Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Curren$y: Pilot Talk II (2010)

(Def Jam)


Immediate sequels such as this are very seldom a good idea. Market oversaturation is a genuine risk when there is so much music in a given year to process. If an artist releases two records in the space of four months, the first becomes a promotional tool for the second, or vice versa. Since the recording dates are in such proximity, a waiting period could hurt as well. What's a guy like Curren$y -- who must have a fucking stockpile of material after all the label-shifting and shelving he did in the last half-decade -- to do with all his shit? To Def Jam, a Pilot Talk II might seem like the best option and it may well be, but it's difficult to consider it as an actual followup to his extraordinary Pilot Talk. It's more of an extension and exploration, deepening the original's virtues (including economy -- thirteen songs in forty minutes) but also throwing in some dubious elements. Think of it as an atypically major bonus disc, but one with absolutely killer material: "Fashionably Late" is a decent starting point, building from an impossibly funky piano piece driving a beat straight out of a Gil Scott-Heron record. These aren't just leftovers, even if they have that context.

A large part of Pilot Talk's appeal came from Ski Beatz's beautifully intricate production work that elevated the mere idea of a jazzy backing track to a complex live band explosion of melody and soul. The second installment offers even more Beatz and he works even harder here; in terms of its visceral rush of sounds and moods, you're unlikely to hear many more varied albums this year. If Pilot Talk was full of suggestions of a backdropping of Curren$y with sophisticated, artful, but sympathetic musicality, II engulfs the rapper entirely with those same ideas. If the earlier album was a nod to the chilled out feel of early Roots (and Roots-like oddball experimentation does continue here on the head-spinning, how-the-fuck-is-this-the-first-single "Michael Knight," the rhythmically batshit "O.G."), this is a wall of fucking sound. Ski Beatz deserves top billing for what he does here: ambient funk out of the gate on "Airborne Aquarium," the tricky jazz guitar of "Hold On," the cartoon slow-mo of "Real Estates," pure velvet soul on the wonderful Marvin Gaye tribute "Montreux," and plenty of heavenly piano and sax all over the place. Ski's shit doesn't sound like anything else under the hip hop umbrella right now, and that's a big deal.

Curren$y, who wasn't born yesterday nor later on that evening, isn't resting on his laurels; perversely, that's one of the problems. His best lyrics were fun and goofy last time around; now, they're often outstanding tonguetwisters throwing out references to the Dapper Dans, Kriss Kross, and Waffle House, while stretching his favored airplane and hash metaphors (some sex, too; dig the "Flight Briefing" sample of... well, guess) to what must constitute their outer limit, creating many laugh-out-loud rhymes and gags -- all the way to his dream of a talk show that'll be a cross between Donahue and Springer, ingeniously backdropped by the record's most emotional, pretty soundscape on "Silence." But Curren$y's also taken a couple of No-Doz capsules since July, it seems, and we end up missing out on the laid-back charm that made his monotone flow on Pilot Talk so delicious. His newfound cockiness hurts some of his weaker passages, too, with a whole slew of generic "bitches" rants that make the guy seem far less interesting than he really is.

When all is said and done, there is plenty to love on his LP, and it's unfortunate that it's so completely overshadowed by this week's release of, you know, that other hip hop record. I hope a lot of folks give Pilot Talk II a chance when the Turkey Day dust settles, but I really hope they go ahead and pick up both Curren$y albums of this year. They wouldn't function as a double, but they do work well in conjunction; combined, they suggest great things ahead for this finally-budding performer.

Pilot Talk (2010)

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