Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Curren$y: Jet Files (2009)



Hailing from the last year in which Curren$y could justify calling himself really "underground," just before Def Jam released his two Pilot Talk records, Jet Files isn't even as heavy with internet favorites and supposed singles as This Ain't No Mixtape or, for that matter, the man's mixtapes. But surprisingly enough and despite being barely released or noticed in 2009 (a CD version was delayed by two years), this stands easily alongside the best moments of Curren$y's varied and inconsistently but occasionally dazzling career in the current decade.

Curren$y's best talent may be his taste for a great beat, or at least the knowledge of where to get them. Production here is divided between alternative rap names Big Chop and Whitey, but both are informed by a distinguished polish and an awareness of the sound of great and hedonistic radio hip hop, a context in which these tracks were doomed never to appear. Upholding the artist's reputation as the ultimate hip hop stoner, the record is a breezy listen heavy on pop and retro (with citations of synthpop, lounge, quiet storm, video game music, even jazz fusion) but the songs are more varied and distinctive than on even Pilot Talk, at least for the first three quarters or so.

Big Chop's talents are especially prevalent on the breathless ballad "The Pledge (In and Out)," almost a tease at just 2:17 that cuts out suddenly after a sweet build of piano and drama -- you almost expect it to turn into "Dark Fantasy" any second. Whitey, on the other hand, gives perhaps the most detached-cool evocation of Wings' "Band on the Run" humanly possible on the terrific "Smoke N Maintain," one of numerous Curren$y cuts that sounds like it honestly could be the guy's signature.

You gotta give it up to him, though -- he may be almost too relaxed at times, and he certainly has more limited preoccupations that almost any other rock star I can name, but something like "Smoke N Maintain" just would not work without Curren$y flowing the hell through it like it's on the most blissed-out cloud in the sky. As already noted, taste is his strong point, and that includes the tastefulness of knowing when to get out of the way, and when to guide the dance and the mood onward. It's significant that while all of his records so far -- and his mixtapes, to a lesser extent -- have had deliberate and specific vibes, no one would call them "mood" rap. He's starting to become a bit of a monster here composition-wise too, even if the only really hugely impressive moment is the wildly catchy "On My Way," built on an obscure sample (of Johnson / Hawkins / Tatum / Derr's "You Can't Blame Me") and soaring to an incredibly powerful chorus. By contrast, he can overreach easily with both the drugged-out dreamy shit and relatively weak writing and structuring somewhere like "Stay Up," though even it indicates a bit of political consciousness otherwise disregarded on this record.

Curren$y's delivery itself is already nuanced even if his writing isn't the best yet. "Sleepless in New Orleans" shows that he knows both the full-hearted and flippant way around a relationship song; his steely focus and confused, unreliable-narrator perspective on slash participating in male angst more than vaguely calls Nas to mind. That won't surprise fans of his Def Jam and Warner Bros. albums, but "The Seventies" will -- he's never come across so furious again, spitting the thing out in rare form. But my favorite moment, performance-wise, on this delightful album is the terrific "Bring Her Home," a threesome song that more than compensates for David Crosby's horrendous pop-music take on the subject in "Triad." The song follows Curren$y reluctantly visiting a strip club with his lady; they catch each other checking out the same babe at the same moment and have an "are you thinking what I'm thinking?" exchange that culminates in a Prince-worthy liaison wherein -- thankfully -- the pleasure of the women involved is as noteworthy as the protagonist's. Curren$y may or may not see it as a jokey novelty, given his amusingly zombielike read of the verses, which lead fabulously into a frenetic chorus then dissolve at the moment of his hilariously cheeky, sheepish read of the forbidden word itself. The way he says "threesome," it's almost like he's asking a tentative question rather than living out a classic fantasy.

Curren$y's lyrics are almost not even worth mentioning at this point, though the drug dealing to record-making analogy on "I'm Just Dope" is sort of classic. His words often barely rhyme, or don't rhyme at all, unless you think "tablets" and "toe-up" have a similar ring. But he's so good at putting it all across you almost don't notice or care. In one of his better lyrical jabs he offers the perhaps premature boast "Earned my spot, I'm one of New Orleans' flyest rhymers / I make a faithful house-wife into a two-timer." Curren$y still hasn't peaked yet, he's still plugging along like this is his job, and I bet no one would dispute him on this point now.

Pilot Talk (2010)
Pilot Talk II (2010)
Weekend at Burnie's (2011)
Return to the Winner's Circle (2011)
Verde Terrace (2011)
Muscle Car Chronicles (2012)
with The Alchemist: Covert Coup (2011)

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