Since the fourth quarter of 2010 found HHID giving the spotlight to two separate (but very similar) Ski Beatz projects, it makes sense that I would eventually get to this series. (The numerous requests for me to do so also helped.) Especially since this particular album has been the recipient of some rather high praise: aside from every other hip hop blogger in the known universe that isn't me, Curren$y's Pilot Talk was named one of the twenty best albums of 2010 by Entertainment Weekly. Not one of the twenty best hip hop albums, but one of the best albums. While Entertainment Weekly is hardly anybody's go-to reference for rap journalism, that type of endorsement is pretty hard to ignore.
First, some background. Curren$y, real name Shante Franklin, is a New Orleans-based pothead who has been shuffled through enough record label deals to fill three lifetimes. Although he comes across as a relatively new artist, he's been in the game for more than a decade, starting the beginning of the millennium with Master P's No Limit Records, jumping ship to the other New Orleans-based label, Cash Money, five years later. In an alternate timeline, Curren$y would still be a part of Lil' Wayne's merry band of Young Money Losers featuring Drake (which is probably what that crew should really bill themselves as at shows), but as Spitta happens to be the worst kind of stoner (the impatient kind), he elected to jump ship without having released an album.
He landed over at Amalgam Digital, where he managed to drop a couple of albums, This Ain't No Mixtape and Jet Files (obviously Curren$y is heavy into the concept of being airborne, and possibly not just because of the weed), after unleashing a few well-received mixtapes. In 2010, Curren$y hooked up with North Carolina-based producer Ski Beatz, who was in full comeback mode, having established his 24 Hour Karate School artist collective and connecting with Damon Dash for a distribution deal through his DD172 imprint. The combination proved fruitful: Curren$y's third album Pilot Talk was released in July, and a follow-up, conveniently titled Pilot Talk II, both of which were primarily produced by Ski, hit stores later that same year.
For whatever reason, I have been able to avoid Curren$y's onslaught of tracks leaked to hip hop blogs. Oh, I've seen them, but I haven't cared enough to listen to them. Until now, I suppose. My first exposure to Spitta's work ethic was on Ski's 24 Hour Karate School compilation, but I can't remember a single thing about any of his bars, so he must not have made much of an impression on me. So for all intents and purposes, Pilot Talk is basically my introduction to the guy.
Pilot Talk centers mainly on Spitta's favorite topic, marijuana, which you could probably figure out just by looking at the lush album cover art above. Perhaps unconvinced that a man could kick rhymes about weed alone, Ski loaded Pilot Talk with ringers from the industry, including newcomers Jay Electronics, Big K.R.I.T., and his boy Stalley, alongside veteran acts such as Devin the Dude, Mos Def (who was still a part of the collective at this point), and Snoop Dogg. Ski Beatz handles most of the instrumentals, while ceding some tracks to others, including Curren$y's friend Monsta Beatz (who handled a lot of his older material) and Mos Def himself (although Ski took it upon himself to redo the entire song The Mighty Mos offered up - perhaps this was one of the many straws that broke the camel's back, in hindsight.)
Today, let's look at Pilot Talk and see what the big fucking deal is. My next post will cover Pilot Talk II. (I don't usually give away upcoming posts, but I figured that last statement may help discourage you two from requesting a Pilot Talk II review in the comments below.)
Pilot Talk kicks off with what I assume is supposed to be an “Example” of what Curren$y is capable of doing behind the mic. I'm thankful that he didn't go the traditional rap album intro route (although, technically, that is what this track is supposed to be), electing to spit a single verse instead, but Ski's instrumental is despondent, not earning the audience's full attention in the least bit, and as a result, Shante sounds fairly dull and uninspired. Given what the man was actually saying, I have no proof that these bars wouldn't have sounded exactly the same against any other backdrop, though, so everyone's a loser here.
2. AUDIO DOPE II
This is a much better representation of what Spitta can do. Ski's beat is a loop set on repeat, never adjusting itself for any reason (which makes the chorus sound like an extension of the verses, resulting in “Audio Dope II” sounding like one long, unbroken performance), but it matches Curren$y's energy level, that of a stoner who also happens to rap (one who is “so high, my neighbors thought I moved out, because ya boy is gone”). Although this track has got to qualify as the motherfucking laziest rap song-as-drug metaphor (side note: it isn't really a metaphor when the comparison is so goddamn obvious), it suits our host's strengths, and his New Orleans drawl is at its most appealing on here. Man, I hope this isn't the best Pilot Talk has to offer, though.
3. KING KONG
Credit where credit is due: Shante appears to have actually watched the movie Training Day, as opposed to simply viewing the trailer on YouTube, as he actually recites Denzel Washington's dialogue correctly (as opposed to using the cleaned-up-for-general-audiences “King Kong ain't got nothing on me!” from the trailer that other rappers have used). Which probably also means that he's had the opportunity to take in the beauty that is Eva Mendes, although that has absolutely nothing to do with this song or this write-up. However, this track was still boring as shit. The combination of Ski's Sisyphean chore of a beat and Spitta's narcoleptic flow (the weed makes him sound sleepier than Raekwon after his daily regiment of horse tranquilizers and ice cream) turns this song into more of a bother than anything else.
4. SEAT CHANGE (FEAT. SNOOP DOGG & MCKENZIE EDDY)
Our host seems to be sticking with instrumentals that sound like aural equivalents of being zoned out, so at least the man is consistent. The Ski beat on here was annoying at first, as my impatience was getting the better of me (clearly I have not smoked out before writing this review), but once I figured out what Shante was trying to do, I cut him some slack. However, teaming up with hip hop's biggest stoner might have been a misstep: Snoop Dogg doesn't sound nearly as fucked up as Curren$y, and he's been smoking weed for so long that he can fail a drug test my merely being, so now I'm not sure what I think of Shante's insistence on a slower cadence. Maybe I shouldn't let it get to me so much. This song wasn't great by any means, but it also wasn't terrible.
5. BREAKFAST (FEAT. MOS DEF)
Okay, I spoke too soon about the beats: “Breakfast” contains a Mos Def (heard through the remix filter of Ski Beatz, as this is apparently not the original version) instrumental that has much more energy than the previous four tracks on Pilot Talk combined. And it's fucking good. Although I was hoping for a discussion regarding how pot can make even the IHOP breakfast menu taste like pure uncut heaven, what I received instead was a day in the life of Curren$y, who tosses in some clever wordplay in between fucking his side piece and downloading an updated NBA roster onto his Xbox 360, because stoners give a damn about accuracy. Dante even pops up at the end to croon his own version of Joe Esposito's “You're The Best”, which was specifically written as music to be used for montage sequences in 1980s movies, specifically the ones built around training for a sport over a period of time ranging from twenty-four hours to one week. True fact.
6. ROASTED (FEAT. TRADEMARK DA SKYDIVER & YOUNG RODDY)
I'm just as surprised as you two are to be writing this next statement, but here we are: this posse cut was really fucking good. I blame Monsta Beatz's hypnotic instrumental, which sucked me in and somehow helped me remember what I loved about hip hop in the first place. The lyrics on here are all inconsequential, but Spitta and his weed carriers sound so great over this beat that it almost doesn't even matter. The hook is a bit too wordy for my tastes, so “Roasted” isn't a perfect song (not even close, really), but I really enjoyed it, and I'm completely clear-headed right now: just imagine how this shit would sound if you were high.
7. SKYBOURNE (FEAT. BIG K.R.I.T. & SMOKE DZA)
And on the other side of the fence lies this collaborative effort, which isn't really bad as much as it comes nowhere close to comparing with the likes of “Roasted”, although it, like every single track on Pilot Talk, is about the exact same thing. Lyrically, “Skybourne” is an upgrade to the previous track, with Curren$y's weed carriers having been replaced by two better-known (in blog circles, anyway) artists, but the Ski Beatz instrumental is what killed this song for me, as it sounds too much like a Sunday afternoon drive home from church to ever truly be effective as a posse cut. Oh well.
8. THE HANGOVER (FEAT. MIKEY ROCKS)
This song, which has nothing and everything to do with the hit movie of the same name, wouldn't have been so bad had it not been for guest star Mikey Rocks, who sounds so uncomfortably awkward over this Ski beat that he brings the track to a complete halt, barely staying on rhythm and fucking up the respective highs of most anybody who is actually still listening. It's kind of like watching David Brent try to kick a verse. Our host does a decent job over the instrumental, which sounds nothing like how it feels to wake up hung over (for that type of feeling, one might have to look outside of the hip hop genre, since hard drums only exacerbate the headache), but his efforts are diffused by a poorly-selected guest star that fucks everything up. It is what it is.
9. THE DAY (FEAT. MOS DEF & JAY ELECTRONICA)
Mos Def returns to provide a much more vocal contribution than he did on “Breakfast”, lending our host a wordy hook that was written out before Dante defected from Ski's 24 Hour Karate School collective for the commercially safer harbors of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music instead. Curren$y and his hometown peer Jay Electronica handle verse duties, and both men sound in their element, said element being blunted hip hop, but the instrumental leaves a lot to be desired, especially because we all know that he's capable of much better work. Does anybody actually think that Jay's signing with Hova's Roc Nation imprint will actually result in a debut album being released anytime soon? Anyone? Bueller?
10. PRIORITIZE (BEEPER BILL) (FEAT. NESBY PHIPS)
This was a step back in the right direction. The Nesby Phips low-key instrumental will induce heads to nod: it actually reminded me of the more melodic Souls Of Mischief instrumentals circa 1993, and the rappers take to it like second nature. The hook tries to cram far too many words into a short block of time, but it's redeemed by the simple phrase, “Pay your beeper bill, bitch!”, which is just funny. Curren$y is at his best when his backing music actually sounds like something that would relax you enough to get stoned in the first place (save for “Breakfast”, which sounds like an anomaly at this point): one wonders just how much longer he will have to wait for a chance at a DJ Muggs-produced collaborative album.
11. CHILLED COUGHPEE (FEAT. DEVIN THE DUDE)
Ski's beat is much better suited for guest stoner Devin the Dude, who has been steadily chalking up cameo spots with a diverse array of rappers (such as J-Zone and Dr. Dre) for several years now. As was expected, Devin thrives in this playful environment, as his bars attempt to match the stream-of-consciousness way his own mind operates, while Curren$y flounders just a bit. So yeah, this shit didn't really work for him, but hey, at least it was short?
12. ADDRESS (FEAT. STALLEY)
Two of Ski's protégées, Curren$y and Stalley (he of the beard that is more vanglorious than Freeway's), tackle “Address”, so it's only appropriate that he gives them his best production effort on all of Pilot Talk. The hook is ass, but everything else about this song clicks, with Stalley impressing the audience with his casual flow, while Shante spits first and asks questions later. The beat even sounds like it incorporates the sound of a Mac booting up. I know that isn't the case, but it would have been kind of funny, anyway.
13. LIFE UNDER THE SCOPE
Curren$y ends Pilot Talk as a self-aware rapper who is convinced that everyone wants to see him fail. While it's hard for me to believe that anybody outside of a select few bloggers could give enough of a fuck as to whether Shante succeeds or not, I appreciated the fact that he finally switched up his subject matter, if only for a single track. Sadly, Ski's beat undermines the entire affair by not sounding remorseful nor celebratory, so I'm not even sure how I'm supposed to feel about our host right now. Aside from the fact that this ending could have been much better, of course.
THE LAST WORD: Although Curren$y's Pilot Talk is hardly the most awesome album in the history of ever, with its multiple production missteps, it still manages to be a consistently entertaining block of music. Shante's lackadaisical flow occasionally has problems connecting with the audience (especially when he smokes a bowl and gazes into his own navel), but his hunger and his way with words winds out more often than not. He even manages to hold his own against some name-brand guest stars, keeping up with the pace of Jay Electronica and, to a much lesser extent, Snoop Dogg, all while running circles around his weed carriers, which is the natural order of things, as you two know. Music-wise, Pilot Talk is a bit of a disappointment after having heard Ski's 24 Hour Karate School first, but just because the beats aren't as hard-hitting as I would like doesn't mean that they don't work for Curren$y, who does his best with what he's been given. I wouldn't rank this as one of the finest efforts of the past year, but I enjoyed it overall, and would recommend Pilot Talk to hip hop heads weary of the norm in our chosen genre.