JON CARAMANICA 02/01/13 NY Times
Years ago Atlanta took control of hip-hop’s center, both geographically and sonically. But as the hub of the genre, it’s been a steadily moving target, far more volatile than New York or Los Angeles ever were in their heyday. Trap music, snap music, strip club anthems: Atlanta can be almost anything it sets its mind to.
Sometimes the city surprises itself. Certainly that’s been the case with the rise of the rapper-singer Future, who two years ago was making street-oriented strip club anthems and has now become an auteur of digital voice processing, turning his breathy bark into something that melts, spreading out over beats, filling in all the crevices. He’s something beyond mere rapping or even singing — he’s an original. Call it the New Weird Atlanta.
On his new mixtape, “Future Presents F.B.G. the Movie,” Future — along with the members of his FreeBandz crew — put that style on full display. It’s the fullest exposition of his sound, even more so than last year’s excellent but transitional “Pluto.”
Here it’s not what he says, but how. On “Ceelo” his voice is dragged out into taffylike stretches, and on “Karate Chop” he spits in terse phrases, just one or two syllables at a time.
The digital effects are as mesmerizing as ever, making Future sound as if he were in agony and celebrating all at once. “Finessin” is exuberant, and “Chosen One” is melancholy, and the songs sound as if they came from the same miasma. It’s an accomplishment.
His virus is spreading. Future was part of the most emotionally affecting song (“Loveeeeeee Song”) on Rihanna’s most recent album, and he’s a highlight on the new Juelz Santana mixtape. Superficially, his viral spread into the more conventional corners of R&B and hip-hop isn’t dissimilar to the one executed by T-Pain in the 2007-8 era. But T-Pain was more of a literalist, and more directly indebted to the talkbox tradition of the funk innovator Roger Troutman. Future is far stranger, less emotionally reliable and more sonically novel.
He’s also building a team that’s imbibing at least some of his lessons, as seen on “Street Lottery,” the recent mixtape by the FreeBandz member Young Scooter. Topically, Young Scooter is more straightforward than the boss, but their collaborations here, like “Jugg Season” and “Julio,” are strong, and elsewhere, Young Scooter takes Future’s left-field approach and sandpapers off the rough edges, keeping the odd melodies and losing the digital afterburn.
Future’s style is also simpatico with the last couple of mixtapes by Young Thug, which take the same outlier ideas far past musicality into far spookier territory. And certainly others in Atlanta will pick up on Future’s ideas soon.
But there is a different strain of eccentricity threatening to shout that evolution down, as seen in Trinidad James, the city’s fastest-rising star, who may or may not have enough helium to stay afloat beyond his born-of-the-Internet hit “All Gold Everything.” In the video, one of the most striking of last year, Mr. James dresses flamboyantly, in flowy leopard-print shirt and velvet slippers, and marches around with some mean-looking friends.
Mr. James is part of a different new Atlanta, although one that seems weird only from a distance. He performed at S.O.B.’s on Wednesday in the latest in a spate of New York shows that have followed the speedy crossover success of “All Gold Everything,” which has become a hit on radio with uncommon speed, probably thanks to Mr. James’s coining of hip-hop’s late-2012 catchphrase: “Popped a molly, I’m sweatin’/Woooo!” (Molly is a version of Ecstasy known for its purity.)
“All Gold Everything” appeared on Mr. James’s debut mixtape, “Don’t Be S.A.F.E.,” which was released last July. Mr. James has a couple of ideas, but maybe only a couple. As a rapper, he’s serviceable and deliberate, which means he’s tentative. No recent hip-hop hit is as slow as “All Gold Everything,” which, depending on how you look at it, is either a savvy aesthetic choice or the only one he has.
Mr. James leans heavily on his catchphrases, but he’s in on the joke, or at least wants to seem that he is. On Wednesday the rapper Problem released a song called “My Last Molly Song Ever, I Promise,” which featured a verse from Mr. James.
But mostly he’s a walking anime character, an eccentric in presentation far more than in sound. The more telling video than “All Gold Everything” is the one for “Gold on My MacBook,” in which a gentle-looking Mr. James regards himself in the mirror before slowly putting on all the accouterments of his new look — chunky gold rings and bracelets, gold fronts on his teeth, loud red sunglasses — as if he were dressing up as Big Gipp for Halloween.
Which is to say, there is a human being underneath all those fireworks. To his credit, at S.O.B.’s even Mr. James appeared a little fatigued by himself in a slow-motion set that couldn’t possibly match the rapid rise of “All Gold Everything” as a meme.
Now that song’s just a regular rap hit and soon it’ll be a crutch: Mr. James repeatedly returned to the song’s refrain throughout the half-hour set and performed the song in full twice to close the night. But he had more enthusiasm for his not-yet-hits with equally sticky catchphrases: “Females Welcomed” and “One More Molly.”
The next day he was back in Atlanta, filming the video for the “All Gold Everything” remix with a slew of Atlanta all-stars of various generations: T.I., Young Jeezy, 2 Chainz. It was Atlanta as it has been, not as it will be.