This is worth mentioning up front: New Orleans rapper Fiend and DJ/producer Don Cannon almost certainly mean nothing with the Mad Men-biting cover art for the new mixtape Smokin’ Champagne. More than likely, the image was just iconic and zeitgeisty enough to be worth stealing; it could’ve been Breaking Bad or, like, Terra Nova just as easily. But I’m going to go ahead and make a few parallels anyway. There’s a lot going on in every episode of Mad Men, obviously, but the show still pulls some of its appeal from the idea that this is how real men used to be. Don Draper may be a deeply flawed and unhappy character, but he’s a deeply flawed and unhappy character who knows how to put away bourbon and to talk a parade of gorgeous women out of their painstakingly assembled, era-specific outfits. And that’s pretty much why I like Fiend. Almost every rapper talks about weed and girls, but almost none of them do it with the gravelly aging-libertine authority of Fiend. On record, he carries himself like a very capable man, one who knows how to enjoy life and how to get what he wants. He sounds like a cool motherfucker, and that coolness is more than enough to convince me to forgive the sin of redundancy.
Fiend has had one of the weirdest career stories of anyone in rap. He started out on Master P’s late-’90s No Limit juggernaut, playing the raspy spitfire role whenever Mystikal was busy, and even sometimes when he wasn’t. These days, though, Fiend’s “Mr. Whomp Whomp” past feels like his Dick Whitman era. When most of the No Limit stable faded into southern-underground obscurity, so did Fiend. And though I’m sure plenty of fans kept up with him the entire time he was in the wilderness, he didn’t reappear on my radar until last year, when he rapped on a few tracks with fellow No Limit veteran Curren$y. When I started hearing these new Fiend/Curren$y songs, I didn’t believe this was the same Fiend. His fired-up bellow is gone completely these days, though I’m sure he can still turn it on when the mood hits him. These days, he’s in full laid-back sunk-in-the-couch mode. He lets his conversational, plainspoken baritone sit in his tracks’ pocket as he dispenses what sounds like hard-earned wisdom even when he’s just bragging about his weed intake. And Curren$y’s favorite production style, a luxuriant sample-based slowed-down rap psychedelia, fits Fiend perfectly. It might eve suit Fiend better than it suits Curren$y.
In 2011, Fiend has released a string of strong mixtapes, starting with Tennis Shoes And Tuxedos, probably still my favorite tape of the year. Over gorgeously flowery soul-rap tracks, he’s stayed in a ridiculously cool zone, and his mixtapes are better for relaxing than any other music I’ve heard in 2011, rap or otherwise. On Cool Is In Session, his last mixtape, he made me very happy by rapping over the Specials’ “Ghost Town.” There are no left-turns like that on Smokin’ Champagne; he simply stays in the same tough-elder mode he’s been in all year, and the tracks find his slow-coast sweet spot. It’s one excellent tape in an ever-growing string of them. And if Fiend keeps cranking out tapes like this for the next 10 years, you won’t see me complaining.
Download Smokin’ Champagne for free right here.