When Curren$y released the first album of his ‘Pilot Talk’ series, it was exactly ten years ago. It was an immediately arresting set of laconic, pop-friendly rap tracks made up of slowed down and high pitched samples, almost all exclusively the handiwork of producer Ski Beatz. It’s not hard to think of a world where it’s Curren$y instead of Wiz Khalifa as the stoned rapper making it onto a ‘Fast and Furious’ soundtrack. Yet, that’s not how things worked out. Wiz achieved super stardom and lost much of his lackadaisical charm in the process, Curren$y stayed in studios with the same single-minded focus: release another album, smoke another joint.
Over those past several years, Curren$y has proved he has a mastery of his own smoked out aesthetic and an ear for beats that rivals Rick Ross. You won’t see Curren$y hopping on the EDM-inflected work of latter day Danny Brown or the more psychedelic end of A$AP Rocky’s music because there’s no need. At the age of 39, Curren$y is fully aware of his identity and knows what works for him – collaborating with a stable of go-to producers that suit him well.
However, without a focus, Curren$y’s greatest attribute – consistency – quickly becomes one of his greatest weaknesses. Without the X factor behind that focus, the songs begin to blend together, beats start slinking into each other, and everything is awash in a dull sameness. Complacency overrides consistency. His albums, ‘The Stoned Immaculate’ and ‘Canal Street Confidential,’ are victims of this unfortunate trend.
Yet the name “Harry Fraud” never fails to excite when placed next to Curren$y’s. The two have a history that goes back to 2012’s underappreciated ‘Cigarette Boats,’ which had a 25-year-old Harry Fraud manning the boards and setting a high mark in Curren$y’s discography. Smartly selected samples and clean drums that embodied the lighthearted lifestyle presented in Curren$y’s globe-trotting lyrics defined the project. Add his trademark lingering drawl and penchant for leisurely melodies, and you had a serious contender for EP of the year. 2018’s follow up ‘The Marina’ wasn’t as immediate a collaboration project, but today’s release is a return to form for the duo.
‘The OutRunners’ is more proof that with a proper partner, Curren$y is no less capable of a great project. The duo’s chemistry is undeniable, especially when recognizing that the combination of their remarkably assured production and rapping could only come from a place of great comfort. A rising tide lifts all (cigarette) boats, and this is no less true in regards to two standout features. Wiz Khalifa sounds awake and invested in his presence on “90 IROC-Z” for the first time in years, his verse imbued with melody like we accidentally received the version of him that was present on his classic mixtape “Kush & Orange Juice” instead of the sponsorship-toting smoked jerky we’ve been left with. Rick Ross may not need more than a growl to make his presence known, but does so anyway – punching in with a verse that’s equal parts striking in its imagery as it is slick with its flow on “Mugello Red.”
In a year where the nervous energy of a pandemic has sunk into the very makeup of albums, this project is remarkably aloof. The entirety of its 24 minute running time serves as a much needed respite, a self-confident victory lap built on samples and a slight slurring of sentences. The lyrics aren’t revelatory, but are instead an exercise in function and style – where an energized Curren$y transforms boilerplate lyrics into lifestyle statements with his inflections, his tics. As a listener, you’re there for the way he draws certain vowels out, not for a lecturing about the Five Percenters a la Jay Electronica. Lyrical content in rap isn’t essential, it’s compositional.
This album is meant to be played in full and accompany hot, humid summer afternoons where paradise is one more cold glass away and work isn’t a concern. “The OutRunners” as a whole is smooth with samples of violins ripped straight from soul records and with saxophones slinking back and forth slowly – all of which play a part in the album’s murky atmosphere. Harry Fraud’s production largely avoids the vocal samples and instead hones in on standout instrumental moments like an elegiac piano riff that comes to ground the cool of “Mugello Red,” or the brilliant chop of the bass driving other album standout “In the Coupe.” Other heavy hitters on the album like “Seven Seas” and album closer “Pounds of Paper” carry an austere aggression with a deep bass that Fraud lends them. This project is as much Fraud’s as it is his collaborator’s.
The Curren$y of 2020 is a seasoned rapper, consistent collaborator, and consummate curator who has managed to keep his identity in the face of major label efforts and continues to make a name for himself through a steadfast output of mixtapes. There’s a love for his work, a sense that he isn’t willed, but wants to put out the music he does. This isn’t labor, but love.
Release Date: 7/24/20
Standout Songs: “90 IROC-Z,” “Mugello Red,” “In the Coupe”
Reviews by The Fusion Press