I never liked Future when I was using.
I always found his music to be abrasive and strangely unconducive to turning up, considering he didn’t write lyrics about anything except popping pills and fucking strippers. There was always something slightly off about the production on his songs, something about his brittle rasp that didn’t make me feel like I was having fun listening to him. What’s more, his persona wasn’t interesting to me: so he’s kind of depressed but still parties and does a lot of drugs? How is that so much different from Travis Scott or Kanye West or even, like, Raekwon? Wandering around my little suburb with a bottle of Taka in my pocket, drunk as a king at 8 PM and scoping for any bar stool that would have me, I always found quicker satisfaction in Gucci Mane’s brutal, undercooked hedonism, or any of the slick, throbbing house tracks on my non-stop dance playlist.
Ironically, perhaps, I didn’t foster an appreciation for Future’s music until I checked into rehab. We weren’t allowed to bring in iPods or phones while we were in treatment, but due to a strange loophole there was no regulation on what someone could or could not bring in on a mix CD. This meant that jogging up to the facility gym, one would almost always find themselves besieged by libidinous drug raps blasting at full volume before one could even exit the stairwell. Danny Brown, Juicy J, Rick Ross, Gucci Mane and of course, Future were the order of the day for us, the recovering addicts. And far from losing its appeal, in a sober mindset, and toxically bored from rehab’s litany of repetitious psych evaluations and 12-step sermonizing, I was able to find dimensions to this music that I had never thought to seek out before.
Cranked at full volume, watching a friend who was detoxing off of the perpetual 8-ball he had been putting into his body run 5 miles a day to “Fuck Up Some Commas,” Future began to make sense to me. The flouncing synths and dive-bomb bass drops his producers constructed painted a wicked, psychedelic background for his stories to take place upon, and for a time I thought the way his staccato delivery folded seamlessly into the rhythm of the beats gave him the most vital flow in all of hip-hop. I happened to complete treatment right around the time What a Time to Be Alive, his much-anticipated collaborative album with Drake, was released, and from there on my fandom was sealed.
I logged on to Datpiff and went bonkers downloading his mixtapes. There was something to love in nearly all of them, from 56 Nights’ frigid snarl to Beast Mode’s concise, soulful gangsterism, even to Monster’s overlong and scattershot club offensive. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s at the end of that uneven album that “Codeine Crazy,” Future’s best song, resides. I’ve listened to very little that can crawl around my insides like this song does every time.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a concept that it refers to as “the incomprehensible demoralization” brought upon by alcohol. It’s the path to the tipping point, the stage where you stare at your own life in beleaguered disgust and wonder, really seriously consider for maybe the first time, how it is that you could have done this to yourself. From this point your path diverges into either awakening and self-actualization or a long, lonely suicide. “Codeine Crazy” is the incomprehensible demoralization given sonic form. It’s about lean, and it’s also still about fucking strippers, but the desperation, bewilderment and frustration of the addict’s nadir is on unmistakable display in this track.
Within the first 30 seconds, this song heads in a very different direction from the rest of the songs on this release. TM-88’s beat for “Codeine Crazy” is driven by a somber electric piano riff and a high-pitched electronic flourish that oscillates like a slow siren. Future’s flow switches between dejected murmurs, off-key singing and forceful, rapid-fire attacks. The construction of the song is, in a word, confused: paced like a stately dirge, propelled by Future’s manic delivery, the track can be described as intruding on itself, like a drunk at his sister’s funeral.
Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward once described their haunting proto-doom cut “Snowblind,” a song about cocaine dependency, as being written at the time when, in his words, “the drugs stopped being fun.” “Codeine Crazy” is nothing if not a “Snowblind” for the millennial generation. Lots of rap songs mix oddly personal and tender lyricism with blasé hedonism, but not like this. Not this miserable, not this lost. The chorus, “All these motherfucking millions got me codeine crazy,” might be a call to arms to start partying from any other rapper, but in Future’s mouth the words drip out bitter and defeated, like his money and his resources are conspiring to bury him. “All this cash and ain’t nowhere to hide it/I’m an addict and I can’t even deny it” is probably going to go down as the line that, as a culture, we will be most ashamed of ourselves for ignoring if this man dies of an overdose. Lyrically, it’s not an especially far cry from “Junkhead” by Alice in Chains: “What’s my drug of choice, well what have you got?/I don’t go broke and I do it a lot.” The man who wrote that song, Layne Stayley, died of a heroin overdose at 34 years old.
“Codeine Crazy” is one of my favorite songs, but I have a very different perspective of it clean and sober than I’m sure I would have if I had heard it back when I was using. To an active, practicing addict, this song will come across as a statement of junkie solidarity; we laugh sadly, we bow to entropy, we swig a drink of vodka and pop a couple of benzos and fade into darkness, convinced that ours is the left-hand path, dismally content with the certainty of eventual oblivion. Future’s millions, in his mind, cannot save him; if anything, they will seal his fate. Adored by scores and with more wealth than most of the people you know combined, Future still believes himself to be trapped in the gravitational pull of addiction, as much as or more so than any common vagrant retching into the gutter. There is, to reiterate, comfort in this idea. Fatalism is easy; it’s almost relaxing.
Listening to it now, however, one lyric in particular keeps haunting me: “Reminded myself when I used to come over, reminding myself when I used to get loaded, reminding myself that I’m still getting loaded.” As resigned as Future might be to what he thinks of as his destiny, I can see just as easily that he’s not happy about it, maybe even actively furious about it. This song is a perfect encapsulation of the life of an addict: jubilations are slid uncomfortably and inappropriately between confessions and defeated musings and spouts of wounded rage. When I feel sad or I feel like no one understands what’s going on in my head, I put on “Codeine Crazy” and I play it at full volume. Whether clutching a bottle, walking over the graves of friends long dead or even when surrounded by acceptance and love, there is something to be gained from the knowledge that an addict is never truly alone.
Christopher M. Jones once wrote a comic about dogs people liked a bunch. He ostensibly does other things too. You should follow him on Twitter.