Breakup pain and relationship strain can inspire art and revenge. They could fuel anger and resentment. And, projected onto the right image, they might just spark an entire social media cottage industry of jokes.
For Future, the stars have aligned just so. The rapper has become an everyman emblem for toxic boyfriends and manipulative exes, thanks in part to a hilarious recurring meme that puts his likeness right up there with seasonal staples like Drake's diary and Fabolous’ current event bars.
If you’ve been even Slightly Online over the past three years, you’ve seen one of these in the Wild Wild Web: Future peering down at his phone, seemingly ready to fire off a message intended to send a past lover’s life into a tailspin. The accompanying text is an art form—a simulation of the type of cunning post-breakup communication initiated by someone hoping to keep a former flame lit.
Who ever said romance is dead?
The aforementioned concept and construction is just one of many variations that portray Future as an unserious suitor—a 38-year-old city boy. And for what it’s worth, Future has embraced the distinction. His medieval-themed video for the I Never Liked You single “Wait for U,” featuring Drake and Tems, is slickly framed as “The Tale of the Toxic King.” (The Director X-helmed visual even includes a smirking reference to a 2018 leaked text exchange between Future and an unrequited love interest, which immortalized his dismissive phrase “I’m good luv. Enjoy.”)
For the most part, it’s all in good humor and internet fun. But how did we get here? How has one of the biggest names in music become an icon for immature and/or emotionally unavailable men?
Future’s labyrinth of love has played out rather publicly. He fathered a reported seven children from seven different mothers, including his famous ex Ciara. While the aforementioned memes depict an emotional manipulation that’s familiar for so many, in reality, Future has always rapped about the complexities of juggling his feelings and responsibilities, his heartache and his luxurious coping mechanisms.
This mess of Future’s personal trials with the women in his life, and his quotable obsession with spendy, sexy machismo have turned him into a face for toxic masculinity. He refers to those with whom he’s been romantically involved as part of his “collection.” On at least one occasion, he’s claimed he’d choose lean over his lover.
“Love is just a word/It don’t matter to me,” Future sings on The WIZRD’s “Never Stop.”
And yet, it’s evident that love indeed means something to the artist. It eats at him. Causes him to flaunt and flirt and flex. If you ask him, it's all a matter of perspective.
“People have their own definition of what toxic is,” the man born Nayvadius Wilburn told GQ in April. “[These women] all were toxic to me. They just don’t want to admit it.”
If Future were seeking sympathy from the internet gods, his explanation came quite a bit too late. Around Thanksgiving and Christmastime 2019, a flurry of memes began circulating social media imagining the holiday-themed missives he might be sending to an ex. (Tis’ the season to be texting!) The memes further situated Hendrix as a poster child for toxic (lonely?) ex-boyfriends hoping to, um, reconnect over the holidays.
(Sidebar: Has any famous person been photographed mid-text as often as Atlanta’s finest?)
“I know I'm the last person you want to talk to, but I still wanted to be the first to wish you a merry Christmas,” reads one meme.
“Tell your brother I said LeBron back on his bullshit he’ll know what it means lol. I remember that was always his favorite, like you were mine,” reads another.
And then there’s the signature flair: “U don’t need to respond.”
Future’s toxic memes morphed with the seasons, racking up likes, reposts, and retweets in the process. An anonymous Twitter account titled “Toxic Future Lyrics” popped up in February 2020 and quickly amassed more than 10,000 followers by simply tweeting out his philandering poetry—artful selections like “Travel to France, recruit me some girls” and “got your main at Top Golf.”
With the worldwide spread of Covid-19 came a new wave of memes—upgraded with puns about quarantining, lockdown, wearing masks, and, well, the pandemic’s precarious times. In March 2020, just as coronavirus was making a serious landfall in the States, Twitter account @TheeGreatJA provided some levity: “Had to check on you. They say that lil coronavirus in the city now. Crazy how many people getting sick. Reminds me how sick I was when I lost you. Damn your love was contagious. I’m here forever if you need me.”
A popular meme is a swelling snowball tumbling downhill at Mach speed, gathering volume and velocity with every share. Try pushing back and you'll inevitably get bowled over.
Shortly after, Twitter was off to the races. Comedian and Bronx ambassador Desus Nice kept things moving (“This virus is wild. i was singing happy birthday while washing my hands and realized any birthday i spend without you won't be happy. no need to respond, hope you're well”) and Twitter account @samstaydipped added to the pile, racking up more than 90,000 likes with a gem of his own (“Just checking to see if you good, this coronavirus stuff is serious.....even the NBA said they’re done playing games, which is exactly what i should’ve done when i was with you. I’m here if you need me. Be safe”).
Even corporations and organizations got into the act. The official account of Philadelphia’s Public Health Department chimed in with flatten-the-curve bars (and a Photoshopped mask-on Future) that would make Cassidy proud: “I know I can’t see you in person b/c of social distancing, but this distance has me wanting to be more social. I’m sure you’ve probably washed your hands of me & want me to stay 6 feet away even when this is over. Tell your grandmom I left some groceries on her step. Stay safe.”
The meme has gone on to be tailored for everything from Drake and Ye’s beef to the skyrocketing prices of gasoline. Which is not to mention the numerous toxic memes that don’t follow that format. (One reads: “I promised you I could change, I never promised you I would change.”) Today, somewhere out there in the vastness of social media, there's likely a meme pegged to plummeting crypto values.
For his part, Future hasn’t tried to stop the machine. After all, a popular meme is a swelling snowball tumbling downhill at Mach speed, gathering volume and velocity with every share. Try pushing back and you'll inevitably get bowled over. Not unlike B-Rabbit, Eminem’s character in 8 Mile, Future has employed the ol’ “you can’t make fun of me if I’m already making fun of myself” strategy, an artful ploy in the war of public opinion.
During his performance at July 2021’s Hard Summer Festival in San Bernardino, Calif., for example, Future took time onstage to acknowledge the online community circulating joke posts about his seemingly toxic tendencies.
To the crowd’s delight, he read a few of his favorite quips aloud as the memes splashed on giant screens overhead. “She got 100 dudes tryna be the solution, stand out…. Be the problem,” read one zinger. Another framed patience in a relationship as waiting around to see if “she got hotter friends.”
“I must say,” Future deadpanned.
He leaned into it even more in February, when Future tabbed Kevin Samuels—the polarizing YouTube dating advice guru and life coach who was known for misogynistic teachings—to feature prominently in the video for his song “Worst Day.”
The Toxic King may not be self-proclaimed but he’s certainly becoming more self-aware. Speaking with GQ, Future said “Worst Day” was written to tackle his toxicity head on. (The concept in a nutshell: “Valentine's Day, the worst day, got too many to please”).
“I’m just like, shit, this is the perfect time to put it out,” Future told the magazine, which crowned his Best Rapper Alive earlier this year. “Get past it. Talk about it. Don’t have to talk about it no more. It was like some shit the fans wanted to hear from me, but at the same time I was already really past it.”
For marketing purposes, Future’s used the toxic memes to his advantage, but it’s clear he still wants his listeners to see his side of the story. Sorting through melodies and heartbreak, he uses music to distill the perils of romance, and in between the scabrous dismissals and talks of possession, there’s a story he feels the world doesn’t necessarily want him to tell.
“I’ve always been put on a pedestal, that either I can’t complain about certain shit, I can’t speak on certain shit,” Future told GQ. “I always found a way to create around everything, man. I turn pain into diamonds.”