THROWBACK TO THE FUTURE - The Debut
The first edition of Steven Strong's new column takes an introspective dive into rapper Future's breakout 2017 trap hit and its influences
As the holiday season reaches its usual chilly climax this week, one thing is for certain: 2020 has been far from “usual”. With the last week of December upon us, however, that also means that 2020 is coming to an end. In a year that flew by as fast as John Wall going coast-to-coast (even in a Rockets uni, dude hasn’t lost a step), yet seemed to drag on as long and confusing and uncomfortable as The Umbrella Academy’s Second Season (seriously, go watch the opening scene of season 1 - there’s definitely a dip), many took the time inside and alone to reflect, introspect and dissect themselves and the world around them. I, for one, am finally and fully admitting my passion for history. As an emotionally-challenged, hyper student throughout school, I always viewed History as my least favorite subject. Washington, Lincoln, Wars, Triumphs are important to understand, no doubt, but - now more than ever - I realize that I love to dive deep in the entire history of the things that I have a genuine passion for, like, say...MUSIC!
Without further ado, I am honored and ecstatic to announce the first ever edition of THROWBACK TO THE FUTURE: a monthly segment where I pull a modern song and dive deep into the samples used, in an effort to not only educate those interested on the facts of some music they enjoy, but also to expose and suggest some forgotten inspirations who deserve a whole new generation of fans. Combining a little bit of my o-spin-ion on things, a little bit of a history lesson and, most importantly, a whole lotta JAMS - I appreciate you starting this journey with me from day 1.
I saw it only fitting to end this year, and begin this column, by diving into Future’s 2017 breakout trap hit “Mask Off” off of his fifth studio album, “Future”. A song that was hard to escape at its peak (and spurred an official remix featuring Kung Fu Kenny and multiple other remixes including the popular Joyner Lucas take) “Mask Off” samples “Prison Song” by Tommy Butler, written for his musical, “Selma”, and sung by Carlton Williams in 1976.
I find this so intriguing for so many reasons, especially to write about at this exact moment in time. In a New World seemingly destined for Masks On - and that seems to only be just beginning on the process toward true respect and racial equality for all - to think that 3 years ago a hip-hop artist named Future released his song titled, “Mask Off”, sampling a song written as a tribute to the late, great Martin Luther King Jr., detailing the constraints and pain of existing in a White America - it’s quite...intriguing. I’m not wearing my tin foil hat and I have no Charlie Day-esque whiteboard on how it’s all a giant cover up by the elite - I just find it almost poetic and interesting to note. I also decided to name this column Throwback to the Future before even considering “Mask Off”. Sometimes, it just all makes sense, doesn’t it? We’ll see.
“Prison Song”, a very soulful, smooth jam, has that Temptations/5th Dimension power to it and very beautifully and steadily builds and builds as the song progresses reaching an ultimate high that you didn’t even realize you had arrived at, but felt deeply involved within each second of along the way. Opening with the iconic flute that’s prominently identifiable in Future’s spin, the choir elevating the song up and up to the clouds feels so comfortingly 70s.
“Mask Off” has been certified seven times platinum by the RIAA and was by far one of the most played songs of 2017. Detailing his personal drug use and lifestyle, Future raps about his current fortune and fame replacing his trapping and struggling ways of the past. The song ended up outperforming the lead single, “Draco”, off of the album which prompted Future to release it as the second single and became his second-highest-charting single to date, reaching number 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100, with “Life is Good” only recently taking the rapper’s top spot earlier this year, peaking at number two.
If you’re drawn to that beautiful flute effortlessly fluttering throughout “Mask Off” (or the choir that allllmost made an appearance in the bridge/outro) like I was - chances are you’d love Carlton Williams’ vocals and the signature 70s love and soul that was entrenched in Tommy Butler’s original creation.
In these final moments of 2020 and with the horizon of a new year just days away, let us recognize our pasts, appreciate our presents and have our hopes fulfilled for a better and brighter tomorrow.
Be sure to tune in next month for Throwback to the Future II - only this time I’ll be coming to you from a
*cue X-Files theme*
As always, Shine bright & stay Strong!