What a difference a year makes.
Just a year ago, Ciara and Futurewere headed for a showdown in court over multiple issues: Ciara was unhappy with their current custody arrangement and suing her ex for $15 million for alleged defamation; ironically, the rapper had seemingly publicly criticized her approach to parenting. He fired back in a court filing, insisting she didn't have that illustrious of a name for him to tarnish.
Future was also vocally unhappy about Ciara's then-fiancé, Russell Wilson, spending time with little Future Jr., and the former lovebirds' connection had devolved into he-said, she-said.
But now, Future says he's gotten past all the drama—which, from the sound of it, was compounded by a broken heart. Not that he didn't deserve to have a broken heart, judging by Ciara's reasons for ending their engagement...
"I'm just not going to settle for anything, you know? Even in my life now, I know I can be a better person," the Hndrxx artist admitted in a new interview with Billboard. "I ain't giving up on myself, so if you give up on me, I ain't got nothing else to say for you. Because if you give up on something that's real, it wasn't real to you."
To be sure, after the wake-up call that came by being sued simultaneously by two different women last year (Ciara for defamation; Jessica Smith, the mother of another one of his four children, for more child support), Future is only doing himself a favor by redirecting his energy to all the good in his life—such as when he became the first-ever artist to debut two No. 1 albums simultaneously, releasing Future and Hndrxx a week apart last month.
But it was a combination of factors that led to this more positive place for both of Future Jr.'s parents.
In May, a judge sided with Future in refusing to strip him of joint custody of Future Jr. But then in June, Jessica Smith—proven to be the mother of one of Future's four children via a paternity test taken in 2013—went after the rapper for more child support, insisting in court documents that the $2,800 they had agreed on a couple years back was no longer sufficient, taking into account Future's luxurious-looking lifestyle, and that he had been a neglectful father.
It was all getting to be too much for him.
"I can't deal with it. I can't even think about it," he told Rolling Stone last summer when his custody arrangement with Ciara was up in the air. "I never imagined my life would be like that: 'I'm going to sue you and take away from you.' I don't know how to deal with something like that. All I know is record, record, record, record."
He also insisted, despite the harsh words he had flung her way, that he would "never wish" for Ciara to fail. "Her being successful, her being happy, helps me," he insisted. "I'm attached to you. If you're happy, I'm happy. You're connected for life. I don't want you to go through this s--t and for it to come back on my son, my kid. I want you to be in the best situation."
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Clase Azul Tequila and Chopin Vodka
That part, at least, was taken care of.
Ciara was happily engaged to Russell Wilson, and they were busily planning their destination wedding at a castle in England. They tied the knot on July 6, a week after Future's hopes for her happiness hit newsstands.
"Married life is the best life," Ciara raved to E! News in August. "It's definitely life-changing, and you do feel a difference between the stages of being boyfriend and girlfriend to being engaged to actually being married. You feel the definition of what being 'one' [entity] is, and it's really cool. Nothing compares to what this feels like."
In October, the couple confirmed that their first child together (and Wilson's first overall) was on the way, and they've been beyond over the moon ever since.
Also in October, Ciara's lawyer went to court to dismiss the libel allegation against Future, conceding that her career hadn't taken a hit from Future's unkind words about her mothering skills—because she was doing too well to claim she deserved damages. So...win-win?
She told E! News in November at the 2016 American Music Awards, "I'm feeling great [physically]. I'm feeling awesome, actually. Finally getting to a place where I feel almost normal. It was a bit of a 'I don't want to throw up, but I don't feel regular.' That's almost worse. You'd rather just throw up and get it done!"
All the while, it was fairly easy to forget that Future, the hostile-sounding ex and under-the-gun father, was the same guy as Future, the increasinglysuccessful rapper.
He made his performance debut at the MTV Video Music Awards in August, doing "F--k Up Some Commas" during the show at Madison Square Garden.
And even more importantly, he got back to business in the studio, ultimately churning out enough tracks—including some autobiographical tunes—to fill two albums. "I'm opening you up to where I'm at," he explained the personal nature of HENDRXX to Billboard. "It's about being vulnerable and not so cautious about what you say as far as your love life—if you was hurt or happy or in love."
And perhaps time really does, if not entirely heal, than at least patch all wounds.
In January, Ciara dropped the remainder of her defamation suit for good (a false light claim was still pending), not wanting that hanging over her head any more than her ex did so that she could focus on the next big chapter of her life.
She and Future also re-settled their custody issues, with the rapper agreeing that it was OK for Future Jr. to live primarily with his mom while he was on tour.
Meanwhile, you couldn't escape Future's music even if you wanted to. He dropped his self-titled fifth studio album on Feb. 17 and it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. A week later, his sixth studio album, Hndrxx, made him the first artist in the chart's 61-year history to have back to back No. 1 debuts, as well as the first artist since 1968 to replace himself at No. 1 with any sort of album, old or new.
He also appeared in the video for "Everyday," his collaboration with Ariana Grandeoff of her latest album, and you can hear him on Maroon 5's "Cold." But he may have made the biggest splash of all performing "Incredible" on Ellen.
Asked about his lack of any Grammy nominations to date, a notable enough glitch for Kanye West to have tweeted about in swearing off the ceremony this year, Future told Billboard, "The Grammys, they get what they get—the s--t that they don't, it's the s--t that they maybe don't want to understand. They're not going to keep me from doing what I'm supposed to do as an artist."
The Recording Academy probably won't be able to ignore two back-to-back No. 1 debuts, interpret them as it will.
More importantly, it sounds as though Future may have exorcised some of his demons in the studio, because he certainly seems to be in better spirits than he'd been in in a long while.
He even started Instagramming last month, captioning his first pic, "...might as well."
Just a few days ago, Future wished his daughter Londyn (with ex India J) a happy 8th birthday and played just regular old Dad at her '80s-themed roller skating party.
"Happy Queen Day Londyn..." he tweeted. "Ima make sure you get everything u want plus more,my true love! I love u."
Coincidentally, Ciara recently arrived at a similar conclusion as Future did, as far as moving past negativity and cutting out the people who aren't unconditionally there for you.
"If someone's not supporting you and your vision and your dreams," Ciara told Harper's Bazaar earlier this month, "whether it's your relationship partner, your friend, whomever—then you've got to make sure to keep it moving. If people aren't lifting you up, even if you're the strongest person in the world, eventually it does chip away at you. You don't even realize that you're losing yourself. And that's the scariest place to be in life… I don't want to lose myself. I love myself too much. I love life too much."