Many “old heads” have become bitter coffee shop intellectuals that express distaste for rap’s current sound and image by aimlessly pontificating about its glory days. On the other end of the spectrum we have an emerging “vanguard” of writers/bloggers who want to dismiss hip hop as cliché while they juxtapose a supposed explosion of exciting, multi-genre and experimental indie music. Both are overstating very hollow points. Rap is still one of the most “weird,” idiosyncratic and fun forms of music breathing today. Whether chopping or looping samples, building sounds from a keyboard and computer programs, or incorporating live instrumentation, rap music continues to compress, fragment, reinvent and speak the world through just the beat and rhyme. Curren$y’s Pilot Talk is just one of many examples of why rap is still that dope shit. It is also further proof of why he was one of the few deserving rappers on the three sets of XXL‘s freshman class “fame.”
To begin, without apology I’ll state Curren$y’s Pilot Talk sounds sonically between Atliens and Aquemini, and lyrically like post-Supreme Clientele Ghostface attached to gimmicky shit about smokin’ doobies and fuckin’ with pretty girls. Don’t get it twisted, it’s not on those albums level of excellence, but it is stand-out contemporary rap music. “Audio Dope II” drops copious amounts of sub woofer rattling bass coasting over strident cocky drums that Spitta spills his syrupy southern drawl over. That song moves smoothly into the electric ambiance of “King Kong”; a track where Curren$y’s clever hook and braggadocios raps effortlessly blend into a groove reminiscent of SamIyam or Flying Lotus. The reflective crunchy garage rock of “Seat Change” featuring Snoop follows. This style blends into the arch of Pilot Talk‘s sound because it’s rock in debt to rap and not losing it’s essence in nu-metal or bluesy nostalgia.
Furthermore, Pilot Talk also works because it effectively uses its many guests. Even though the album is primarily the work of Ski Beatz and Spitta, the co-pilots take flight with the duo to effectively navigate the maze of Spitta’s mind and Ski’s textures. The modernist Cadillac funk of “Prioritize”, which is produced by and features Nesby Phips, incorporates a classic Big Boi line for the hook, while Spitta goes in with the bars at his most charismatic and rawest. The Monsta Beatz-produced “Roasted” is simply that good ol’ boom-bap: incorporating a mesmerizing flute and piano sample that Spitta, Trademark and Young Roddy calmly brag-swag over. Lastly, the ethereal groove of “Address”, which features Stalley, brings the album near its close with the proper amount of reflection and triumph.
To close, while the content of Pilot Talk may leave much to be desired, it doesn’t mean Curren$y won’t evolve or that Cypress Hill and The Alkohaliks didn’t ride their gimmicks into the dirt. It also doesn’t mean there aren’t some missteps, but this LP works. It focuses on quality over quantity, has a focused group of minds delivering the idea, and keeps the content terrestrial while updating the quintessence of hip hop’s original sound. To add, expected, but repeatable verses from Jay Electronica and Devin the Dude, hooks from Mos Def, and Ski on his A-game don’t hurt either. Without hesitation I’ll say that few albums will or should get more burn than Pilot Talk this year.