucci Mane

Future sounds like he’s having the time of his life on this track from Free Bricks, an early collaborative mixtape with Gucci Mane. Mike WiLL Made-It’s mischievous keys fit Future’s flow like a glove for an underrated anthem where Future pledges: “I made a promise to myself that I’m gonna die rich!” – can relate.

23. “Thought It Was a Drought”

There’s something extra menacing about this intro to the brilliant DS2, with it perfectly capturing Future’s mythical characteristics via bars such as “I just took a piss and there was codeine coming out” and a bass-heavy Metro Boomin beat. This one, Gucci flip flops and all, feels like Future’s mission statement.

22. “Truth Gonna Hurt You”

If this Pluto melody doesn’t make you want to hold up a lighter and shed a thug tear (or six) then there’s probably something wrong with you. Future admits that he’s struggling with fame, warning those who get too close that he must clean up his act before being capable of an adult relationship. This is brutally honest introspection, one of the first songs that truly immersed us in Future’s imperfect world.

21. “Kno the Meaning”

On “Kno the Meaning,” Future displays a vulnerability (“I ain’t got nobody to smoke or pour with me”) that disrupts hip-hop’s historic toxic masculinity, yet somehow still maintains his trademark arrogance (“The music way ahead of its time and I notice this!” he speculates); this bold juxtaposition is absolutely stunning to sit through.

20. “Red Light”

Some people complain that Future only provides us with a surface level insight into his inner demons, but “Red Light” is proof Future can go way deeper. His croaky voice, which sounds close to breaking down in tears, gives way to lyrics that reveal the emotional baggage of being abandoned by his father as a child. Aside from Tupac, there haven’t been many platinum-selling rappers brave enough to spit lyrics about isolation as honest as: “Money got me hesitant, what I got to live for?/ All this fame getting terrible.” This one is straight from the heart.

19. “Stick Talk”

One of the tracks that Michael Phelps claimed motivated him to win Gold at the Olympics, this banger will make you feel like the Terminator in the gym. Future spits with a conviction that elevates ignorant lyrics (“Imma tell a lie under oath!”) into something strangely inspiring.

18. “Benz Friendz (Whatcutola)” ft. André 3000

The so-called ‘real hip-hop heads’ don’t believe Future belongs on the same track as a lyricist of the caliber of André 3000, but this collaboration proved his knotty, autotune-driven bars were every bit as valid as anything 3 Stacks had to say. The pair go bar-for-bar, with Future proving his worth as he pledges to sell drugs out the window of his Maybach. This Pluto cut was perhaps one of the first indicators that Future could hang with the legends and emerge unscathed.

17. “Dirty Sprite”

If you want to understand what made Future into the artist he is today, then this early heater tells you everything you need to know. “I’m on that Pimp C/ I’m on that DJ Screw/ I’m on that Big Hawk/ I don’t know what to do,” he spits over a piano line that Scott Storch would be jealous of. Future has an effortlessly laid back flow here, and proves he can be just as engaging even without the autotune.

16. “Deeper Than the Ocean”

This is the birth of Future Hendrix – a persona that honored Jimi Hendrix’s rock star penchant for never having a musical comfort zone – as a reflective guitar melody inspires a stirring meditation from Future on fame and the humanity that’s sometimes lost along the way. The epic guitar solo that comes in at 2:50 shows Future’s influences are just as much grounded in classic rock as vintage Southern rap.

15. “Special” ft. Young Scooter

Within the first few seconds of “Special,” Future shouts “Go to work!” as he attempts to wake himself up out of a slumber. Over a deliriously spacey beat, he sounds disappointed in his own limitations, crooning: “You ain’t even trying to be special” before talking himself up to the stars – this is self-motivation music at its very best.

14. “Lay Up”

“Lay Up” works so well because amid the beautiful, grandiose strings, Future repeatedly serenades us with the ethos that drives him forward. “I don’t do shit if it’s regular/ I won’t hit that blunt if it’s regular” is truly advice to live by.

13. “Turn On the Lights”

Written about Future’s idea of his dream girl, this was the one that showed the world Future could be a pop star too, opening the door for house-influenced tracks such as the similarly bouncy “Incredible.” There’s an optimistic romanticism about “Turn On the Lights” that Future perhaps lost later on; it reminds us that Future’s worldview about women hasn’t always been so paranoid and depressingly indulgent.

12. “Fuck Up Some Commas”

Future makes riding this chaotic beat look simple, going in for the kill with cold-blooded focus. An ode to spending truck loads of money and raising the comma count beyond seven figures, the stop and start flow of the third verse shows Future can bend and contort his voice at will to intoxicating effect.

11. “Might As Well”

This track is a telling look into the inner workings of Future’s mind, and also a testament to his glow up (“I was selling crack when Snoop was making juice and gin” he reveals). Touching on his failed marriage with Ciara and subsequent child support obligations, listening to “Might As Well” is like having a late night heart-to-heart with a friend who is desperate to get something off their chest.

10. “Wicked”

This is the bass-heavy banger that will push your sound system to its very limits, with Future comparing money to asparagus in a way that will make you feel dizzy as the beat’s siren-like synths encircle you. As one YouTube commenter more eloquently put it: “Future sounds like a pimped out Ambulance!”

9. “Hallucinating”

Every bit as trippy as its title suggests, “Hallucinating” is an ode to riding a wave after doing one too many hallucinogenics. One of Future’s most layered songs musically, this is further proof of how diverse his ear is, with this track arriving like a thugged-out version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” By the time Future explicitly compares himself to The Beatles, you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement.

8. “Codeine Crazy”

There’s something nostalgic about “Codeine Crazy,” a song that puts you in the mindset of somebody in a lean-induced trance. On first listen, this song perhaps questionably celebrates a lean-heavy lifestyle, but look a little deeper and it’s clear Future is far from comfortable (he soberly concedes “Drownin’ in Actavis/ it’s suicide!”) with his surroundings.

7. “All da Smoke” ft. Young Thug

This collaboration between Future and Thugger has a nutty turn of phrase (case in point: “Blowed your college fund on my bitch!”) that will make you reach for the rewind button. With a beat fuelled by a haunting vocal sample, there’s something chilling about “All da Smoke,” with both rappers at the very top of their craft.

6. “March Madness”

Amid references to hedonistic partying and loose women, Future spits some of his most socially conscious bars on “March Madness.” He reveals dismay at an America that shoots down young black men at a whim as well as the paranoia that means black people can’t even party without holding a gun for protection. This is Future at his very best, an artist who sounds like he’s having a panic attack even while flossing at the club.

5. “I Serve the Base”

A hood anthem that equates bass-heavy beats with slanging drugs, “I Serve the Base” is Future reminding us of his humble beginnings and the fact he rose to the top on his own terms (“They tried to make a pop star and they got a monster!” he barks). This pushes the same buttons as Kanye West’s stirring “Hell of a Life,” with the demented Metro Boomin beat taking Future to unhinged heights.

4. “Hardly”

This is Future using the studio as a confessional booth, absolving himself of his sins while questioning the motives of his inner circle. The chorus is simple, but cuts straight to the core as an emotional Future reminds his enemies that he never forgets. While other rappers equate intoxication to living the good life, Future says he does it purely to suppress his demons, with “Hardly” a song that hints at an addictive personality that’s sometimes shut off from reality.

3. “My Collection”

One of Future’s most bitter, twisted tracks, “My Collection” reveals an artist who is trying to get back at an ex who did him wrong. This song won’t win any awards for uplifting women, but it’s an unflinching insight into the psyche of a shattered ego, a piece of revenge that’s brutally honest. Future’s peers might sugarcoat their emotions for fear of offending, but Eminem used to write relationship songs like this routinely in his Marshall Mathers-era, so why can’t Future? Sometimes relationships can leave us feeling angry and isolated, and these are valid, if flawed, feelings Future dares to explore amid four minutes of lush-sounding, escapist, melodic rap. The NSFW video, meanwhile, is like Jimi Hendrix’s original Electric Ladyland album cover come to life.

2. “Perkys Calling”

Following the drug-induced deaths of Lil Peep and Mac Miller, “Perkys Calling,” the standout track from Future’s excellent 2016 Purple Reign mixtape, has inherited an eerie prescience, with this track going deep into the mind of anyone who has ever struggled with addiction. Lyrics such as “I am spending this cash like it’s fast food” will be brutally familiar to any addict, while the idea that the “Xannies are calling” out to Future is a concept tinged with sadness. With a whole generation of rappers seemingly unable to shake off dangerous addictions to Xanax and Lean, “Perkys Calling” feels like an era-defining song; a road map to everything that we are and everything that we need to escape from.

1. “Mask Off”

No Future song gets people dancing like “Mask Off,” with its exotic flute sample and stampeding bass bringing out the very best in the artist, who raps with a relaxed cadence and lyrics that are consistently quotable. It would be easy to say Future was carried by the Metro Boomin beat and its heartwarming sample of “Prison Song” by Tommy Butler, but few rappers can melt into a piece of music so effortlessly. Sure, Future doesn’t really say much, but the fact he will have you eating calamari every Wednesday also shows that he doesn’t really need to. It’s hard to imagine an age where “Mask Off” won’t get a crowd of strangers dancing.

Revisit our 2017 cover story with Future from Highsnobiety Magazine here.

For more like this, take a look at our list of the Best Eminem Songs.

Words by Thomas Hobbs
test

Thomas Hobbs is a freelance journalist / Tupac-obsessive based in London. He also writes for the Guardian, Pitchfork, NME, New Statesman, Dazed, Noisey, Time Out, and Crack Magazine.

What To Read Next