Curren$y goes high definition and big spender on his second major label album, enlisting a number of the hottest producers to create one of the year's most luxurious listens. But at what cost?
For the past four years and change, Curren$y has been spearheading the internet-fueled, southern rap as inspired by '90s boom-bap jazz and turn of the millenium Roc-A-Fella elegance. It's a sound that had a heavy influence on Wiz Khalifa's most well-received efforts and turned Rick Ross's Maybach Music Group into something like a gangster-rap mecca. While Curren$y's move into the big leagues has been marked with caution, a deliberate move with memories of his days at Cash Money and No Limit still fresh in his memory, it's been hard to ignore his influence on the hypemakers.
But in 2011 the rapper who "refused the majors and stayed real / [he] kept [his] promise" finally followed in his sonic peers' footsteps, bringing his Jet Life Records imprint into the Warners' fold much as Wiz's Taylor Gang and Ross' MMGs had done previously. Weekend at Burnie's marked Curren$y's test run with the world of major labels, a moderately successful release that saw the rapper curtail none of what made him viable economically while also balking slightly in terms of continued artistic growth.
What The Stoned Immaculate threatens to represent, then, is Curren$y's stoic adherence to the principles that Warner Bros. thinks sell records, as well as a considerable boon in personal finances. There are the interpromotional tracks one would expect, from Wale and Wiz Khalifa to the resurgent 2 Chainz and Daz Dillinger. Curren$y finally gets to work with one of his heroes, Pharrell, and resolutely professional vocal hooks are provided by Marsha Ambrosious and Estelle. Being an artist whose projects generally only involve those closest to him, the reliance on name value alone is a major label shift for Curren$y that instantly alters the feel of his work.
In fact, Wale opens the album with "What It Look Like", and with the Bink! beat swirling around the room like a cousin of Ross's majestic "Maybach Music" trilogy, it's hard not to wonder if we're listening to a track that missed the cut on Wale's Ambition. Those two vocal hooks are mostly new territory for Spitta as well, who's been one of the increasingly rare artists to remain in favor of the rapped hook lately -- even if he has to borrow it from the verses of someone like Snoop Dogg or Big Boi ("Prioritize") to make sure it sticks.
But the sonic differences are just those -- differences. What the enlisted producers such as Rashad, Monster Beatz, Daz Dillinger, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Big K.R.I.T., the Innovatorz and more have brought to the table here is a truly ambitious take on the marble-floored, velour-draped soundscapes Warner artists have been cultivating over the past few years. Monster Beatz' "Sunroof", for example, is built on the same Arthur Verocai track that made Ludacris' "Do the Right Thing" feel so triumphant, but here it's crashing through a variety of filters and additional instrumentation that makes the sample feel widescreen, a small piece of a much bigger puzzle.
But this also means these decisions that bear the burden of being ambitious; you might love the God of War sampling "No Squares" but I'm decidedly uninterested in its false intimidation mode. I've never seen Curren$y or Wiz Khalifa as wielders of the Blades of Chaos, and that track does little to adjust that feeling. The tracks that are firmly in his lane but experimental enough to feel different that really work: "Sunroof", with that wild Arthur Verocai interpolation, "Showroom", "Capitol", "Jet Life". It's the first verse of "Chasin' Paper" that a veteran Curren$y listener would expect more of here, but for once it's rare the songs truly ignite without a hot beat to support them. Thankfully, that's most everything here.
Working against Curren$y's favor on some of these other tracks -- even "Showroom" -- is his adherence to a more basic, regimental flow that does not feel as nuanced as the numerous free projects he's been blessing us with since 2007. As his beat options have expanded more and more, the guy seems to have rejected the notion he might need to try something new, and his (intentional) lack of energy just feels lost against his Jet Life homies, or Wiz and 2 Chainz. His on-paper lyricism also slips a bit, rehashing topics those of us who've been paying close attention have heard plenty of times while relinquishing subtly complex metaphors in favor of explicitly straight forward storytelling raps. If it were about more than money and fucking other guys' girlfriends it'd be one thing, but being that he's described both subjects in much finer detail for years now, it's certainly a bummer that Stoned Immaculate is an album content to spell things out.
Interestingly, the bonus tracks spread across iTunes, Spotify and a personal code located in the liner notes are more in line with the tracks on the album proper that succeed, lending to an odd sense of "maybe this album isn't the album" that seems to corrupt many a major label release these days. Once you've found rips of them all, you know, a personalized playlist may not be the worst idea. Truly, the most awkward moment listening to this album is when you come across "J.L.R." and "One More Time" (not to mention the "water balloon bomb threats" on "Audio Dope III") on iTunes and realize just a year ago the whole album might have sounded like that. Maybe you should have just waited for the next mixtape? Only in hip-hop is this relationship between money and product so awkward.
Stoned Immaculate is one of those hip-hop albums that's very hard to grade. On the one hand, it's an artist who's been making exceptionally enjoyable music for half a decade finally getting a label deal and celebrating his success. But it's also something that feels so different from his past catalog -- in a generic, slightly unexciting way -- that it's hard to celebrate as a listener. There are keen verses here, and the production generally deserves more than praise, but as a total package the most exciting pieces have nothing to do with the artist credited on the cover art.
For a guy who's made so much of his success on the taste of his ears and tongue, it's a strange experience. Put this in your car and use some drugs to it, but be wary of more cautious listening experiences. They may not yield the high you're after. Perhaps I'm a little underwhelmed due to some form of overexposure, but I'm not sure Stoned Illmaculate can sell itself to newcomers the way either of the Pilot Talk albums could. Or to old-timers, either. It's that odd limbo album, trapped between expectations and achievement. A victory lap with few bouquets or decorative stuffed fauna. All haze.