December 2, 2010

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Renato Pagnani likes it when people talk fast over 4/4 beats. 

Over the last several years, frequent collaborators Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa have had reasonably similar career trajectories. Both excel at making sleepy stoner jams equally indebted to Lil Wayne and Devin the Dude. Both have seen massive success in 2010 after bubbling for several years in major label purgatory. But only Curren$y got called a “poet” by Raekwon. Of course, rapping is far more than jotting words down on a piece of paper, but there’s truth to the observation. Like Raekwon, Curren$y loves twisting words and weed into creative shapes and colorful images. He may lack Wiz’s mass appeal, but Curren$y is the superior writer.

Over the last year, their careers began to diverge. Wiz steadily chased Major Label Rap Artist stardom and may get it. He signed to Atlantic and with latest single, the Pittsburgh anthem “Black and Yellow” has racked up over 9,000,000 YouTube plays in a month and cracked the top 25 of Billboard. Conversely, Curren$y’s strategy seems more closely related to the underground ethos of No Limit–where he first cut his chronic. There can be no delays, so when it comes to put out your second album this year, and you’re having problems clearing a verse from someone — as happened with Wiz on “Silence,” then the verse goes. No hard feelings. Strictly business –and business is booming.

Pilot Talk II is Curren$y’s second album in less than half a year, but it’s not a half-assed quickie released to capitalize on the goodwill of the first Pilot Talk. Producer Ski Beatz once again provides the bulk of the production, but where the first installment was generally varied — from the lurching, Jamaican jerk of “Audio Dope II” to the spacey stiff-arm of “King Kong” — Pilot Talk II pulls from a smaller but equally effective color spectrum.

It works in Curren$y’s favor. The original saw the musical backdrops move away from the relaxed, unified sound of his mixtapes, revelling in its sparseness a bit too frequently. As nice as it was to hear Spitta tackle less familiar terrain, the beats lacked the funnelling effect that the production on Pilot Talk II reintroduces. Here the beats are both silkier and meatier: “Michael Knight” is built on top of burnt Mannie Fresh guitars that singe deep into bubbling bass; opener “Airborne Aquarium” is a liquid expanse which Curren$y dives head-first into with a curling, twisted flow. “Fashionably Late” could be a long-lost Reasonable Doubt track — all regal horns and rolling pianos.

A lot of the warmth comes from Ski’s house band, The Senseis, who recreate all of the samples used, giving the album a lived-in feel and also saving Curren$y and Ski Beatz a ton of money in clearance fees. Their work is gooey and luxurious, but not in the wallpapery way that live bands in rap sometimes are. Curren$y is at home here, intuitively knowing what to do over these beats; he sounds even more locked-in than he did on Pilot Talk, which itself was stuffed full of quotables.

Whether it’s surreal Weezyisms like “I got high enough so I could autograph the sky,” or threatening to leave girls on the curb for “disrespecting the classics,” Curren$y does what he does best:  brag about how much weed he smokes (a lot), who your girl was with last night (him), and the sorts of locales he spends his time in (those with “oceans in the back, Porsches in the front”). It’s appealing stuff, coming from a rapper making the transition from up-and-comer to veteran without losing his hunger. Like Khalifa, Curren$y possesses the rare ability to turn the thought of him mocking you in front of girls seem like the worst thing ever. (See lines like, “We heard your shit and we laughed” and, “We smoking and cracking jokes at how lame you is,” for the overlap between their weeded-out philosophies.)

What Pilot Talk II sacrifices in sonic variety it makes up for in cohesiveness. Its tracks are so smooth that initially they feel like they might slip through your fingers, yet they sort themselves out after multiple listens. The sole letdown is “Silence,” in which an inert McKenzie Eddy chorus drags down an already lethargic beat — it kills the high after seven tracks of breezy yacht rap bliss.

Even without the big-name guests of the original — the biggest name this time around is Raekwon, who attacks a remix of “Michael Knight” in a way only the Chef can, sticking to the shadows and jumping at you out of the corner of your eye. The rappers that do pop up on Pilot Talk II fit the album’s laidback, video games-and-blunts vibe. Check out old No Limit rapper Fiend on “O.G. (The Jam),” who while spitting game reveals that he “needs one more for the Spitta, girl,” a line that illuminates Curren$y’s ultimate appeal: he sounds like the kind of dude who would make sure that if you didn’t walk in with a girl, you’d definitely be leaving with one.

Download:
MP3: Curren$y-“Airbourne Aquarium” (Left-Click)
MP3: Curren$y-“Michael Knight”

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