By Steve Weinstein
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Every rapper has a signature adlib they utter prior to kicking their rhyme, and Curren$y the Hot Spitta is no different. "The 'Y' is silent," he says about the smoked-out syllable that prefaces his verses. "It sounds more like 'eah.' "
That adlib has appeared on a slew of tracks in 2011; Curren$y is fresh off putting out his second major-label release of the year, Weekend at Burnie's (Jet Life/Warner Bros.), and he has at least three more scheduled to come out before you say "Happy 2012!" Which means you're going to hear plenty of Spitta's nasal, lazy drawl spitting a neverending barrage of references to cars, clothes, women, and the copious amounts of marijuana he and and his Jet Set burn through. Though his subject matter is pretty one-dimensional, when he attacks a beat, he leaves no part of it unused, sometimes seeming to have no regard for couplets or even rhyming. Combine that with his ear for spacey, soulful soundscapes, and you've got a sound that gives classic hip-hop stylings a millennial edge.
He may fly slightly below the radar—he has yet to make much of a dent in radio playlists—but he still manages to be arguably the most prolific rapper in the game. How does this kid do it?
After leaving Young Money in 2007, Curren$y went on a rampage, mercilessly ripping classic beats on mixtape after mixtape. He released his debut, This Ain't No Mixtape, on Amalgam Records in 2009 and started tearing up the chitlin' circuit. Last year's Pilot Talk 1 and 2, however, put him in a higher (pun intended) echelon; young listeners appreciated his ferocious approach, while vets like Raekwon, Ski Beatz, and Dame Dash noticed that there was an old soul under the snapback and Diamond Supply T-shirt. Breaking into the majors seemed inevitable.
Enter Warner Bros., which signed him and his Jet Life Records imprint earlier this year.
"I was so anti-suit for a while," chuckles Curren$y. "See, I started getting responses just from the mixtapes alone. But all the suits at the labels that we were taking these meetings with had all kinds of ideas and changes they wanted to make. It was frustrating, and I became pretty anti-suit. But at WBR, when I took a meeting with Joie Manda and Todd Moscowitz, they just wanted to get my material to a broader audience. They didn't want to change anything.
"Plus, Joie wears sweatpants every day to the office. So I felt right at home."
Lots of rappers spend big chunks of time in the studio, but in most cases a minuscule percentage of that work sees the light of day. What's different about Curren$y? Is it his music-biz acumen? Bonding over a particular idea of "business casual"? Or is it his fans, the loyal and almost creepily devoted Jets, who rush to Best Buy and then gleefully Tweet pictures of the CD in their grubby little hands (Burnie's moved 23,000 copies in its first week), who buy "Jet Life" billboards, who wear clothing from streetwear lines that have released Curren$y-inspired material? Does their demonstrated willingness to spend money on their idol spur the suits to keep on giving them things to buy?
Warner Bros. is taking a cue from what Def Jam/Universal didn't do when the Pilot Talk series came out last year; the label didn't make note of his diehard fans' dedication and as a result Pilot Talk was severely undershipped, selling out faster than two-for-$5 jums on 119th Street in 1987.
"Well, I hoped they learned their lesson, but I'm not mad," he says of that time. "On paper, I guess I don't appear to be in such high demand. But those that know how to assess popularity nowadays see it. Trust."
It doesn't take an industry veteran to see how Curren$y stays on the masses' minds. "I rarely go more than two or three weeks without putting out something online," he notes. "You have to make yourself easy to find. Stay accessible."
That accessibility has resulted in him honing in on the younger generation's affinities: snapbacks over fitteds, papers over blunts, Chevrolets over Benzes. It's debatable if he dresses like his demographic or they dress like him. It doesn't matter, really; either way, they all relate to one another.
"My nephews put me on to him," says DD172/ Blu Roc Records head Dame Dash, who signed Curren$y before he landed at Warner and maintains a working relationship with him. "I asked them flat-out, 'Which one of these new kids should I fuck with?' They didn't even have to contemplate the question, really. There's just something about him that people just gravitate to."
Curren$y provides further insight into his success. "I'm big on observing. And it was definitely, shall we say, educational to see certain artists going about building their empires, building their own movements: Pharrell with Star Trak, Cam'ron with Dipset. Fans would hear a beat and be like, 'That sounds like a Neptunes beat,' or 'That sounds like a Dipset joint.' That's how I engineered Jet Life to be. I want it to be branded in a way, so the people know what it is."