Kendrick Makes “Mask Off” the Great Song it Deserves to Be

Kendrick Makes “Mask Off” the Great Song it Deserves to Be

Kendrick Lamar Lends a Stellar Verse to Future’s Highest Charting Hit, Making it Worthy of Such Success


Mask Off” is not the best song Future has put out this year. Hell, it’s not even the best song on FUTURE, the first of two albums that the prolific codeine rapper has released in 2017. Still, its success as a fan favourite and commercial single (No.5 on Billboard, Future’s highest charting track) is not a shock. It has all of the elements that make up an iconic Future track: an inane, brain-burrowing hook (“Percocets, molly, percocets”), a slurry-stoned atmosphere that sounds one second away from unravelling and an outlandishly popular sonic addition in the way of that goddamned flute. Trade out that Eastern-tinged trilling for The Weeknd’s gritty grumbling and that’s basically what sent “Low Life” 3x platinum.

What’s missing, though? What could actually push “Mask Off” past its comfortable, mumbling laurels into the realm of great hip hop? In a word: bars. And no other rapper on the planet is better equipped than Kendrick Lamar at finding fresh and exciting ways to expand upon a song that seems to have exhausted its potential. On its own, “Mask Off” just sorta happens, but with Kendrick’s input it becomes an event. It’s the difference between having a birthday and throwing a fucking party.

True to form, Lamar swoops in and runs with the song in ways no one could’ve anticipated. It’s beyond startling how often he manages to pull off this feat and still maintain the element of surprise; it’s almost supernatural at this point. From his sly ramp-ups on Danny Brown’s posse cut “Really Doe” and Beyoncé’s “Freedom” to (yes, I’m serious) his intrinsic pop-rap sensibilities on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” remix, he’s always been great at absorbing the core of a song and remaking it in his own image, instead of letting the sound corrupt his integrity.

So it remains on “Mask Off”: starting off with a warbly pitter-patter reminiscent of D’Angelo in freefall, Lamar paces through his verse with reckless abandon, tapdancing on the edge of musicality and ridiculousness without even once bothering to check his footing. The lyrics are one thing (“I might fall in Rodeo, I might ball in Australia”; “Bitch, my hair down, Prince live through me!”), but his breakneck pace and fluttery pitch keep everything up in the air for his entire verse, a cluster of pieces that could only be properly juggled by a man who long ago accepted his own limitations and, conversely, his infallibility.

Nothing I can say will make this cooler. (Vevo)

It’s a great fit to Future’s hit single, as Nayvadius himself exudes the calm essence of a man fully emboldened by his own talents (albeit with less reason to think so). The remix benefits from Kendrick’s greatest trait, his self-awareness matched with an irrepressible confidence, the sort of mixture that can only be held by an artist at the peak of their craft. As a friend of mine remarked after hearing the remix for the first time, “He just knows he’s good, doesn’t he?” Well, if he doesn’t, someone really oughta fuckin’ tell him.

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