â€œI remember being around that elephant,â€ says Curren$y, inhaling sharply as he reflects on a 10-year-old music video. The clip in question, for the tune â€œGet Backâ€ by his old group the 504 Boyz, is a pop time capsule, a masterpiece of turn-of-the-century Dirty South decadence complete with a helicopter, a pair of Lamborghinis and, yes, an elephant. â€œThey had a Gucci harness on it,â€ he says, before coughing dramatically. â€œI was just wondering how it felt about it. I was just like, ‘Shit, is he happy?’â€
Although from a distance it would be easy to mistake the New Orleans rapper for an up-and-comer, Curren$y (born Shante Scott Franklin) is nearing elder-statesman status by rap standards, having spent years shuffling between unsatisfying record contracts. Throughout this period, which he now shrugs off as a â€œlearning experience,â€ the question of happiness was foremost in his mind.
â€œThat was me playing for the team,â€ he says of the music he made for ’90s giants No Limit and Cash Money Records, the two biggest success stories in New Orleans hip-hop history. â€œThat was me trying to do my thing, but trying not to make too many waves in the situation.â€ (Tellingly, in conversation Curren$y always refers to record deals as â€œsituations.â€)
At No Limit, he found his own career increasingly de-emphasized in favor of label head Percy â€œMaster Pâ€ Millerâ€™s pet projects, like his botched stint as a WCW pro-wrestler, or the payola-induced superstardom of Lil Romeo, the tween pop-rap sensation and potato chip impresario who also happened to be Millerâ€™s son. Cash Money allowed Curren$y to raise his profile, though never more than his circumscribed role as Lil Wayne’s apprentice and weed carrier dictated.
Unusually, for a disgruntled rapper, Curren$y appears to hold no ill will toward his former collaborators. â€œYou donâ€™t go to Cash Money and try to change the sound. You donâ€™t go to No Limit and try to change the sound. You make your own lane where you can do your own thing.â€ It was this entrepreneurial outlook that inspired him to shed his proverbial Gucci harness, pull himself up by the bootstraps and go his own way.
The night before Flagpole caught up with the 31-year-old rapper, he had appeared as the musical guest on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” appearing relaxed as he sat stage left and dropped the occasional bar over live accompaniment provided by The Roots.
â€œHe had some dude on there making shaved-ice margaritas,â€ he says. â€œI had a few of those.â€
His blasÃ© attitude toward what many struggling artists would view as a major career opportunity is likely indicative of two related truths. First: as his lyrics would suggest, Curren$y is actually pretty stoned almost all of the time (no Rick Ross-style method acting here). Second: on his own initiative, Curren$y has achieved a level of popularity previously thought unlikely for someone in his position. This was further confirmed earlier this summer by the shockingly strong performance of his “debut” album The Stoned Immaculate (he calls it his debut, just as he called each of his previous albums his debut), which premiered at number eight on the Billboard 200.
His success is a testament to the extraordinary likeability of his persona: a funny and perpetually blazed fabulist in the tradition of Devin the Dude. He has an easygoing flow punctuated by slurred “yeahs” and raps like he has a throat lozenge wedged in one cheek. Heâ€™s arguably at his best in long-form collaborations with a single producer, as on the fan-favorite Pilot Talk (with beatmaker Ski Beatz), Covert Coup (with Alchemist) and the recent mixtape Cigarette Boats (with Harry Fraud).
Equally crucial, though, is his enthusiastic work ethic and commitment to the on- and offline hustle. â€œYou have to take advantage of what you can do for free,â€ he explains. â€œIt doesnâ€™t cost nothing to upload shit to YouTubeâ€¦ Itâ€™s the whole world, but you can touch it with a finger if you do it from that screen.â€
Lately, when he hasnâ€™t been tweeting pictures of blunt wraps or readying a new, free mixtape, heâ€™s been on the road, touring the country with his Jet Life crew.
â€œThat way,â€ he says of the grueling schedule, â€œwhen you get off the bus, you can buy a Ferrari. And then you chill. Thatâ€™s the math on that.â€
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