At the turn of the 2010s, rappers had to go above and beyond to earn their debut albums. A popular track on YouTube or a viral moment on social media simply wasn’t going to cut it. Many of the artists who currently make up Hip-Hop’s upper echelon, from Drake and Nicki Minaj to J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, had to release several mixtapes to gain enough traction to merit a full-length commercial release. While they typically weren’t able to directly profit from free streams and downloads of some of their most revered material to date, those mixtapes played an integral role in developing some of the industry’s most beloved artists today.
However, there are only a few artists who underwent such rigorous artist development throughout their breakout mixtape run than Nayvadious Wilburn, more famously known as Future. From his origins as an under-advertised member of the Dungeon Family to his legendary mixtape run from 2014 to 2015, the Atlanta-bred sensation has enjoyed a storied career, from pumping out countless platinum-certified hits to becoming a Grammy award-winning rapper who’s far more respected in the streets than the Recording Academy. As a result, a deep dive into Future’s legacy is always warranted, and given the fact that Astronaut Status celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year, there’s no better time to revisit the mixtape that sparked his otherworldly success.
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Going into 2012, Future was poised to initiate his commercial dominance with the highly anticipated release of Pluto sometime in January, as conflicting reports from HipHopDX and Billboard suggest either January 24 or January 31 as the original release date. Had his debut album arrived on schedule, it would have come after a discography’s worth of mixtapes, including 1000 and Kno Mercy in 2010, his more lauded 2011 efforts Dirty Sprite, True Story and Streetz Callin, as well as his Stuey Rock and Gucci Mane collab tapes FDU & Freebandz and Free Bricks. Alas, Future quickly suffered from a recurring phenomenon that affected many of his contemporaries — his debut album was unfortunately pushed back for reasons not revealed to the public. But as fate would have it, that voided release date gave Future the opportunity to share his sixth solo mixtape (and ninth overall): Astronaut Status, a project accentuated by unforgettable blue-hued album artwork that featured the Freebandz Founder striking a pose on the moon.
Following a stretch of projects that spawned Future’s, at the time, biggest hits to date, Astronaut Status was met with generally positive reviews, but it also received criticism for a lack of tracks that seemed capable of becoming as popular as songs like “Magic,” “Same Damn Time,” “Racks,” and “Tony Montana.” But regardless of what the critics had to say about it at the time of its release, Astronaut Status demonstrated that when Future spoke, the streets listened. So when Future invited listeners to embark on the intergalactic journey promised on his forthcoming debut studio album, fans strapped up and prepared for liftoff.
The 21-track project, which is currently Future’s only pre-Pluto mixtape that’s available on DSPs, found Fewtch linking back up with DJ Esco, DJ Scream, and DJ X-Rated for a deeper foray into the Atlanta artist’s sonic capabilities. As evidenced by his hungry delivery on “Future Back,” the then-28-year-old rapper was well-versed in dropping quote-worthy bars over speaker-rattling trap beats, but Future also made an effort to introduce listeners into his more melodic tendencies with songs like “Birds Take A Bath” and “Deeper Than The Ocean.”
While neither of the aforementioned tracks was nearly as polished or pop-sensible as the bubbly bonus track “No Matter What,” Future’s infectious hook on the Jeezy and Young Scooter-assisted “Birds Take A Bath” and his moody crooning on “Deeper Than The Ocean” were both able to tastefully ease fans into the more melodic direction that he would be exploring on Pluto.
With that said, Astronaut Status’ long-lasting impact wasn’t just the result of a more stylistically adventurous performance from Future Hendrix. His dedication to the sound that he had been constructing over the past two years is what really shined through, especially on tracks like “Space Cadets,” the Gucci Mane-assisted “Jordan Diddy,” and “My Ho 2.” The Atlanta artist’s charisma was also on max, as evidenced by the tape’s undeniable highlights “Blow” and “Itchin’.” The former track was a rare collaboration between Future, his fellow Southern rap star Ludacris, and his A1 Recordings label head and — at the time — close collaborator Rocko, and the DJ Spinz-produced cut exhibited some of the most raucous energy of the entire mixtape. Yet even with its high-adrenaline hook, “Blow” still wasn’t quite as dynamic as “Itchin’.”
Although labeled as a bonus track, “Itchin’” was arguably the biggest and most enduring song from Astronaut Status. Thanks to its thumping Mike WiLL Made-It production, anthemic verses, and the iconic “My fingers, they itchin’, they itchin’ for that paper” lingo that he introduced on the hook, the track quickly became an early classic in Future’s catalog, and it’s damn-near impossible to reflect on Astronaut Status without remembering where you were in life when you first heard “Itchin’.”
A decade later, here we are at the mixtape’s 10-year anniversary. As of now, Astronaut Status has been downloaded for free over 725,000 times and garnered over one million streams, and that’s on DatPiff alone. If Streetz Callin, Dirty Sprite, and TRU Story went gold in the streets, it’s safe to say Astronaut Status went platinum. Yet beyond its impressive numbers, Astronaut Status has maintained a legacy as Future’s final leap from being touted as a promising underground act to becoming a commercial force to be reckoned with. So although the flurry of mixtapes that started with 2014’s Monster and ended with 2015’s 56 Nights may go down in music history as Future’s most memorable and successful string of free releases, anyone who has been following the Atlanta artist’s ascension since the early 2010s must also acknowledge the importance of Astronaut Status. Future took us to space for the first time on his astronomical prelude to Pluto, and ten years later, he’s still out in orbit.