Kush, Cartoons and Camaros
It's Thanksgiving week, and Curren$y is in Amsterdam. Reason enough for a champion of chiefin' to be grateful: For a rapper like Curren$y, whose lifestyle mantra of "J.E.T.S. (Just Enjoy This Shit)" is fueled by smoking fuzzy little trees, this week is like entering the Promised Land. But he's not there just for the weed — he's performing at High Times' annual First Generation Hip-Hop Tribute Cannabis Cup along with Devin the Dude and Kid Cudi.
"I don't even know how to pronounce the name of the venue I'm playing. It's at Melkweg Max?" he says hesitantly, erupting into his contagious staccato laugh. "You should come though. You can make it if you leave now."
He says it like it's not just possible but probable. Hopping on a red-eye to get red-eyed with the self-proclaimed "Hot Spitta" is an enticing invitation — even though it's the kind of idea that disappears when the high dissipates. But Curren$y doesn't just float into fantasy every now and then, he lives in the clouds.
The Big Easy–turned–Big Apple rapper isn't from California; it just seems like he is. In addition to preferring its sour, he used to skate, believes in karma and maintains a state of preternatural cool. But save for his loungey ad-libs and the hooks into which he intentionally reclines, the 29-year-old — born Shante Franklin — is quick and precise with his music.
Growing up in New Orleans, the only guns he shot were in video games. His lyrics and Twitter feed read like a ticker tape of VH1's I Love the '80s episodes. On his new album: "Pilot Talk is like drawing lowriders on the back of your three-subject spiral notebook." When he refers to cops as "Carl Winslows" in the ode to heroic pacifist lady-killer "Michael Knight," bleary-eyed '80s babies identify.
"[The '80s had] the best stuff," he exclaims. "You know how your mood can change by something small happening, and you go from happy to super pissed off? I reference a time I was goin' outside to play with a G.I. Joe tank and a box of action figures. ... I slammed my thumb in the door, and then I couldn't play. It was one of my greatest downfalls in my life! That shit still burns me. That's how important all of that back then was. That shit saved my life! Turbo Teen, Kid 'n Play had their own cartoon; MC Hammer had his own cartoon with talkin' shoes. ..."
And he's off on a tear, hyena-giggling as we slam the Nickelodeon show Salute Your Shorts, extolling the virtues of cartoon "Camaros that could fly" and tickling himself over how moms love Peabo Bryson. With such unaffected delight, it's easy to imagine Curren$y translating well in animation himself.
That's pretty far from where he started. In his late teens, Curren$y was signed to Master P's monumental No Limit. Later, he joined Lil Wayne in an early incarnation of Young Money/Cash Money Records. But his lone nationwide hit with Weezy, "Where Da Cash At," rang false. Curren$y refrains from specifics when asked what happened. Suffice it to say he and Wayne parted ways. Curren$y began hustling on his own, and landed on the cover of XXL Magazine's "Freshman" issue in 2009.
He dropped numerous mixtapes and two digital albums, Jet Files and This Ain't No Mixtape. Flipping another cartoon reference, the "J.E.T.S.ons," the latter's production is breezy and lighthearted. Spitta might smoke a lot, but his easy Southern flow slips nimbly through lyrics that could win both freestyle battles and the hand of the prettiest girl on the playground.
Finally, people began to notice Curren$y — the most serendipitous being former Roc-A-Fella Damon Dash. The two now have an unwritten agreement and, through Creative Control, the online television network umbrella'd by Dash's media collective, DD172, they're churning out videos that gleam like the babied hubcaps of Spitta's beloved car collection.
While he seems to grow more charmingly childlike, his sound is maturing. Both Pilot Talk and the just-released Pilot Talk II steer away from samples, relying primarily on Ski Beatz's original production, which veers toward the nostalgic. Curren$y's father listened to Smokey Robinson, Maze, Marvin Gaye; his mother liked Jeffrey Osborne and, of course, Bryson. ("John Legend is the Bryson of today!" Curren$y declares. "That's who I stand by in R&B right now. Some of the adult R&B artists are fuckin' up their legacies, tryin' to compete with whoever's 17 and dancing on the roof with lasers.")
Curren$y's own musical sights have always been set on the West. "My most recently played songs are from Eazy-E, RBL Posse and Snoop Dogg. Even before I was smoking weed, I always was West Coast. I will get a spot in L.A. I don't know how much driving I would do. We just got four lanes on some parts of the interstate in New Orleans. L.A.'s like the autobahn!"
It's 4 a.m. in Amsterdam, but you get the feeling he's perfectly content to continue the conversation. He's giggling and whooping, high and happy. Is everything you want happening for you right now?
"Pretty much," he says, without a trace of arrogance. "I don't have a '67 Impala, but other than that? The music, the rest of my cars and my dogs ... I get that Impala, and we get a better TV in this hotel room, then absolutely."
The Smoker's Club Tour with Curren$y, Nipsey Hu$$le, Smoke DZA, Dom Kennedy, Wed., Dec. 8, at El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. theelrey.com. $25. All ages.
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