In February of 2017, which is (unbelievably) four years ago now, Future released a song that took the world by storm. A hushed flute sample floats over a bass line that bobs as if to coach the listener to follow suit. The edited version of this song could be heard on radios and at sporting events nationwide, floating through open car windows and rattling bleachers from coast to coast. The song stayed hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and has been certified seven times platinum by the RIAA.
I graduated from college in 2016, but I’d imagine that had I still been in school when this song was released, it would have made the shortlist of songs to throw on when a party was lacking energy. It’s a party song, the first few notes of which are almost guaranteed to bring the toe taps out. It’s only with the wisdom of the past year can we look back upon that simpler time and find any deeper meaning in a song called “Mask Off” with a repetitive chorus name-dropping commonly-abused drugs, but the rapper’s name is Future, and I do so like to string up the yarn on my proverbial corkboard.
A few college kids went to a party after the Tar Heels beat Duke. This has happened, as far as I can tell, since the Old Well was just the Well. It’s something worth celebrating, certainly; any win over the team from Durham should be reveled in and thoroughly enjoyed. If we’re lucky, we have multiple times to celebrate in a year, and sometimes we have to wait a year to celebrate again. It never gets any less exciting, regardless of how many recent wins there have been or how the rest of the season looks for either team.
This year has been different, if you’ll pardon my reductionist tendencies. College kids, for the most part, are the same. Far be it from me to clutch my proverbial pearls and look sideways at a college kid for going to a sketchy party; Lord knows I went to parties I probably oughtn’t have in my days at school. I was never a nationally-known collegiate athlete (which is shocking, I’m sure), but I was a college student. I was just lucky that no one was interested in a video of me hanging out with friends when I should have been studying for the next day’s exam.
The nature of popular music is that it turns over rapidly, and shifts with the trends. The lucky artists get to claim a ‘song of the summer,’ but even that stretch of months vanishes in the blink of an eye. It’s ridiculous to reference a hit from 2017 in relation to a completely unrelated event from the year 2021. It’s ridiculous to hope to reconcile anything that happens this year with the things we were accustomed to before the world changed fundamentally.
But here we are. College kids are still college kids, and “Mask Off” still bangs like it did back then.
It’s just the circumstances that are different.