Rain tempers Mardi Gras celebrations along Bourbon Street, confining the debauchery inside the bars and strip clubs. Miles away in Metairie, La., rapper Curren$y doesn’t partake in festivities. Driving his massive, black Dodge pickup truck that engulfs his 5-foot-five-inch, freshly dressed frame — head to toe in apparel from popular street wear brand, 10 Deep — he’s headed to the recording studio.
After locating a joint in one of the many shoeboxes that fill the cab of his truck, he lights it and turns on the stereo for a listen of his new album. Fittingly, he skips to the third track. The chorus blares through the speakers: “This is elevator muzik, all we do is ride around and get high to it.”
Throughout the ride, he nods his head to the music in approval. “It’s like Charles Barkley’s ring,” he says later. Unlike the basketball legend who failed to win a championship, Curren$y has accomplished the one thing that he’s had “hanging over his head” — releasing his debut album, “This Ain’t No Mixtape.” More importantly, he’s done so on his own terms.
His pursuit of rap success is also a mission to prove his independence. Along with weed and recording, it’s his obsession. “Without having to deal with any of the politics of the industry, I can do this shit myself and be on the same level as the major players,” he says.
Measured against the best, he’s been labeled “the best rapper from New Orleans” by Asmi “Eskay” Rawlins, the founder of popular hip-hop website NahRight.com. It’s a bold statement considering Lil Wayne, the best-selling artist of 2008, is from the same city. Yet with his smooth but complex polysyllabic rhymes, Curren$y proves it’s within reason.
Record labels spotted his talent early, his first deal coming with No Limit Records in 2002. However, their crowded roster left little room for his album. In 2004, he joined another New Orleans-based label, Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment. After appearing on Wayne’s breakthrough album, “Tha Carter II,” Curren$y seemed next in line to drop an album of his own, but it never materialized due to a failed first single and the label’s focus on Wayne. And so, in December 2007, as Wayne was prepping “The Carter III,” — the triple-platinum album that would elevate the status of both Wayne and his label — Curren$y left.
“You’re not gonna work at Burger King if you can go open your own and make [similar] money,” said Curren$y late last year of his decision to try the independent route. “I can make hamburgers, too, so I got my own thing.”
In March 2008, he resurfaced with a free online mixtape appropriately titled “Independence Day.” Releasing mixtapes monthly until October, Curren$y gained national exposure — via the Internet — for the first time.
Eventually, he landed on the November 2008 cover of the top-selling rap magazine XXL as one of their “Top Freshman of ’09.” Nine others joined him on the cover, five of whom were signed to a major label at the time. By April, only two remained unsigned — one of which was Curren$y.
“The music business caters to quick fixes nowadays,” says rap journalist Trent Clark. “People mainly listen to one song — hits or club jams. Music is undervalued for content and Curren$y doesn’t have a signature song under his belt at the moment.”
“The music that I make is more of what people want to hear, not what they’re forced to hear,” says Curren$y. He prefers “elevator muzik,” a combination of the laid back, stoner-rap vibes and synth-heavy beats tailored for booming car sound systems. “[It] emulates his persona to a tee,” says Clark. “Fly, spaced-out, and carefree. That’s Curren$y all day.”
Curren$y’s days usually begin with relaxing, marijuana-filled mornings, according to his Twitter messages reading, “I waketh, I baketh.” With his roommate, rapper Trademark The SkyDiver, he’ll routinely watch one of the many DVDs they own, such as “Heat” and “King of New York.” Once over, it’s time for another smoke and a replay of what they just saw, sometimes repeating the process until they pass out. “That’s how you remember all the lines,” says Trademark.
As a result, famous phrases from film and television creep into Curren$y’s lyrics, endearing him to his listeners. Relatable cartoon references — “My pockets fatter than Peter Griffin,” he raps on ”Elevator Muzik,” alluding to the hefty “Family Guy” protagonist — also enhance his laid-back, “everydude” image.
In his own words, he’s a “modern-day hippie.” “I just like to be around positive vibes, good weed, and good music — to just keep easy,” he says. However, it’s the very reason he’s not cut out for the cutthroat record industry, one that demands maturity and forcefulness.
“I definitely know the politics of the industry aren’t for me so that’s why I keep to myself and try to handle everything on my own,” he says. Thus, he chose to release his album as a payable download through the online distributor Amalgam Digital, forgoing a traditional deal.
“We’re not going through the same channels as everybody else,” he says. “A lot of people would’ve stopped running after this many hurdles. A lot of people expected me to stop. I think I proved to them that I knew that I could do it on my own and that they’re people out there really listening to me because I wouldn’t have [made an album] if I didn’t feel like there was a market.”
Unfortunately, the online market is small. On the release date of “This Ain’t No Mixtape,” Eskay wrote on his website, “If there was any justice in the world and a rapper’s success level was directly tied to his skill level, Curren$y would be selling as many copies as [Lil Wayne].”
Yet justice was served – Curren$y made no compromises. “If I say I’ma do it, consider it done. My track record will prove it,” he raps on “Elevator Muzik.” For now, he can keep driving around New Orleans, getting high as he revels in the fulfillment of his mission.