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Future is rap's reigning balladeer

No one writes a love song like Future.

The 30-year-old, born Nayvadius Wilburn, hinted at his prowess on earlier mixtapes, but the Atlanta artist set himself apart from peers on his 2012 debut album, “Pluto.” In particular, Future won a legion of fans with the hit ballad-meets-banger, “Turn on the Lights,” which found him tenderly singing, through amplified Auto-Tune, “I wanna tell the world about you just so they can get jealous.” His desire for monogamy was inspiring, and even disarming coming from an artist previously associated with hard-edged hedonism and excess.

More than two years later, Future — who headlines the Fillmore Silver Spring on Sunday and Baltimore Soundstage on Monday — has emerged as one of rap's most popular and vital voices and songwriters. A near-constant hip-hop radio presence for the past couple of years, Future credits the success to a focused, hermit-like approach to writing.

“I'm always most comfortable in the studio,” Future said on the phone from his tour bus last week, en route to Rochester, N.Y. “It's my comfort zone. I love being there, and I love making records.”

This past April, Future solidified his reputation by releasing “Honest,” an album that sidesteps the “sophomore slump” tag by doubling down on his versatility. On the title track, he proudly offers transparency, while on “Benz Friends (Whatchutola),” Future and guest Andre 3000 denounce gold digging and empty consumption.

Also on “Honest“ is “I Be U,” another excellent addition to his love-song catalog. When asked if he was drawn to ballads growing up, Future's seemingly general answer sheds light on his open-minded attitude and wide-ranging appeal.

“I was drawn to love songs, but I was just drawn to great music — no matter if it's hip-hop, pop, R&B; or whether it's rock 'n' roll or country,” Future said. “It could be a Garth Brooks song and if it's a smash, then I'll love the different wordplay and different melodies. That's what I'm a fan of — great music.”

Given recent details of Future's personal life — he is engaged to R&B; singer Ciara, who gave birth the couple's first son, Future Zahir Wilburn, on May 19 — it is no surprise love remains on his mind. Another romantic song, depending on your perspective of gender politics, on the album is “I Won,” which finds Future and newlywed Kanye West reveling in their respective relationships with Ciara and Kim Kardashian.

In the chorus, Future sings, “Ever since I got with you I feel like I done won me a trophy,” which some found endearing and others found objectifying. (The rapper also received some backlash after releasing an online game that finds a player in control of cartoon versions of Future and West as they toss jewelry at bikini-clad women on the beach.)

The purpose of “I Won” was to celebrate women for everything they are, according to Future.

“My way of saying ‘trophies' is saying, ‘You're special. You're wife material,'” Future said. “Whoever is with [her] should be happy and should be proud and should showcase that wherever they go, because they have someone special.”

The next challenge for Future is to somehow maintain his work ethic and output while finding time to be with his growing family. It will not come easily (“Just got to find a medium,” he succinctly put it), especially since there is no keeping him from the studio. Fans who first discovered Future on various free mixtapes will be happy to know he has a new one in the works.

“I'm doing one at the end of this year,” Future said. “I gotta drop a classic, man.”

The long nights in the studio have paid off so far. His success (“Honest” debuted at No. 2 on the “Billboard” 200 chart) and idiosyncratic musical style have inspired and influenced the genre greatly. Future's emphasis on emotive singing and unconventional phrasing can be heard in songs by other up-and-coming rappers, and the master has noticed.

“Sometimes I'm like, ‘Dog, that's my ad-lib' or ‘that's my rap pattern,'” Future said. “But it is what it is. I feel like I set the trend, and artists embrace my artistry.”

If you go

Future performs Sunday at the Fillmore, 8656 Colesville Road in Silver Spring. Tickets are $27.50. Call 301-960-9999 or go to Future also performs Monday at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place, downtown. Doors open at 7 p.m. both nights. Tickets are $27.50 in advance, $30 day of show for Soundstage. Call 410-244-0057 or go to

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