The Beat ‘n’ Track with Future the Artist
When Future the Artist (né Harold Simmons) gets up on stage, he says he’s the good guy of rap. He doesn’t cuss and he has business savvy that goes far beyond making a Facebook fanpage. These days, he’s wrapping up things at Belmont. With graduation looming in May, Future can say he’s packed in a lot in the time he’s been here. From the release of his 2009 EP Sci Fly, to the six-volume Overnight Mixtape project, to just networking and wrangling the beast that is social media, Future is always thinking about tomorrow.
Why “Future?” Since I’ve had the name, I’ve had several double meanings for it. One, I do feel like my approach to music is a futuristic approach. Not in a cheesy, spaceship-type way, even though I did go that route for a little bit, but more in thinking ahead, always staying ahead of the curve. You have to. Honestly, the name came from a friend when I was younger and we traded names. I don’t remember what it was, but he was Future and he was a producer. This is a long time ago. I was maybe 13. He just kept his original last name, so I kept Future, and ever since then about a million meanings have come to my mind about it.
So, you were delving into music at 13. Tell me about how you got started. My dad plays saxophone and he’s really big into jazz. He got that from his dad. I picked up an instrument maybe when I was 12. I used to play on his sax sometimes, growing up, but I picked up trumpet first and it kind of disappointed him. I eventually picked up saxophone and played that all through high school. Around 8th grade, I would write raps about stuff, listen to the radio, write little verses. I used to do poetry a lot when I was younger, especially about girls. I used to always be the type of kid that couldn’t wait to get married, so I’d write a bunch of love poems. I used to think I was slick. When I was at Hume Fogg my junior year of high school, I was in the jazz band. I met a lot of friends who were interested in music as well and we put together one of those roots-type bands. Biscuits and Gravy, my band now– before that it was a band called Improv, Lyrics and Life. We had a six-person band with a guitar, drums, a horn section and a couple other things. We just made songs, practiced after school. That’s when I realized I really loved it. I’ve always been on stage, so to put those two together – music and being in front of people – I love that.
In 2009 you put out the “Sci Fly” EP. Since then, what have you been up to? I’ve been working the industry hustle really, really hard, and it’s beautiful because you can’t really complain about what people tell you and you can’t really complain about where your project gets to. I had such high hopes for the project. I just didn’t understand how it couldn’t get big, per se. I was under that mentality. Like I said, I like to think futuristic with my music and at that time, the hard techno stuff was really coming in hard. So, the music was there. I feel like my image – people always complimented me – that was around the time I cut my hair, so that was definitely a really good look for me, but it was just my industry, my connections. I met a lot of people with [the EP]. Thankfully, I was at a point in time where I had a good enough catalog to really use that and just meet people. I’ve been just traveling, working with people, even locally here, even some people on campus. The most I work with is this guy Robb Lazenby – Sir Lazenby. We’ve just been getting connections because networking is really the most important thing. While I’ve been doing that, I’ve been laying off shows. … I’ve been hitting the studio, working with better producers, working in better studios, working with better equipment and just getting my sound better. I really need to get my music in the right people’s hands before I put it out again. I have a lot of really good songs now. My music is to the point where it’s exactly where I want it to be, and with me finishing my schooling here – the classes, what they’ve been teaching about your target audience – I’ve been working on all that right now from a business standpoint. It’s about going viral, getting the audience before I put out stuff that I want everyone to hear. I’ve been politicking, meeting people, and waiting until I know enough of the right people to put it out the right way. You do that when you brainstorm. You make your own team. It’s not necessarily that I’m waiting on people to do stuff for me, [but] there’s one person that does this best, one person that does that best, so just really get my team together.
How do you go about writing? I constantly jot down notes for songs, whether it’s just lines or chorus ideas. Either way, it’s not cohesive. Really, I can’t sit down and focus and write on something until I have the instrumental for it. It’s hard for me to write something a cappella. I know some people do that, think of a whole song and write it out – all the lyrics – then put it to a song. I’ve never done that, I don’t think. It’s funny because people think it’s easier to do that with rap. I just can’t do it because I depend so much on the bounce and the feel of the beat. It affects how I write. A lot of times, I’ll just wait until I get the track and it takes me … maybe a week, average, maybe a month … maybe about three months to finish a whole song. I’m always writing a bunch of stuff, so even if I sit on something for a month or two, by the time I come back to it I’m ready to write it all out.
You were talking about approaching things from the business side and you’re into viral marketing and what not. Was that something you learned or had an instinct for?
With our generation, we learn stuff on our own. There’s so many trends that come about. When I first came to college, it was all MySpace. My cousin told me, “Once you get to college, you’ve got to make a Facebook,” but Facebook wasn’t as important musically, and now it’s just important period. Artists need it. Business people need it. You need it for networking. People use it to look up high school friends. Everybody’s using it, everybody’s on it and everything really shifted from MySpace. I think Twitter is the most interesting because it exposes people for their popularity because you see how many followers they have and it’s just out there. It’s not like you add someone on Facebook and both of you get a friend. They separate between the people following you and the people who you follow back. It’s another thing that’s crucial. People look at that and they do take it seriously.
Outside of rap and hip-hop, who do you listen to? The Bird and the Bee. I love the Bird and the Bee [A Los Angeles-based duo comprised of Inara George and Greg Kurstin]. I like their production; I like her vocals. It’s really intricate. For a while I was trying to listen to anything different that I could. Different in my view – I’m sure people could talk to me about artists I haven’t heard of for days, but to me, Bird and the Bee was really like, “Wow.” They infused a lot of hip-hop, too. Some of his stuff, some of the beats have a lot of hip hop influence on them. Not hard-hitting bass, but definitely some of the rhythms. R&B classic stuff like Stevie Wonder. As far as writing, that’s always homework, always good study material because their writing is just so beautiful and it’s so easy to get confused with writing with hip-hop because verses are so much more wordy than a singing verse, so people just throw in words. Even with cuss words – that’s one of the reasons I don’t cuss. It’s not just because I don’t want to promote that, but also because I think it’s better for artists to use more words than having to resort to a curse word a lot. I think being a good writer, you have to listen to other stuff, even outside of the genre you listen to. People that listen to you aren’t just going to listen to the genre you listen to.
What was the last album you bought that you really loved? Kanye West, “My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy.” I am a Kanye fan until I die. He is my favorite artist.
What do you like about the album? Kanye does what the heck he wants. He continues to broaden what you think an artist, let alone a hip-hop artist, could be. He continues to broaden it. It started out with him doing regular hip-hop samples, and now full orchestration with Elton John on background vocals. It’s crazy. It’s definitely a different mindset of thinking about music and specifically for hip-hop. Sometimes people in hip-hop are so narrow-minded and it’s really crippling because you listen to hip-hop, hip-hop is your favorite thing, hip-hop’s on the radio, and if you just fill yourself with that, it doesn’t really nurture the art.
You’re graduating in May. What’s next? It’s releasing a single. I’m really trying to pimp the heck out of singles. I have a lot of good songs that I think target a mainstream audience from 12-30. That’s my target audience. Stuff is original, but yet it does have the sound of today. I’m going for everything – radio, movies, publishing. I have options. If I needed to, I could be a writer, but what I really want is the whole artist thing, so now it’s just getting my music in the right people’s hands.