If success brings expectations, then Future is at the point where his mixtapes are starting to matter. With a handful of major and minor hits and recent placements on albums by Young Jeezy and Rick Ross, Future has a major-label debut somewhere on the horizon, but the album will undoubtedly languish if he can't keep his momentum going. Astronaut Status is his first big move of the year, and though the tape doesn't really bring much of anything new to the table, it is Future's strongest, most listenable mixtape yet, and that alone is notable enough.
As much as any of his mixtapes, Astronaut Status puts Future's talents as a songwriter at the forefront. There's nothing here that's elaborate or notably deep, and in fact Future trades on his ability to write quirky, catchy little songs that you could easily picture as playground chants. There is an inclination in the rap world to tag songs likes these as disposable, but the ruthless efficiency in Future's writing makes these tracks endure, even if it's in your head and against your will. There's a circular, almost music-box quality to tracks like "Nunbout" and "Swap it Out", with Future driving the same idea and melody into the ground, that gives them an organic, homespun feel. It wouldn't be a stretch to imagine these songs as one-takes, or not being built up much further from demos, but sometimes melodies are indelible enough that they don't really need much more than that. The playground element of the songs is important- plenty of rap songs have liberally interpolated actual playground classics, though Future's ability to mine the space between seriousness and something close to childish taunting is unique.
Future has said in interviews that he wants to make stadium music, and though that's enough of a jump in ambition that it could lead him down a disastrous path, he does succeed on Astronaut Status when he widens his scope or pushes himself vocally. The obvious standout in this regard is "Deeper Than the Ocean", a track with Spanish guitars and a squealing solo that finds Future singing in a cracked, raspy voice about the pain in his life. The sentiment is real and the lyrics a bit jarring, even if the execution is slightly ridiculous- but it would only be a small leap of faith to close your eyes and imagine Future as Adele performing "Someone Like You" at the Brit Awards. Elsewhere, "Spaz on Y'all" and "Birds Take a Bath" are more conventionally anthemic, but nonetheless show that Future is capable of picking off where Akon left off, which I promise is more important than it sounds.
Future could likely go on like this forever, prolifically releasing mixtapes with more than enough good songs to justify their existence. At some point, he will need to strike gold again, and in the murky waters of pop-rap hitmaking, it's hard to tell if anything on Astronaut Status stands up to the songs that helped Future ascend to this status in the first place. Until all of that shakes out, though, we can do just fine enjoying his catchy, goofy songs as they are.