When Lemmy Kilmister—bassist and lead singer of Motörhead—died late last year, I was amazed to learn that he lived to be 70, and as amazed to learn that he could die just like the rest of us. His life-long commitment to music, touring, whiskey, and speed stood out among even other rock stars. After a certain age, it seems like some people are just wired for that lifestyle.
Motörhead had a commitment to hedonism that even other metal bands—outside of Appetite for Destruction era Guns N Roses—didn’t seem to embrace so earnestly and so holistically. Their music shunned virtuosity in favor of raw push-it-beyond-the-limit rock at nearly every possible turn. Their lyrics stuck to a narrow register of fucking, snorting, drinking and living to win. When Lemmy sang: “But I just love the life I lead / another beer is what I need,” he did it so seriously that you believe things really did break down that simply for him. Which they maybe did, but Motörhead sound so proudly caught up in the deep web of partying that their approach comes across as damn near philosophical. In the world of Motörhead, drinking and drugging aren’t acts of self-destruction; they’re gambles with death, where every morning after is a defying of the odds and a victory. A song isn’t a celebration of reckless indulgence; it’s a challenge to live, any way that you have to.
I would say that trap music, by and large, is all about that last sentiment. And there’s one trap artist in particular that’s been on a real “live to win” streak lately: Future.
If you trade speed for codeine, power chords for towering snares, and Philthy Animal and Fast Eddie for Zaytoven and Metro Boomin, Motörhead finds its spiritual heir in Future—especially when you compare Future’s already-legendary string of releases that reached a head with last year’s Dirty Sprite 2 to Motörhead’s untouchable run of albums and touring in 1979 and 1980.
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In 2014, Future was engaged to singer Ciara, living in L.A., and making music about feeling “complete” with someone else that made him sound like a domesticated sap compared to the rapper who was: “selling molly, selling mid /… / fucking two bad bitches / at the same damn time” just a couple years earlier. By the end of that year, the engagement was broken; and Future was back in his hometown of Atlanta, putting out mixtapes that recast himself as a codeine-guzzling, comma-fucking, no-fucks-giving cynic. This is the Future most fans are familiar with.
It would have been one thing to put out reactionary break up music about staying out late in clubs and hooking up with strangers, but, like Lemmy in the 80’s, Future seems to acknowledge the escapist aspects of partying as he actually parties; and makes a spectacular performance of it that says, for the whole world, I do this just because it’s who I am.
Future’s obviously not the first rapper to make an album that revolves around money, sex, and drugs. But Dirty Sprite 2 is a cut above the rest because—like with Billie Holiday on Lady in Satin—Future’s party tracks are nuanced with an awareness that he’s chasing after familiar vices long after they’ve stopped working. On “The Percocet & Stripper Joint,” he sounds worn out and unconvincing when he claims “I just tried acid for the first time I feel good” right after he says he took Percocet and codeine with a stripper; and he “needs a whole lot of drugs in [his] system.” When he says on “Slave Master” that he’s got a new whip [car] and poured up two zips [bags of drugs] and repeats the line “I’m feeling way better,” it’s like this is something he’s trying to convince himself. Even when he’s fucking groupies in “Groupies” and having rich sex in “Rich $ex,” it feels like habit and emotional band-aid instead of actual fun. As party tracks, though, they still work. They just hit a more complex register of what partying feels like. The thin layer of misery on top is accepted as part of the lifestyle and just pushed aside.
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In 1975, Lemmy Kilmister was the bass player for Hawkwind—a band that was into taking acid, going off on long repetitive jams, and obsessing over “space” as a new age metaphor for the limitless reaches of our minds. By the end of that year, he was kicked out of Hawkwind and gigging with, Motörhead: a new band whose style was to be fast, loud, and to the point.
Lemmy’s departure from Hawkwind was prompted by an incident where he was arrested at the American-Canadian border for having cocaine on his person (which wasn’t even cocaine; it was speed) while the band was on tour. Hawkwind went on to claim that Lemmy was kicked out because they were fed up in general with his drug use, to which Lemmy would famously respond that he was kicked out for “doing the wrong drugs” since the other members of Hawkwind preferred psychedelics to speed.
Motörhead would go on to take a couple years and a couple line-up changes to really become themselves but in 1977, they released their debut record, then a couple more. Then in 1980 they released the biggest hit of their career: Ace of Spades.
Ace of Spades is a record whose natural mode is fun and also fierce determined. It’s Elvis—careless, free rock’n’roll—with a couple lines of speed thrown in to make the carelessness and the freedom really fucking intense. And like Dirty Sprite 2, Ace of Spades ransacks the theme of conspicuous consumption so completely that ends up renewing it with a more profound understanding. “The Chase is Better Than the Catch” is basically just a song about picking up women but it almost registers like imparted wisdom from a lived, drunken uncle. “Fast and Loose,” and “Fire, Fire” are only about fucking, but they’re sung with enough conviction to feel like boasts to those who would say he’s dirty or classless. And “Live to Win” is a direct fuck-off to anyone that wants to challenge the way he lives: “they might try and fence you in / But you’ve only gotta live to win.”
Lemmy’s always refuted the idea that any bitterness over his split with Hawkwind might have fueled Motörhead’s initial run of career-defining albums, as Future has done when asked about Ciara and the prolific year he had after their break-up; but it’s clear that for both artists, these changes made them decide to create music that most accurately depicted their worldview, no matter how off putting others found it. It’s important to note here that it wasn’t wide-eyed twenty-one year olds who made these songs about living recklessly. These were (or, in Future’s case, are) men in their thirties who had lived that life for years and were discovering that they still had an appetite for it; that it was going to be the rest of their lives.
In Future’s case, I think the song where he really sounds like he’s figuring this out is “Codeine Crazy.” This is where sounds the most introspective, the most lost, but also the most determine. It’s almost as if he’s making the discovery that drugs, money, and sex can be more than just a way to kick back; they can be a way to cope, a constant when everything else is in flux. At the beginning of the song, he’s saying: “Take all my problems and drink out the bottle and fuck on a model.” At the end: “I’m an addict and I can’t even hide it / … / I’m taking everything that comes with these millions.” This is a guy understands and accepts where his choices have landed him, but chooses to only look forward; and if he needs to get a little fucked up to succeed at that, so be it.
On “Blood on the Money,” there’s a telling moment in the beginning of the second verse where Future repeats the line: “I know the devil is real, I know the devil is real,” and you can’t tell if he’s talking to the heavens or the mirror; then right afterwards, he says “I take a dose of them pills and I get real low in the field.” This is what I think of when I think of new Future: a persona that feeds off the heaviness of his life as much as it feeds off the lightness. He knows the devil, but he also has pills, so it’s OK. Make intoxication the focus, and everything else will fall into place or slide off the periphery.
Which is also the Lemmy approach in a nutshell. Maybe his most infamous moment ever is when, halfway through “Ace of Spades,” he sings: “You know I’m born to lose / and gambling’s for fools / but that’s the way I like it, baby / I don’t want to live forever.” This is it: the death trip; when the hard living miscreant declares that he cares more about life’s indulgences than life itself. It might be “living to the fullest” or it might be the abandon of someone who’s too overwhelmed to care anymore. But that’s for Lemmy to know and you to wonder about.
Perhaps the most interesting and declarative statement Lemmy ever made with Motörhead, though, is “Stay Clean.” It’s a song about being honest and true to yourself, with lyrics like: “So you see, the only proof / of what you are is in the way / you see the truth / don’t be scared, live to win / although they’re gonna tell you it’s a sin.” Obviously “Stay Clean” is a tongue-in-cheek title from a band that would never tell you to stay away from drugs, but it’s not a sarcastic rip on the idea of staying clean either. Motörhead was never about insisting that you get fucked up all the time; they were just about embracing that type of freedom. “Stay Clean” really means: “don’t let other people soil your character.” Lemmy was dedicated to being drunk and reckless his whole life, and did people tell him not to be? Of course they did—but he didn’t listen. He stayed clean.
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Probably the strangest thing about the music of both Future and Motörhead is the way it feels inspiring—like you’re in the presence of some fierce, unwavering power—but destitute of actual purpose. This is music from the dark side, notes from the other end of a long binge that’s been going on for several years and doesn’t show signs of stopping. The music pulls you in its general direction, but you would never let it take you all the way into its corner.
These two artists took not giving a fuck, and made a harrowing spectacle of it. Can a performance like theirs be taken at face value? No. Ian Fraser Kilmister and Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, the humans, could never keep up with the Lemmy Kilmister and Future, the personas; I don’t care what rumors you believe. And I don’t care which rumors are true either. What matters is that these guys looked for the darkest, wildest, most deeply uninhibited part of themselves—and listening the music they made when they found it is like being dared to look for the same in yourself.