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2014 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival - Day 1

When Future dropped his sophomore album, Honest, in April of last year, it marked the end of a period of domination for the Atlanta MC, rather than the takeover he may have expected. The album had some standout tracks—the title track and the Pusha T-assisted "Move That Dope" were both well-received—but he had lost some of that urgency and warbling incoherency that made his work to that point so emotionally complex and compelling. With Rich Homie Quan already poised to take over his mantle as the go-to hook man of choice for auto-tuned, off-kilter rap/singing, Future looked to be on a downward slope.

All that has changed in recent months, particularly since the release of his Monster mixtape just before Halloween last year. That tape, executive produced by Metro Boomin, was the first of three mixtapes that brought Future roaring back into the conversation of the top MCs in the trap music game, with the Zaytoven-helmed Beast Mode in January and March's 56 Nights with DJ Esco and 808 Mafia following up strongly in the past six months. Maybe it was the end of his relationship with Ciara or the realization that his position had diminished slightly in the rap game that brought back the Future of old, but suddenly he was muttering through his double cup, incoherently rumbling back and forth between his riches and his relationship troubles. Once again, Future is at the top of his game.

Next up for the Freebandz leader is a collaborative mixtape with longtime cohort Mike WiLL Made It, titled Ape Shit, set to drop any day now. But before that tape comes through to fuck the rap game up yet again, XXL took a look back at 12 of the best tracks from his recent resurgent mixtape run. Turn up. —Emmanuel C.M., Roger Krastz and Dan Rys

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"56 Nights"

Mixtape: 56 Nights
Producer: Southside
Why It's Dope: The title track of this tape is a reference to DJ Esco's 56 nights in a Dubai prison cell for marijuana possession, and Future uses the situation as the basis for the hook on this song ("I think 56 nights crazy"). In between the addictive hook he mixes a first verse that recounts a trip to the police station and his history in the streets with a second verse dedicated to the trappings and vices of the lifestyle (lean, xans and cash, baby). It's a more melodic Future and it works. —DR

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"Codeine Crazy"

Mixtape: Monster
Producer: TM-88
Why It's Dope: On the standout track "Codeine Crazy" off Monster, a depressed Future gets personal and shows off his lyrical growth over a psychedelic TM-88 instrumental. Future's trippy auto-tune speaks to how his world is feeling while providing the perfect vibe for real astronaut music, with the main protagonist on his way to planet lean with a double cup in hand. The sad feeling instilled in the track makes for one of Future's best songs in his career. —RK

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2013 BET Awards - Arrivals

"Diamonds From Africa"

Mixtape: 56 Nights
Producer: Southside
Why It's Dope: The high-energy, bass-thumping, action-packed "Diamonds From Africa" may be the most underrated song on 56 Nights. It feels like the theme song to Jason Statham's 2006 adrenaline junkie film Crank; it's a two-minute and forty-five second roller coaster. Each verse feels like an automatic rifle going off. But don't think Future isn't spitting; "I’m gone off Ferrari, I’m hugging that carbon, I never say sorry." Multiple fire emojis. —ECM

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2012 BET Awards - Red Carpet

"Fetti"

Mixtape: Monster
Producer: Metro Boomin, TM-88 and Southside
Why It's Dope: Future is at his best lyrically whenever Metro Boomin helms his beats. Without a care about the rich and famous life he lives, Future's varied emotions on the track and the need for drug use gives the Atlanta rapper a boost musically while showcasing his facility with vocal melody and aural expression. —RK

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"Foreva Eva"

Mixtape: Beast Mode
Producer: Zaytoven
Why It's Dope: Just the phrase "Foreva Eva" brings most people back to OutKast and their classic "Ms. Jackson." OutKast this is not, stylistically or lyrically. But Future's appeal is inherently different than the Atlanta OGs; he's about the feel and the mood, and this track pulls listeners in every direction. In between stuntin' on his racks and bragging about his lifestyle, he drops quick bars about hating fame and reppin' what's closest to him ("My heart in the ghetto, it's permanent/I'm stuck in the trenches, it's permanent"). Freebandz! —DR

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"Fuck Up Some Commas"

Mixtape: Monster
Producer: DJ Spinz and Southside
Why It's Dope: Considered the hottest club record at the moment, Future Hendrix's "Fuck Up Some Commas" is a contagious hit that brings the turn up to another level. On the DJ Spinz and Southside-produced track, Future relies heavy on his signature auto-tune sound, while spitting rhymes about spending money with no repercussions and providing a hook that's catchy and highly entertaining. —RK

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"Hardly"

Mixtape: Monster
Producer: Southside
Why It's Dope: Future opens up about the death of OG Double D, a music executive and his mentor. It sounds like the rapper is pouring his soul out on "Hardly," trying his hardest not to break down. He talks about his drug abuse ("Wash the Xanny down with syrup, yeah/Hope it take away all this damn pain") and remembers everything OG taught him ("All of that game you gave me, can't forget it/All that finessin' you gave me, ain't forget it"). The Freebandz dreadman lets listeners into his psyche, showing his vulnerability and his dreams. —ECM

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"March Madness"

Mixtape: 56 Nights
Producer: Tarentino
Why It's Dope: "March Madness" is ridiculously intoxicating and vintage Future. Some lines aren't even understandable ("Drive the foreign like it was a Ch-skrrrrtt") and he begins the song with gibberish that even he can't know the meaning of. But by the second verse there's a high percentage that the listener is already inhaling some type of corner-bought medication and their favorite cocktail. The Tarentino-produced record takes the listener to outer space on an incoherent odyssey that eventually lands you in someone's phone inbox making horrible decisions. Fantastic. —ECM

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2012 BET Awards - 106 & PARK Pre-Show

"Now"

Mixtape: 56 Nights
Producer: Southside
Why It's Dope: Produced by Southside, Future brags about his riches and jewelry while running down goons with his Mac-11 that seems to be his weapon of choice. The intensity from the quirky sound of Future's voice on the track gives listeners the opportunity to hear Future's versatility and wide range of cadences. Future shows his progression on "Now" and why he's climbing right back to the top of the trap game. —RK

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"Oooooh"

Mixtape: Beast Mode
Producer: Zaytoven
Why It's Dope: The opener of his Zaytoven-produced Beast Mode wastes little time transporting the listener straight into Future's own version of the universe. Zay's keys provide the basis for the ATLien's unintelligible warbling before the bass kicks in and pushes Future into a vocal attack that at least slightly resembles words, for the most part. As a grand statement, "Ooooh" doesn't really stack up to much, but if you're looking for grand statements in every single Future song you're barking up the wrong tree. Along with a solid verse from Young Scooter on the remix, this track is a fun, slightly off-kilter and ominous banger that gets the party started regardless. This is the fun Future we missed on Honest. —DR

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"Peacoat"

Mixtape: Beast Mode
Producer: Zaytoven
Why It's Dope: Zaytoven's signature piano jingling sets an uplifting rather than creepy tone this time around and Future picks up the cue. He's switching up his flows every four to eight bars, adding in a different element from the straight-up unintelligible turn up bangers that he's been associated with in his earlier career. He's not always making sense lyrically, nor does he bother himself too much with a rhyme scheme, but the unsteady delivery mixed in with his ramblings about the beginnings of a relationship make this an endearing ode to the uncertainty of how far to go for a woman before just leaving the whole situation behind. —DR

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2013 BET Awards - Backstage Winner's Room

"Purple Coming In"

Mixtape: 56 Nights
Producer: Southside
Why It's Dope: If the world ever needs a national anthem for lean, Future should be the go-to man. There shouldn't be any question over the contents of his favorite drink. "Purple Coming In" is another win for the codeine enthusiast who illustrates how much he's a Promethazine/Codeine snob. Don't anyone dare give him anything Red or Yellow. He even loves lean more than he loves women. Just listening to this song increases the amount of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway. It’s audio dope that gets addictive quick. —ECM

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Stream Future’s 56 Nights Mixtape