While Eminem, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, T.I. and Kanye West remain Rap superstars, the last two years of Hip Hop have welcomed some new blood to the conversation. Artists like Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Nicki Minaj have released major label debut albums, and conquered the charts, the radio and become household names. Others are patiently waiting, and releasing project after project on independent labels, still to be labeled "new artists."
HipHopDX wanted to acknowledge five of these hard working, super talented new artists, that in actuality, aren't so new at all. Some have major label backing now, others remain in the underground grind. While Hip Hop continuously (and rightfully so) celebrates freshmen talent, DX opted to knight five hand-selected emcees, chosen by members of our editorial staff, that we want to be looked at as great artists, nothing new about it.
From May 23 through May 27, HipHopDX will post these celebratory editorial pieces each day, unveiling our mystery picks. Do you agree with the choices? Do you agree that they're beyond the "new artist" stigma? Weigh in, starting today.
Curren$y: Class of 2002, School of Botany & Aviation
Truth be told, I’ve never smoked weed. Ever. In my close to 10 years of Hip Hop journalism, most people’s favorite rappers have passed me the Dutch and I passed it right back. There’s no religious or moral obligation I’m upholding. It’s just not my thing. However, last month I interviewed Curren$y about kush for XXL’s April issue and I swear he’s the first artist who ever had me considering it. Why, you ask? Because he spoke so passionately about smoking and was so knowledgeable about the strains of weed that I was like, “Well damn, there must be some utility in weed by the way he’s speaking about it.” That’s clearly not enough to name anyone a “graduate” of anything (maybe graduating from a casual smoker to an addict), but Spitta’s persistence in this game in spite of being high all day could legitimately make him the poster child for the oxymoronic title of Motivated Pothead.
I first met Curren$y back in 2007 for Bridgez magazine’s (shout out to Ariel and Charlie) third issue. Back then he was wielding a skateboard and slightly salty that newcomer Lupe Fiasco made such a big debut (“Kick Push”) solely based upon something Curren$y’s been doing for fun for years. He also questioned the validity of Lupe’s skateboarding lifestyle. Curren$y’s cousin is skateboarding superstar Terry Kennedy, who at the time was Captain of Pharrell’s Ice Cream Skate Team. I asked Spitta if he’d ever trade in the mic for a skateboard. “Nah,” he said. “They pay skaters to skate. They pay me to rap.” It was around this time that Lil Wayne began talking about Curren$y like he was the next big thing despite the fact that Spitta was signed to Cash Money since 2004. The whole Young Money thing was an embryo approaching fetus status and Curren$y was one of the only rappers being touted as a star of Lil Wayne’s brainchild. Curren$y was previously a No Limit soldier back in 2002 as part of the 504 Boyz and was a big deal in the Southern Rap circuit. Our Bridgez interview detailed how he couldn’t even walk around the local mall without being mobbed by fans. Two years prior to our discussion, he lost two cars and his mother’s home to Hurricane Katrina. He was optimistic, but you could tell that disaster really affected him. He was putting the finishing touches on a brand new mixtape titled Music To Fly To, the concept deriving from his extended iPod playlist of songs he’d bump while on a long plane ride. The mixtape was eventually re-titled Life At 30,000 Feet and kicked off Curren$y’s whole flight-inspired shtick he still flies with to this day (Jet Life, Pilot Talk, etc.). Ironically enough, while discussing his life at 30,000 feet he never sounded high. In retrospect he probably was, but it definitely wasn’t as noticeable as it is when speaking to him now. I remember checking out his music and thinking, “He’s too talented to be down with Cash Money.” By the end of 2007, he parted ways with them.
When I took my post at DX in 2009 I started hearing about Curren$y again. That was during his Jet Files release, but I kept mistaking him for CurT@!n$ (artists really need to stop using characters in their names, look what happened to Ma$e). I kept referring to him as a “new” artist, simply because everyone else did. I forgot I even interviewed him. I liked his music a lot though. I was feeling his one track “Famous” and then “Lemon Kush” hit and I was like, “Who is this talented pothead?” I started digging for more of his music and came up with a bunch of mixtapes and freestyles. Tons of them. They presented a rapper who had a healthy balance of arrogance and humility, mixed with sharp-shooting lyrics that came from the laziest sounding voice I’ve ever heard. However, the rhymes were there. I finally understood why he was nicknamed “Spitta.” Upon Googling him, I found my 2007 article, ironically. Journalism fail on my behalf for forgetting, but it was then that I realized this guy was far from new. There’s always some Rap fan who will argue, “I’ve been listening to so and so for like six years!” simply because they stumbled upon a YouTube audio track that they decided was decent. We’ve all done that before. But Curren$y had a legitimately viable career for damn near a decade. Having been signed to multiple major labels, aligned with crews that for better or worse dictated the actions of an entire region, Curren$y has (for lack of a better Twitter cliché) been on his grind. It’s not everyday that an artist has the confidence to walk away from a budding empire (Young Moola, baby) in the hopes of starting his own. He has the talent to back up his ambitions, and while his post-Cash Money music has been heavily weed-inspired, it still showcases a rapper who knows what he’s talking about. I saw it when he talked about kush. He’s an aficionado of weed, and as he continues to promote his art, people will finally realize that he’s an aficionado of Rap.
For anyone unfamiliar with Spitta’s extensive catalog, simply check out his collaborative project with Alchemist titled Covert Coup , which (obviously) dropped on 4/20. That tape has a Pink Floyd quality about it, where the music is clearly inspired by chemical-induction, but the product is really pretty. The first leak on that mixtape “Ventilation” is so psychotropically pleasant that you don’t even need Spitta’s beloved kush to feel high while listening to it. It’s a balance of Alchemist’s hazy beats with Curren$y’s lazy rhyming style. He may by high as hell during the entire mixtape, but it ain’t hard to tell that Curren$y is just a laid back dude.
So why graduate him? The answer to that is why not? We’ve described artists as “seasoned” time and time again for doing a whole lot less. Hip Hop marks rappers as veterans after being on the scene for like a year. That’s a sometimes-accurate number to go by, considering some rappers’ careers only last that long. However, in Curren$y’s case he’s deserving of the transition. He’s put in the work (most of the time under the influence which is very difficult to do), continuously gaining new fans. When I interviewed Curren$y for MSN Music, I asked him if he gets bothered by being referred to as “new”. “I’m just new to them,” he replied. He didn’t start beating his chest about 2002 or the 504 Boyz or Lil Wayne or Terry Kennedy or his skateboard or anything else. He was humble, sounding surprisingly new to the game. It’s only right to pass his tassel to the other side at this point and watch him move onto his Masters and PhD.
Just think, had Curren$y never jumped from the Young Money ship, he might’ve been Drake. He might have also been Cory Gunz. Then again, he could have been any other member of Young Money that is already close to falling into oblivion. But no, he chose to man his own destiny and the results have proven positive. The irony of it all is that someone somewhere thinks Drake has been in the game longer than Curren$y has. To those people I say this: Curren$y was making albums while Drake was still wheeling around DeGrassi. Put that kush in your pipe and smoke it.
Kathy Iandoli is HipHopDX's Music Editor and has been writing about music professionally since 2002. In addition to DX, she has written for XXL, VIBE, The Source, MSN Music and MTV News. She lives in New Jersey.