Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Curren$y: Weekend at Burnie's (2011)

(Warner Bros.)


The world's hardest working stoner returns for his third album in less than a year, fifth overall, disregarding his litany of mixtapes, EPs, and collaborations. Curren$y only seems to be getting better and better as a rapper, his lyrics on Burnie's showing obvious progression from the fixations of his excellent Pilot Talk series from last year. On the standout "She Don't Want a Man," for example, he quickly moves far beyond any posturing to tell a compelling story of being taken as a lover by a married woman -- it's well-told, three-dimensional, and far more empathetic than its chorus ("She don't want a man / She just wants to fuck") suggests. Could Curren$y yet become rap's long-awaited Jonathan Demme, the artist whose deepest concern lies with others as much as with him- or herself?

Who knows, at this point. As a stylist, the guy's still feeling his way through a myriad of ideas, seemingly still in rehearsal for a breakthrough. Like a number of others, I really thought his work with Ski Beatz was high art, its nonchalant incongruity with conventional hip hop a breath of fresh air, especially when matched with his own lyrically breathless paeans to lazing around and smoking weed.

But the last person in the rock & roll field who was so obsessive about relaxation was, gulp, Jimmy Buffett... so it's probably a good thing that Curren$y seems to be broadening his horizons well past the novelties that made his name in the underground. Only thing is, I'm not entirely sure that Burnie's producer Monsta Beatz is much help to this cause. Curren$y is too prolific to worry about too much beyond the moment; in many ways, this can be seen as clearly just his valentine to chilled out summer drives in immense heat, and by September he'll have something else for us to chew on. But as fitting as the deathly slow "Televised" or the thrillingly mellow "On G's" are to Curren$y's calm flow, there's a sense in which they may be a bit too fluid and laid back to have the staying power of something like "Breakfast" or "Montreux."

That said, both those songs sound incredible on headphones, conjuring up a desire to completely revel in their atmospherics, a direction Curren$y seems proud of -- and given the macho aggression that still lingers in some radio-beloved hip hop, it's a welcome development. More to the point, they feature star turns from a couple of Curren$y proteges -- Trademark doesn't do much here, no slur on him, but Young Roddy's quite a scene-stealer, hard but vaguely androgynous, providing more energy than anything else here. He's worth paying attention to.

Burnie's is an unequivocal blast, but its striking moments are scattered. I'm not the biggest fan of the cleverly titled single "#jetsgo" or the already-overrated anthem "JLC" (stands for Jet Life Commandments, just so you know), but producers Magnedo7 and Havoc kill it on "She Don't Want a Man," an inspired bit of laid-back drama. Monsta Beatz is at his best when operating outside his own comfort zone: "Still" trickles out a classic minimalistic beat in the vein of Slum Village, offering a starkness Curren$y's not explored yet. Best of all is the positively explosive "This Is the Life," which seems to directly reference the jazzy textures of Ski Beatz's work with its Bill Evans-like piano backdrop, over which Curren$y offers some of his loosest work yet, scarcely having to do any work to punctuate and keep up with the unconventional track, with weird rhymes that are barely even there like "autobot" and "about," "twistin'" and "attention."

Warner Bros. have changed their minds on multiple occasions about whether Weekend at Burnie's is an album, a mixtape, or an EP. It feels like an album to me -- it has that kind of determination and uniqueness. But it's a testament to Curren$y's tossed-out style that WB isn't quite sure how to handle him yet. Here's hoping they promote this and give it the wide attention that the Pilot Talk albums deserved but failed to receive from Def Jam.

Pilot Talk (2010)
Pilot Talk II (2010)

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