Douglas Martin is associated with the pot like gumbo.
I. TEQUILA SUNRISE, SEVEN O’CLOCK THIS MORNING
There are a lot of rap fans—obsessive rap fans, the type that visit this site daily—daunted by the task of still keeping up with Curren$y’s music. I don’t blame you. Before the extensive obsession with his music which led to just flat-out admitting he’s now one of my favorite rappers, I was intimidated to dive in. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do what I’ve gotta do to earn money, spend time with the people I care about, climb the mountains and sing the songs I wanna sing, and legitimately absorb all the music Curren$y has produced while staying current with the music he continues to produce. It’s like if Robert Pollard hotboxed an eighth every day before lunch and started kicking raps instead of drinking gallons of beer while doing windmills on his guitar.
There’s a very good chance by the time this feature is published, it will already be outdated thanks to a new release cropping up. That is the risk I take.
Curren$y was always one of those artists whose work I appreciated more than I liked. I listened to the first two installments of Pilot Talk, Covert Coup, Weekend at Burnies, and a few other of his more heralded releases when they were new. Any kind of rap fan who argues Curren$y isn’t a dope MC at face value is fooling themselves. But his music is a world I didn’t willfully immerse myself in until last year’s Carrolton Heist, produced entirely by undoubtedly my favorite beatmaker of the past decade, the Alchemist.
In 2016, I drove around Tacoma on sunny afternoons and late summer nights blaring the saxophones of “Vibrations” accompanied by a bassline that only can be described as “fucking cool.” Seriously. Imagine that bassline as a person. Don’t you see a fiftysomething black dude, graying beard, wearing sunglasses inside(!) a dank jazz bar? And I’m not talking “dank” as in “a scuzzy bar reeking of cigarettes.” I’ve had daytime drives through Downtown Tacoma—with the THC from a homemade weed cookie thickening my bloodstream—getting lost in the psychedelic synths and stoned riding music of “Inspiration.”
This is to say nothing of how many times I’ve rapped along with Wayne’s outstanding verse on “Fat Albert,” star-making if it had come from a young talent, and arguably the veteran’s most sterling rapping in a decade. “Cut the check or we gon’ cut your fucking bungee cord.” “Bad bitch, ‘bout to swallow all my stress for me!”
Becoming a regular consumer of reefer obviously helped me really appreciate Curren$y’s writing. That’s not to say you have to be stoned to understand it. I think being stoned heightened my senses enough to pay more attention. Independent of discarded edible wrappers and extinguished half-ounces of atomic blueberry kush, I’ve listened to a lot of Curren$y in the past year.
Most of it is because of his stellar writing, short stories packed with imagery delivered in a distinct, stoned New Orleans drawl, but part of it is due to my ability to relate. The things embraced in his songs are the same luxuries of life I occasionally indulge in (though to a much smaller degree): Weed, Chevys, girls from out of town. His music is easy to consume a lot of because his writing is so consistently compelling, so when he raps of chasing after bags and watching dudes cuff their girls out of the corner of his eye as they prepare to walk past him, there’s an allure to it. There’s always a level of added detail to the circle of topics in Spitta’s verses, like a room of paintings gestating for years, getting several more brush strokes every day. Making the aspirational truly inspirational is a delicate balance.
Something I discovered during my love affair with Carrolton Heist is how subtle Curren$y’s humor is. At the end of “Smoking in the Rain,” he almost murmurs, “Lost my main bitch as a I got richer.” When he delivers the punchline (“She ain’t dead, I just ain’t fucking with her”), I laugh almost every time.
Andretti is also very fond of throwing in snatches of verses, or certain ad-libs, into several different songs on the same project. The way he occasionally says, “Let me out right here” before he’s about to drop a verse on Carrolton Heist, I imagine him in one of his many, many cars, having a young dude drop him off somewhere before he borrows it for the day.
II. ‘CAUSE I AIN’T WORKING FOR THE RADIO STATION LIKE MARTIN PAYNE
If Yasiin Bey wrote you an email, what would you want it to say?
What if you spent over a decade perfecting your craft only for people to say you’re still good but you’ve definitely peaked, to say you’re only as great as your best collaborators? (And let’s be clear, Curren$y’s all-star list of collaborators is far too voluminous to recount here. But please allow me to give a special shout out to Fiend.) What if the grind finally got to you and you felt as though maybe you’ve made as much money as you’re going to make doing something you have a passion and talent for?
“I contemplated stopping,” Curren$y intones on “Anything,” “Got an email from Mos Def, he said he still watching.” Mos Def, from one of your best-known songs (“The Day” from Pilot Talk, featuring an incredibly solid Jay Electronica verse back when that was still an event), reached out from South Africa (“You know how them phones be acting,” says Curren$y of international mobile service) to tell you his attention hasn’t wavered. Imagine if Brother Yasiin was, like Curren$y, was somehow an even better rapper than he was in 2011. December 99th may have been exactly what we’ve needed.
As the line has been on him for years now, the core themes of Curren$y haven’t changed all that much since the days of Pilot Talk and Covert Coup. He’s still running after money every day, still schooling young cats on game, still indulging himself on the finer points in life. He’s an Aries who lives like a Libra. (And much like a Libra, he’s exactly the kind of person you’d like to smoke a blunt with.) His aforementioned refining of his talents render his interests more vividly than ever. On “Sorry for the Wraith,” he has equal affinity for both off-the-lot luxury cars and the classics: “Sweatsuit, $300,000 coupe / Bitch guess who, same one brung them low riders through.”
Embracing being a beacon of “inspiration for niggas who out there chasing that paper” has brought a renewed focus to his writing; knowing your experience gives others a leg up out of adverse situations is part and parcel to why making art is so important. On Pilot Talk III (potentially unpopular opinion: my favorite of the trilogy), this point is colored in exceptionally. On “Opening Credits,” Andretti laments a time where he was ready to pack it all in and move back under the roof of his mother, the power company shutting off his lights. Though his vocal tone never wavers, the tone in his writing practically drenches a napkin with tears when he speaks of having to sell his first low rider. Cars produced in 1964 are especially hard to come by these days. I probably would have sobbed on record.
Deep into the first verse of “Cargo Planes,” he raps about a fan who told him in a meet and greet that his words saved his life and passed him a joint. You can practically see Spitta nodding with approval in the booth as he looks back on the moment and delivers his next line: “That’s why I keep going, G.” Through all the different types of paper littering his current headspace—federal reserve notes, Top rolling papers, automobile titles, major label contracts—it’s just as easy for Curren$y to remember when that paper represented past due notices.
On the title track of Stoned on Ocean, there’s a line which strikes me as one of quite a few singular moments in Spitta’s vast discography: “The grind was beyond tough, would like to think them times beyond us.” As the future so often is, hopeful but uncertain.
III. YEAR IN THE LIFE OUTTAKE: CURREN$Y – “LIFERS”
When I went to sleep the evening of November 4th, the electoral college results hadn’t confirmed Trump had won the election. By the time I woke up, I, like a good number of us, felt as though one of those paranoid political thriller nightmares was coming to life at the peak of my waking consciousness. So what choice did I have but to get stoned, watch a WWE documentary, and prepare for tomorrow to be yet another stressful day?
For most of my 2016, my primary focus had been toward understanding my emotions on a deeper level and trying not to be so hard on myself. Unfortunately, self-care doesn’t pay the bills. I thought for a solid few minutes, half-stoned at 6pm and driving to the new Eastside Tacoma townhome of a buddy I hadn’t seen in a minute. I’d worn the same outfit five days straight. I didn’t want to change clothes, even though my plaid oxford kept untucking itself, the buttons slanted to the left, and by its smell, my sweater clearly reflected the activities of the past few days staving off election week anxiety.
My windshield wipers swept away the heavy mist as I drove. Earlier in the day, the sky was an unforgiving grey, even more foreboding than we’re used to in the Pacific Northwest. It’s like the weather knew our state of mind. The beat for “Lifers” made the perfect musical accompaniment, its downcast piano sample and modest drums sounding exactly like the afternoon following a bad night.
I knew Google Maps had taken me to the right place when I saw the 2014 Dodge Challenger in the parking spot, matte black with black rims, sitting next to an black 1996 Impala with 24-inch chrome wheels. The red interior of the Challenger revealed itself underneath the tinted windows, just barely opaque enough as to not get pulled over. (The tint on the Impala was well beyond legal, but a close inspection revealed a baby seat.)
He answered the door, and as he gave me a tour of the downstairs, I secretly coveted his $600 Golden Goose Deluxe Brand sneakers he first saw in a copy of GQ he borrowed from me and never gave back. My savings account—and by this, I mean the insides of a Coach shoebox in my closet disheveled with $100 bills—was dwindling because of medical problems, but the pride of influence was a temporary balm for the pain of seeing my money vanish for the sake of staying alive and pain-free.
My friend’s girlfriend emerged from the den carrying their daughter, hands cramped and eyes strained from braiding hair in front of the television all day. We exchanged short pleasantries as it was only the third time we’d had anything resembling a conversation. She said I was looking healthy. “Must be all the cardio,” she quipped, a callback to one of our two previous chats. I didn’t get a chance to tell her I just passed a kidney stone the previous weekend before she hoisted her daughter.
“I’m gonna take her upstairs,” she said to my friend. “Please close the patio door this time.”
The rain let up for a minute, so there we were on the patio, that sour, skunky smell again seeping into my clothes. Our conversation skirted a few topics: Rap music (he’s still a good eighteen months behind on Curren$y), being a black man in America (“After yesterday, it’s only going to get worse before it gets better, not just for us, but for all of us.”), the risk of investing capital into a creative enterprise (“I mean, you’re obviously a talented writer, but what if nobody buys your book?”), and if marriage is in the cards for either of us. He’s got a family, he told me, why go into his pockets just to celebrate what he, his girlfriend, and their daughter already knows is obvious? It’s a good point.
I didn’t have a good enough point to compliment his, but he made me feel better by saying it takes a lot of moxie to smirk in the face of a society quick to tell anyone a ring, a house, and a playpen is the ultimate goal for everyone. He said he lived vicariously through my choice to remain a bachelor and asked me about my lady friends. Usually people just want to know how the sex is, or if I can keep up with having that much sex, but he has always genuinely been interested in my dynamic with them and how I relate to each.
Of course, our conversation eventually steered itself to the election and our profound disbelief it would turn out the way it did. I posited the theory that a good portion of registered voters would rather cast their ballot for yet another bigot obsessed with money and power than a woman. He talked about how elections are basically an elevated version of voting for a homecoming king and queen, how popularity wins over policy. I joked, “This is probably what our grandfathers said about Reagan.”
Watching the reefer smoke billow up to the sky like smoke from the chimneys in the distance, he took a second puff, passed the blunt to me, and leaned over the deck railing. I inhaled as he turned back to look at me and he said, “You should do what I’m gonna do: stack as much bread as you can before Trump sets them nukes off.”
I took that thought in as deeply as the smoke I brought into my chest. I wondered how many generations of black men had done the same thing we’re doing; smoking weed and ruminating on our place in the world, the long shot optimism we employ for the future, and how much advice we had given to each other that repeats a well-worn sentiment: The game is rigged against us, so the most rational thing for us to do is cash out when we’re up.
IV. THE THIRTIES
Andretti 9/30, the first of a four-month series titled after the date of its release, opens with “All On One Tape,” revealing Spitta’s long history as a fan of rap from all parts of its origin country. Before there was a such thing as “post-regional” rap (I’d argue the internet has rendered every art form in the world “post-regional,” thus minimizing the term’s impact), you either stuck to your localized hip-hop scene and those nearby or used The Source or Rap City to cherry pick from elsewhere. You did what you had to do to be as versed as possible in rap music.
My longtime friend Zilla Rocca and I recently had a conversation about how, growing up in pre-Petey Pablo North Carolina, where rappers from my state were still struggling to be nationally recognized, I was exposed to rap from every part of the country.
Though the artists who piqued my curiosity the most were from New York (I’ve told many stories of listening to hip-hop since the womb, but Wu-Tang being the group that made me obsessed with rap), my biological mother listened to everything in her car: Geto Boys, Too $hort, Crucial Conflict, Three 6 Mafia, the Luniz, anything adjacent to Tupac (he and LL Cool J were her favorite rappers), Spice 1, pre-I’m Bout It Master P. “All on One Tape” sounds like the kind of tapes I’d dub for myself if I had better access to music than the broken secondhand stereo in our living room, or if we could afford more than the “Hit ‘Em Up” 12-inch for its record player.
There is such a wealth of material on Andretti 9/30 – 12/30 it would be difficult to recount all its highlights. 10/30 and 11/30 are the gems of the collection, the former being a shining encapsulation of what Curren$y does best as a rapper and how his writing has gotten even better since his days of being just as critically acclaimed as he is prolific. The tone of the latter is a shade darker than he usually gets, which is saying a lot about a project that opens with a flip of an ebullient R. Kelly sample. All of us are exposed to the dark side of life at some point, and it is our embrace of it—or at least our acknowledgement that it has the power to change us—that I find most interesting in art. Maybe that’s why being goth is so trendy nowadays.
THE THIRTIES SUBTHREAD: A LOOSE AND INCOMPLETE COLLECTION OF HIGHLIGHTS
“New Orleans State of Mind” (11/30)—I’ve never been to the city, but my brother-in-law grew up there, and this song accurately reflects some of the aspects of what he’s told me about the grim side of his upbringing. Long nights on Bourbon Street, waking up on the curb in the rain. In addition to “feeling like Nas when he wrote ‘Hate Me Now,’” Spitta’s headspace thinking about his city has him “smoking weed to ease [his] mind” and “got [him] drinking, thinking about homies who died,” evoking the image of all the people I know (present company included) who use alcohol and marijuana partly as a balm for their PTSD in places where free therapy is a laughable fantasy and anti-depressants numb you to even the good parts of life. These are the neighborhoods where even the staunchest Obamacare advocates are afraid to visit.
“Speculation” (9/30, again featuring a stellar Fiend verse) is a clear antecedent to “Fed Ex” (11/30), from the Rolls Royce headrests (again, Sorry for the Wraith) to the downcast synths, skittering hi-hats, and “cruising through the back alleys” feel. Spitta tells a story during “On the Clock” (10/30) about trying (and failing to line up his Chevys to fit them into a cell phone photo, turning it to the side and everything to get a wide shot. On the same release, “Cessnas and Helicopters” is a broken pledge of fidelity, from “scrambling for sneaker dough” to drifting apart; On “Picking Up Bags,” Tiny C Style boasts of “getting bags where they filmed ‘Country Grammar.’”
There’s “Real Family” (11/30), where scores are settled while Spitta is just trying to find a ride to his classes. There’s “Landed,” where he recounts a time when he lived in Miami, “fall[ing] asleep stoned on the balcony.” He does burnouts in an Nova SS (“it looked like the tires exploded”), test drives unreleased models straight from the factory (“It might not never be released / They just want me to try it out”), rides to rooftop bars in the talent elevator, and, as is a given in life, pulls up to disgusted faces: “Rolls Royce come through like Theraflu, nasty as fuck.”
As with most good artists, he knows the art is to be sold, not to be told: “I can share the recipe with you minus a couple steps,” Curren$y says on “Above the Law” before he slyly winks, “Gotta save some of that game for myself.”
V. JETLANTA AND BEYOND
The Jetlanta EP, released a little over a month ago, is a status update par excellence, the kind where you tag your best homies (and this case, noted Jet Lifers Corner Boy P and T.Y.) and show your followers you’re balling out, which, in our increased state of social media anxiety, can be a little difficult to come by. Spitta recounts penning verses to Jay-Z instrumentals, just like a 17-year-old Douglas Martin (those verses are long-gone and will never be shown to the world), offers an inventory of his car collection (“I got ten at the crib, I got three by my bitch, I got seven in storage now”), and, after a harrowing encounter with a lady friend in his car, offers a stance on polyamory similar to my own (“You gonna wanna be the main bitch, but I don’t wanna do no more main bitches”). It’s the type of project, like most of our status updates, that provides a glimpse into the life unsurprising to those who are familiar with his work, but is a breezy, fun listen nonetheless.
With The Marina EP “still being perfected” and projects with Big K.R.I.T. and Freddie Gibbs in the works, the smart money indicates Curren$y is not planning on slowing down anytime soon. As the title of his 2015 release with Young Roddy (Bales) suggests in a roundabout way, you must always make hay while the sun is shining. This is the hustler’s credo, dating back centuries when a hustle was trading a huge bundle of dead grass for a horse. Spitta is addicted to the grind, even when it grinds him down, but he knows his lane and loves it anyway: “I know what you wanna hear, that shit that make you hustle all year.”