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Future's reign: An MTV news special presentation (2016)

The first time most people heard Future was on "Racks," an out-of-nowhere 2011 hit that saddled him alongside another local newcomer, YC. As catchy as it was unremarkable, the song marked a transitional moment for Atlanta hip-hop, caught between Travis Porter swag-rap sing-alongs and the heavier, Mike Will–driven trap that would soon dominate pop radio.

One month later, Future's first solo single arrived: "Tony Montana," whose hook Future delivered in an endearingly terrible Pacino impression. Meanwhile in Atlanta, a grassroots fanbase had latched onto his mixtapes — Dirty Sprite, rough but with moments of brilliance; and the grimy, triumphant True Story. A deal with Epic followed, resulting in Future's biggest look yet: an official "Tony Montana" remix featuring none other than Drake, fellow explorer of the expanding gray area between rapping and singing.

Despite his growing buzz, no one really expected Future's first album to be what it was — namely, one of the best major-label rap debuts this side of the 2010s. Pluto balanced staccato trap bangers like "Same Damn Time" with syrupy android love songs like "Turn on the Lights."

The singing was better than the rapping and the hooks were better than the verses, but the vast majority of the tracks still hold up. "You Deserve It" is an ecstatic Nard & B and DJ Spinz production on which Future used a congratulatory phone call from his cousin as a benchmark for his success. "My cousin called me from Savannah State on the day I made the song," he tells Meaghan Garvey, instantly inhabiting the memory.

"She was like, ‘Everybody down here talking 'bout you, cuz! You deserve it!' And it just touched me, 'cause she saw all my hard work. She knew how my grandma used to be mad at me for the police showing up at our house. She knew people used to be like, ‘Your cousin's walking dead.' So she was just like, finally — some good talk about you."

During the period that followed — from 2013 to his second album, Honest — Future released a constant stream of singles, collaborative mixtapes, and dozens of features, buried among which are some of the best songs of his career.

His collaborators spanned from chart-toppers (Drake, Miley) to day-ones like Young Scooter and Casino. He experimented wildly with new flows and melodies: pummeling vocal contortions like "Sh!t" one day, poignant ballads like "Honest" the next.

There were new alter egos, creating distinction between his fluctuating moods and approaches: Future Hendrix, the muse-driven rock star; Super Future, the tunnel-visioned hitmaker whose world revolved around the studio; Fire Marshal Future, the unruly party-starter who booked concert venues well over capacity. He was moving in 10 directions at once, and mastering all of them.

In the midst of it all, Future had met Ciara, the Juliet to his Romeo. He moved with her to Los Angeles, replaced his studded leather jackets with designer peacoats, and cowrote 2013's "Body Party," her sexiest single to date.

Soon they were engaged, and Ciara was pregnant with their child, known these days as "baby Future." But three months after baby Future was born in 2014, Future and Ciara had reportedly split.

Future is the international act at the MTV Africa Music Awards on 22 October 2016.

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