In 1972, in the heyday of soul and funk, director Gordon Parks Jr. set out to find the perfect artist to encapsulate the energy of New York City for his first film, the blaxploitation classic “Super Fly.” He found that artist in soul musician Curtis Mayfield.
Mayfield wrote and produced the soundtrack, hoping to simultaneously distill and amplify the essence of the film while sonically encapsulating the rage and struggle of the drug trade and black America in the 1970s.
Rolling Stone said that Mayfield’s “Super Fly” music “packed more drama than the movie it accompanied.” The soundtrack went on to out-gross the film, receive a soundtrack Grammy nomination and place No. 72 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time.
Forty-six years later for his own update, “SuperFly,” acclaimed music video director-turned-filmmaker Director X sought to modernize the blaxploitation classic, swapping ‘70s funk for trap and moving the film from New York City to Atlanta, the modern-day mecca of hip-hop innovation. For the soundtrack, he chose Atlanta native Future to embody “that Atlanta sound.”
“Atlanta is the epicenter of culture,” Director X explained during an editing session for the film in April. “In 1971, if you were the popping-est thing in Harlem you were the popping-est thing in the world. And [now], if you’re the popping-est thing in Atlanta, you’re the popping-est thing in the world.”
Future’s accolades extend far beyond his hometown. Born Nayvadius Wilburn, the rapper first emerged into the spotlight in 2011 with the release of his mixtape “Dirty Sprite.” Since then he’s been a radio staple, released six studio albums (most recently 2017’s joint releases “Future” and “HNDRXX”), and pocketed an estimated $5 million on his most recent tour. He’s earned a reported $23 million from digital streams alone, landing him the No. 10 spot on Forbes’ annual ranking of the highest-paid rappers and was dubbed a “rap god” in a recent Billboard article.
“I feel like I’m still working towards certain goals that I have in my life,” Future demurred when asked about his response to his success. “I want to be able to feel comfortable enough to sit on a title like that. Right now I’m still learning, I’m still growing, still trying to find my way. I’m getting better by the day but at the same time I’m learning how to accept my role and understand that the work I’ve put in is cause for certain conversations. But during those conversations I want to be real with myself, knowing there’s still a lot of work that I still want to do.”
A huge fan of Mayfield’s, Future admits he was initially nervous when Director X approached him to curate the “SuperFly” soundtrack.
“I wanted to make sure I explained it’s no way possible I’m even thinking about coming behind Curtis Mayfield,” the rapper said during an interview at Hollywood’s Chalice Recording Studio. “That’s something special. History that’s already been set.”
Director X first met Future on the set of a Gap commercial in 2017, one that paired the rapper with Cher for a duet of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”
“And while he was there I said, ‘You know, this might be right,’” X recalled. “Someone of this caliber from the right town, someone so important to how music is shaped.”
“It’s great working with X because he let me have the free space to create,” said Future. “He listened to the music, he loved it from the beginning. I appreciate him for even reaching out to me and giving me this opportunity.”
In preparing to craft the soundtrack, Future says he watched the original “Super Fly” on repeat.
“I was just watching the movie every day,” he admitted. “I watched the movie over and over again to really understand it.
“When it first came out I wasn’t even born,” the 34-year-old continued. “It was like trying to catch up and be up to date with it. Certain slang and lingo they were using I wasn’t comprehending as well as now.”
Despite the initial trepidation about following in Mayfield’s footsteps, Future thought it was “pretty dope” that Director X imagined him the man for the project.
“I appreciate him for even reaching out to me and giving me this opportunity,” he said. “I thought [of] it as just taking my career in a good direction and also helping me to expand and be creative. Having Curtis Mayfield, someone I love and admire and look up to, to do a remake I was just like … he’s too much of a legend to even come behind. I wanted to make sure it was completely different. To be inspired by what he’s done but not try to duplicate something that could never be duplicated.”
Though the film was put together after less than 40 days of shooting, Future was nonplussed by the relatively short timetable he was given to produce the soundtrack.
“It pushed me in certain areas,” he said. “The more success you get, the less time you have [to complete things].”
The soundtrack was released this month and features 13 new tracks, 11 of which the rapper is at least featured on. Other artists include Miguel, Lil Wayne, Khalid, 21 Savage, Young Thug, PartyNextDoor, H.E.R., Gunna, Sleepy Brown and Yung Bans.
“I just wanted it to come natural,” Future said of his method of choosing contributors. “I didn’t want nothing to be forced.”
As for when we can expect a new standalone Future album, the rapper promised “soon.”
“When it’s right I’m going to put it out,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve got that body of music right now, it’s just going back and critiquing certain things. I’ve never done that with my other albums. I want to make sure I connect with my fans and deliver something over the top and more special than my last project.”
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