Curren$y and Freddie Gibbs had it figured out before almost everyone else. Near the beginning of this decade, when the rap landscape completely and irrevocably changed, both of them were right there. Both of them figured things out on their own. They saw rap music becoming a decentered system, a fractured landscape that no longer orbited around a few transcendent stars. Both of them figured out that if they just did their own things and developed their own sounds, they could have long and rewarding careers entirely outside that system. And both of them figured that out the hard way.
Both Curren$y and Gibbs did their dances with the major-label system. Curren$y, for one, managed to sign with both of his hometown New Orleans juggernauts. In 2002, when he was 21, he joined the flagging No Limit Records, sticking around long enough to see it utterly disintegrate. Then he signed up with Cash Money, No Limit’s longtime crosstown rival. Curren$y was one of the first rappers on Lil Wayne’s Young Money offshoot, and he was all over the mixtapes that Wayne released during his late-’00s mixtape-monster years.
But then came the acrimonious break, and Curren$y became a mixtape monster on his own, pushing his sleepy-eyed stoner-rap aesthetic to its natural conclusion on the series of lush and gorgeous Pilot Talk albums with producer Ski Beatz. Wiz Khalifa has still never sounded better than he did on How Fly, his 2010 collaborative mixtape with Curren$y. Curren$y has been on his self-directed underground grind for nearly a decade now, cranking out so much deeply pleasant music so quickly that only a dedicated layabout could keep up with it all.
Freddie Gibbs’ path was different, but it was parallel. In 2006, when he was in his early twenties, he somehow got out of the desolate rap void of Gary, Indiana and got himself signed to Interscope. Nothing came of it. In 2009, dumped from the label, Gibbs put a bunch of his unreleased major-label music, some of it made with big-name producers, on his breakout mixtape The Miseducation Of Freddie Gibbs. Gibbs was the sort of charismatically virtuosic cold-blooded G-rapper who could’ve been a B-level star in the ’90s, but there was no place for him in the new century’s major-label system. So he went off on his own, releasing his expertly tough music on one mixtape after another. That got him noticed in a way that his major-label work hadn’t done.
At a 2011 Chicago show where Gibbs was opening for Big K.R.I.T., Young Jeezy came onstage and presented Gibbs with a CTE chain, inducting him into his clique. But that second dance only gave Gibbs a few excellent utility-guy verses on Jeezy albums. So a couple of years later, Gibbs was back on his own, thriving once again. In 2014, shortly after parting ways with Jeezy, Gibbs teamed up with producer Madlib for the hazily gorgeous album Piñata, still the best thing he’s ever done.
Nobody in rap music has had a journey quite like the Alchemist, but that story’s got some similarities, too. Alchemist came from Beverly Hills, and he was signing major label deals as a young teenager. Alongside Scott Caan, a very young Alchemist was one half of an early-’90s kiddie-rap group called Whooliganz, and they became a part of Cypress Hill’s Soul Assassins crew. I would pay good money to see a conversation between the Alchemist and Scott Caan today.
But the Alchemist grew in some strange and unexpected directions from there. Around 2000, he became a go-to producer for hardheaded East Coast rap tracks like Mobb Deep’s “Got It Twisted” and Jadakiss’ “We Gonna Make It.” Then he seemed to find a whole new voice when he produced all of Mobb Deep member Prodigy’s astonishing 2007 solo project Return Of The Mac, a dank and paranoiac haze of blaxploitation samples. (I interviewed the Alchemist a couple of times around then, and he did not come off like a guy from Beverly Hills.) From there, he walked some strange lines, doing commercial work with people like Lil Wayne and then going into increasingly hazy experimental work on his own. In recent years, he’s kept a job as Eminem’s tour DJ while cranking out deeply stoned and fractured underground music, his studio becoming a clubhouse for half the interesting new voices on the underground.
Alchemist, Curren$y, and Gibbs all crossed paths on record a few times. In 2011, Curren$y made the excellent Alchemist-produced mixtape Covert Coup, and Gibbs showed up on the standout track “Scottie Pippen.” In 2015, all three made “Fetti,” a song for the GTA V soundtrack. On those tracks, everything clicked into place. Curren$y and Gibbs both came alive on Alchemist’s gooey, prismatic beats. Gibbs’ baritone threats helped anchor Curren$y’s expansive weed-talk, and Curren$y’s warmth helped balance out Gibbs’ chilly mastery. Years ago, these guys said they’d all make a full-length project together. That project, also called Fetti, finally came out last week, and Gibbs claimed that they’d recorded the whole thing in two days. And yet they didn’t halfass anything. It was worth the wait.
It’s funny. Curren$y makes so much music that I stopped trying to keep up with it years ago. And yet listening to him at length on Fetti, I’m reminded just how pleasurable it is to hear him ramble. He’s got a zone, and he never really leaves it, but that zone is a pleasant place to be. He always sounds like he’s on autopilot, but he still comes up with memorable turns of phrase. Sometimes, those lines just sound cool: “It’s like diving out the plane once that music hits our veins,” “I pulled up in a what’s this, I came out in a what’s that / A little switch-up move, and that’s a stunt-double pack.” And sometimes, they take you on a weird little emotional ride: “Make sure you touch something luxurious before you die / Light one for Mac Miller, Blue Slide Park in the sky.”
As for Gibbs, he’s just in breathtaking form on Fetti. He’s got emotional rides of his own, many of them revolving around the poverty of his childhood: “It was stomachaches, heartbreaks / Warrants off the missed court dates / Eviction notice, ‘bout to call the county / Said the rent about a million months late,” “Mom and pop ain’t really have the job to get me Lego blocks, so I stacked dough.” But when he’s just talking shit, he does it with unbelievable Chow Yun-Fat panache. It’s a short album, just nine songs in 23 minutes, and yet I can’t resist quoting a few of my favorite Gibbs lines. “We taping mamas up / We filling them llamas up / Niggas making statements, they Manafort, Papadopoulos.” “About to take a trip, I got coke and dope on my grocery list / Oxycontin pack, I be switching rackets like Djokovic.” “Legend in this bitch, might do Coachella as a hologram.”
There is so much rap music out now that an album like Fetti might not register as an event. It’s short, hook-free, with no guests beyond the two main rappers. Gibbs tries out his soul-singer voice on one song, but he’s just having fun with it, not trying to make his sound more accessible. All over the place these days, rappers are teaming up for full-length projects, doing whatever they can to make sure their names stay in front of your face. I don’t think that’s what Gibbs and Curren$y are doing. They’re just making music that makes sense.
Fetti is not an event. That’s what’s good about it. It’s three rap figures who have figured out that events are overrated, that the best thing you can do is keep making good music and keep an audience happy that way. And they’ve done it. It’s a gorgeous haze of an album, full of trippy moments like an Annie Hall dialog sample that you might not notice until the 10th listen. It rides. At one point, Curren$y, weirdly eloquent as always, says, “This is about a preservation of the vibe.” It’s a vibe worth preserving. Once again, they’ve figured it out.
1. J.I.D: “Off Deez” (Feat. J. Cole)
Every once in a long while, we will hear someone who is so insanely good at the act of rapping — as in, the physical, kinetic aspect of it — that it just leaves your head spinning. J.I.D is one of those someones.
2. ALLBLACK & Kenny Beats: “Blitz”
The same week that Kenny Beats produced much of Vince Staples’ masterful new album FM!, he also comes out with this nasty post-hyphy neck-jerker from one of the Bay Area’s most exciting young rappers. This feels like the beginning of a major Kenny Beats winning streak.
3. Boosie Badazz: “Thug Life”
There are few things more exciting than when a bass-heavy old-school beat kicks in and Boosie absolutely locks into it.
4. Pharaohe Monch: “24 Hours” (Feat. Lil Fame)
Anyone who’s ever spent weeks chasing a freelance check can sympathize with the frustration bubbling off of this track. But who in their right mind would owe Lil Fame money and not pay it back immediately, with interest? Have these people really not heard “Ante Up”? Do they not value their lives?
5. Metro Boomin: “Don’t Come Out The House” (Feat. 21 Savage)
Creepy evil whispering 21 Savage is the best 21 Savage.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
fuck it, vest off pic.twitter.com/cKl45zoFTU
— Spooky Bread Terry (@SlimiHendrix) November 7, 2018