rapper

It’s wild to think that, after more than a decade in the industry, Pusha T is releasing his first official debut album. The ultra-talented rapper first partnered with Malice in the group Clipse, which released several classic albums. After Clipse and Pusha’s other group, Re-Up Gang, split up, Pusha signed to Kanye West’s label, and has been prominently featured on many singles in the past three years while also putting out mediocre mixtapes. Many who know him now aren’t familiar with his rich history as one of the most brutal rappers of the century, and only know him as that random rapper who shows up on a bunch of West’s tracks to deliver half-decent verses. My Name Is My Name will change all of that. 

Pusha has a reputation for boastful, hard-hitting raps that frequently mention his former days as a drug dealer. He lives up to that throughout My Name Is My Name, delivering fiery verses that often take shots at other rappers — Drake especially. Pusha brags that he doesn’t “sing hooks” on the manic opener “King Push.” On the wonderful “Suicide,” which features slippery production by Pharrell Williams, Pusha explains that he “built mine off fed time and dope lines. You caught steam off headlines and co-signs.” What’s great about these attacks is that Pusha backs them up throughout the record. 

The rapper thrives when playing the villain, and he gets the chance to rhyme over sinister and lurking beats by West and Hudson Mohawke, among others. There are plenty of guest rappers here, as Pusha outshines label mates 2 Chainz and Big Sean, pushes Rick Ross to actually try on a verse and holds his own with the equally hungry Kendrick Lamar. The only guest stars that don’t really fit in are Kelly Rowland and Chris Brown, who show up in an attempt to help Pusha craft radio-friendly tracks. Pusha loses some of his edge on those songs, and they falter in comparison to standouts like “Nosetalgia” and “Numbers On the Boards.”  

My Name Is My Name is an exceptionally strong rap album that serves as a true return to form for Pusha. There are a few filler tracks, but as a whole, this is one of the better rap albums of the year — a true showcase of what a great traditional hip-hop record can sound like. Best of all, it serves a reminder of who Pusha is — not the rapper of the past three years who sounds like he was phoning it in, but the fiery hothead who made some of the best rap albums of the last 15 years. My Name Is My Name serves as another fine entry into his rich career. 

In the past decade, rappers were influenced by and compared to ‘80s acts such as Ice-T (“pioneers of gangster rap”) and Run-D.M.C. (“pioneers of sampling”). Eighteen-year-old rapper Jon Walter, also known as Jon Waltz, has already been compared to Drake and Kendrick Lamar — quite possibly proof of a new generation of hip-hop artists.  

“It’s cool because to me [Kendrick Lamar and Drake] are like two of the best to ever do it,” Waltz said. “It’s crazy to me.”

The Memphis native has been spending his summer in studios, working on new songs and experimenting with the genre. He started rapping two and a half years ago at age 15, when someone outside of his main friend group approached him.

“He was like, ‘Yo, you should get on this song with me,’ and that’s just kind of how it started out,” Waltz said.

Although his SoundCloud account has a modest 433 followers, his song “Bang (Left My Home)” has more than 16,000 plays. The notable feature of the song is that the hook is not only radio-friendly, but can stay in your head for hours. Song structure and chorus writing is the biggest loss when it comes to the underground hip-hop game, but Waltz has nearly mastered the art already.

“I want to make something catchy enough to stay in your head, with like meaning to it,” Waltz said. “But I also want to spit crazy ass verses.”

It is common to see producer-rapper teams, such as Killer Mike and El-P who released R.A.P. Music and Run The Jewels, have almost a best friend relationship with both working on bettering the other. On his freshman EP Airways Blvd., Waltz teamed up with producer Cypress Austin, known as Zayd, for five of the six tracks, including “Bang.” The production is sample-based, mellow and hi-hat heavy.

“Well, Jon is like blood to me; I’m probably with him more than I’m with anybody else,” Zayd said. “So naturally working with him is very easy, everything comes very fluid. We’re both on the same page almost all the time and we’re constantly working, so just I’m excited to see what comes next.”

Currently, Waltz is working on a new label with rapper Skizzy Mars called Penthouse. They are keeping the project under wraps — in fact, Google yields almost no results until you add “Skizzy Mars” into your search.

“It’s still in the works,” Waltz said. “I’m the first artist on it minus Skizzy Mars. I want to keep it as minimal as possible — I’m in the process of removing all the photos of me on the Internet.”

Both Waltz and Mars are hesitant to reveal very much information about the label, however, they are clear about one thing: It will be big.

“[Penthouse is] everything. Youth, culture, vibrance, the future,” Mars said. “[You] definitely will be hearing a lot more about it soon.”

In the meantime, Waltz does not plan for music to be his only accomplishment. He will be a freshman in college this upcoming year at the University of Missouri, and has plans to complete college before thinking about going full time as an artist.

“Sheddin’ tears is what I’m about” is not the typical machismo line you would expect from a hip-hop artist. Little Pain (who uses the name Sobbin Williams for inquires over email), a 21-year-old rapper from Brooklyn, is a pioneer of a new subgenre of hip-hop called sad rap. With songs like “SMH (Broke Boyz Anthem),” “High Cry” and “Love Tears,” it’s obvious that Little Pain isn’t afraid of hiding any of his emotions in his songs.

“I’m sad for many reasons, but the main one is because we live in a sad world and I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t sad,” Little Pain said. “I just try to relate my music to things that reflect on me as a person.”

In the great age of the Internet, it’s no surprise that such a niche subgenre has the possibility of taking off. Lil B, a slapstick rapper who has videos with over 1 million views, is the founder of “based” music, which he defines as being yourself and staying positive.

This typically turns into stream-of-consciousness rapping, where the strive for perfection is almost looked down upon.  

“Lil B influences my music in the sense that he made it possible for someone like me to even be able make sad rap,” Little Pain said.

It isn’t just hip-hop songs that are sad. There are plenty of tearjerkers in the broad genre. For example, there’s the hip-hop classic “Stan,” by Eminem, which tells the story of a fan committing suicide after Eminem didn’t reply to fan mail, which, ironically, was answered after his death.

The emphasis of sad rap actually appears to be the act of crying. There are no real narrative in these songs, Little Pain is just always sad.

In an interview with Pigeons & Planes, Little Pain claimed to have cried after he stubbed his pinky toe about 20 minutes before the interview.

Is sad rap something that we can take seriously? Probably not. But the artists in the subgenre appear to think we should. James Prudhomme, also known as Suicideyear, is one of the producers for Little Pain.

“Sad rap doesn’t need to ‘take off,’” Prudhomme said. “There will always be sad rap, even after Little Pain.”

It’s a nice breath of fresh air to see hip-hop artists experimenting with something new. Kanye West’s “Yeezus,” which isn’t exactly avant-garde, isn’t a set of cookie-cutter raps over a set of 808 drums. Maybe we should look at this as the experimentation the genre needs to push the edge a bit. Or maybe it’s just something fun that doesn’t need to change a thing. Either way it’s all in good (or sad) fun.

In the meantime, Little Pain is currently performing shows without very much promotion. Instead of the usual fliers and Facebook events, Little Pain opts to promote his shows with tweets in his classic style: “My performance is going to be horrible :’(.”

Tunesday

Host LL Cool J performs live at the 2012 Grammy’s Nominations Concert, a subject he raps about in Authentic. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

Fresh off of his controversial collaboration with Brad Paisley on “Accidental Racist,” LL Cool J is back. While his debut, 1985’s Radio, broke new ground for the genre, James Todd Smith has struggled to find critical recognition since — though albums like 1990’s Mama Said Knock You Out and 1995’s Mr. Smith have achieved commercial success. Authentic, after many delays, is his first release in six years.

The album begins with “Bath Salt,” and Cool J very quickly reveals his stupidity. Over an unnecessarily orchestral introduction, the rapper declares, “I think this intro should be more dramatic…” before busting into maniacal laughing. By the time the beat drops, the audience is wondering what lines like “Slip into the bath salt,” and “hands on my nuts/that’s product placement,” mean. Regardless of authorial intent (or lack thereof), Cool J raps with an unmistakable tone of self-appreciation. 

Authentic is filled with gimmicks, like guitar solos from Eddie Van Halen, to misdirect the listener from LL Cool J’s lack of originality and sub-par writing. Also ubiquitous throughout the album is the 45-year-old rapper’s delusions of grandeur, ignorant of the fact that he’s been somewhat irrelevant since his first album.

The few highlights include Snoop Dogg’s laid-back verse on “We Came To Party,” apparently reviving his rapper persona in spite of his recent name change. The beats are easily the better part of the album, having been produced by the likes of DJ Z-Trip (Beck, Busta Rhymes) and Soundz (Pitbull, Trey Songz). 

Unfortunately, not even impressive production can save Authentic. “Bartender Please” is at least two minutes too long, crashing and burning in a chaotic shouting match between four speakers. The final nail in the coffin, though, burying what little promise the album has, is Paisley’s surprise guest appearance on “Live For You.”

Are Travis Barker’s 10-second drum solos necessary? Did LL Cool J need to enlist Tom Morello to offer his trademark minimalist guitar on “Whaddup?” And most importantly, did he really need to collaborate with Brad Paisley again? The answer to all these questions is probably not.

QUICK TAKES

Iggy and The Stooges' Ready to Die

Artist: Iggy and The Stooges
Album: Ready to Die
Label: Fat Possum Records
Songs to Download: "Unfriendly World," "Ready to Die," "The Departed"

It’s hard to overstate Iggy and The Stooges’ importance to punk rock music. Throughout its on-and-off career of 40 or so years, it has lost several members, and this album plays on themes of self-realization through old age. Slow ballads like “Unfriendly World” and “The Departed” are a welcome change from their cookie-cutter four-power-chord songs, and, overall, the album reflects a maturity that could only come from an old band like this.

Lights' Siberia

Artist: Lights
Album: Siberia
Label: Last Gang Records
Songs to Download: "Toes," "Peace Sign," "Banner"

The Canadian synthpop artist renders her 2011 album Siberia acoustically. Unsurprisingly, the trimmed-down version is much better. Instead of her over-the-top synthesizers, her guitar playing — supplemented with violins and pianos — breathes new musical life into the same songs, while her fragile voice renders the lyrics more intelligible.

Deep Purple's NOW What?!

Artist: Deep Purple
Album: NOW What?!
Label: earMusic
Songs to Download: "Blood from a Stone"

Apparently Deep Purple is still a band, and with NOW What?! they seem to acknowledge their own amazement at this fact. The album is exceedingly cheesy in its maintenance of the band’s classic rock sound. But, filled with organs and screeching solos, it sounds like a band doing what they love.

Commercial success in the music industry is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, you’ve made it — hundreds of thousands, even millions of fans are now awaiting your highly anticipated next release. On the other, those very anticipations can have a crippling effect, as all of a sudden your art is created with other people’s expectations in mind rather than your own.

This is the all-too-familiar problem Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa finds himself battling on his sophomore major label release O.N.I.F.C. [Only Nigga in First Class], out Tuesday from Atlantic Records. After generating local interest — which eventually became national — with a series of mixtapes and independent releases, Khalifa rocketed to superstardom with the chart-topping Steelers anthem “Black and Yellow,” followed closely by his critically and commercially successful debut album Rolling Papers.

A motion picture role alongside Snoop Dogg followed, and now the 25-year-old MC must produce another hit on par with “Black and Yellow” in order to maintain his newfound popularity and relevance.

His first attempt is with O.N.I.F.C.’s lead single “Work Hard, Play Hard,” another Pittsburgh-centric anthem that does much to mimic his breakthrough hit. The production is massive and grandiose, with a steel mill drum pattern pounding over an ominous single-note bass line. The verse mostly consists of Khalifa bragging about how rich he is, while the chorus strives for something a little more profound: “The quicker you here, the faster you go / That’s why where I come from the only thing we know is / Work hard, play hard.”

The song works well enough, but ultimately lacks the intangible energy captured in “Black and Yellow” and the rest of Rolling Papers. The same can be said for O.N.I.F.C. as a whole; the production and guest appearances are on the money, but Khalifa lacks anything new to say as well as a new way to say it.

About 90 percent of the lyrics concern either the rapper’s love of smoking weed or his love of his own money. At 17 tracks and more than 73 minutes long, the album quickly begins to drag, with tracks like “It’s Nothin” and “Initiation” adding nothing new or interesting to the sonic portraiture.

A notable exception is “The Bluff,” featuring a guest appearance by NYC rapper Cam’ron. The song features a delicate, ethereal production that glides hazily over a slow jam drum pattern as the MC’s trade off verses. It’s about as close to “sensitive” as a song that revolves entirely around marijuana and hundred-dollar bills can get.

Two of the album’s best tracks are reserved for the very end. “Remember You” features a haunting chorus sung by alternative neo-soul singer the Weeknd, while “Medicated” closes the album out with introspective, reminiscing lyrics that finally reach beyond the shallowness that pervades the rest of the disc.

The delivery and production on O.N.I.F.C. reveal an artist who has just hit the big time and is trying to make it last. In order to do so, Khalifa would be wise to find more substantive subject matter to rap about the next time around.

Printed on Thursday, December 4th, 2012 as: Wiz Khalifa's repetitive lyrics disappoint

(Photo courtesy of Quannum Projects).

Unlike those who have claimed to have paid their dues in hip-hop, Timothy Parker, more commonly known as rapper Gift of Gab, has done so since his days in hip-hop duo Blackalicious. His impenetrable rhyming technique contains a combination of witty wordplay, verbal dexterity and unabashed confidence. The rapper has only gotten better with age in his latest album, The Next Logical Progression.

As soon as album opener “NLP” begins, the listener is struck with an onslaught of lyrical witticisms. He reaffirms his position of underground hip-hop supremacy, while effortlessly backing sub-par rappers into a corner in under a minute. The production is just as lively as the vocalist it backs; it punches with jubilant, celebratory trumpet and marching drums.

“Market & 8th” showcases Parker’s gift for street storytelling. “Ten meters up I see a brawl/two dope fiends going hard for a stray dollar bill,” Parker raps. The imagery is evocative throughout the song, as each San Francisco intersection shelters the pain, poverty and pessimism of the homeless, the drug-addicted and everyone in between.

Parker is about substance, a word that is commonly associated with “back in the day” hip-hop. Similar to hip-hop groups A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and The Roots, Parker prefers a whole-hearted narrative over luxurious lifestyle rhymes.

He speaks of challenges, failed relationships and the environment that shaped him into the man he is today with precision and attentiveness. He’s like the wise adult you find on your neighborhood block — filled with knowledge and always ready to reminisce on the old days, but still aware of what is happening in the present.

What makes the album that much more enjoyable is Parker’s unrelenting grasp on his definitive sound. The guy has the charisma and creativity to “sell out” and make an album full of radio-friendly big hits, but he doesn’t. He stays true to his Blackalicious roots, favoring powerful narratives, not club-banging, sing-along hooks.

The Next Logical Progression serves as a reminder of the beauty of melodic, thought-provoking hip-hop. Although many may consider it nostalgic because of its throwback sound, it shows that Parker is in a lane of his own, utilizing the gift of flow that no one can touch.

Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Artist uses gift of flow to progress

(Photo courtesy of Ja Rule)

“It ain’t even a question how my dough flows,” stated Ja Rule on Jay-Z’s 1998 hit single, “Can I Get A...” During the late ’90s and early 2000s, it seemed foolish not to feature Ja Rule on a hip-hop track; his distinguishing half-rapped, half-sung vocal delivery was often the formula for mainstream hip-hop success.

Since then, Ja Rule’s rise to fame has unfortunately preceded a fall from grace; the rapper became overshadowed by the likes of rivals 50 Cent, Eminem and DMX, resulting in a hiatus and a hold on the rapper’s latest release, Pain Is Love 2, the sequel to 2001’s Pain Is Love. Although the artist is currently serving a two-year jail sentence for weapons possession, his highly-anticipated comeback album is impressive; a reclusive and moody release centered around one crucial theme: “Fuck fame.”

“So I took a little pill / and it changed my whole world / changed my point of view, so I had to take two,” begins album-opener “Intro.” In between the hazy, dance-driven handclaps and percussion, Ja Rule’s distorted raps loom in the background, his search for redemption lost in a hip-hop tri-fecta of success, drugs and women.

“Real Life Fantasy” anticipates any skepticism of the rapper’s technique; accompanied by a sample of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Ja Rule’s rasp has only become more refined with age.

The rapper’s cynicism toward success comes off as abrasive and intimidating; it’s refreshing to hear the artist intricately deliver reflective narratives that are sheltered by the atmospheric and lush production of longtime collaborator Channel 7, formerly 7 Aurelius.

Ja Rule fends for himself on this album: there is no all-star entourage providing braggadocio-laden tales of fame, or Murder Inc. cohorts craving a small guest feature (Ja Rule disbanded from the record label in 2009), just Ja Rule addressing anybody and everybody who doesn’t believe he still has relevance.

Ja Rule can still write a street-love anthem like no other. On the club-banger “Black Vodka,” Ja Rule compares his favorite thirst-quenching beverage to a lustful seductress. “She better go straight with no chaser,” begins Ja Rule slyly, backed behind nightclub organs and guitars, a nostalgic throwback to bump-and-grind maestros Ginuwine and R. Kelly.

How Ja Rule can easily shift from maniacal madman to don’t-hate-the-player ladies man is a testament to the artist’s well-deserved success. It reminds listeners of Ja Rule’s golden days, when songs “Wonderful” and “Mesmerize” used to dominate hip-hop. “Black Vodka” is the one-night stand antithesis of earlier Ja Rule love hits: it’s filthy and dirty, preferring a quickie in the strip club bathroom stall over a romantic getaway.

Pain Is Love 2 is not amazing, but it will leave devoted fans optimistic nonetheless. In trying to reclaim (or criticize) the rap empire he once controlled, Ja Rule leaves himself vulnerable to the scrutiny of those who believed the rapper was long and gone.

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Ja Rule reemerges with impressive album

Michael Ray Nguyen-Stevenson, better known as Tyga, had an ill-received debut when listeners first heard him on collaborative studio album, We Are Young Money. The rapper’s verse on the hit “BedRock” was memorable for all of the wrong reasons: “She watchin’ that oxygen, I’m watchin’ ESPN/But when that show ends, she all in my skin lotion,” says Tyga, his spurts of nonsense so ridiculous that they made fellow Young Money labelmate Gudda Gudda’s verse look like a masterpiece. Fortunately, with just a bit more age, the young rapper has refined his delivery and has enlisted a laundry list of some of hip-hop’s best producers to create Careless World: Rise of the Last King, a well-produced and vibrant album that dispels any doubts about the rapper’s talents.

“He’s already made you the king that you are,” says Tyga’s mother on the song “Black Crown.” “Black Crown” seems to embody what Tyga’s major label debut is all about: making his journey on his way to become the self-proclaimed hip-hop king. “Working hard like one day I’ll afford the four-door Porsche/Approaching every corner cautious,” raps Tyga, his dreams of success and fortune accompanied by atmospheric synths and luscious keys. “Black Crown” is a great example of the rapper’s newfound creativity. He surprises listeners with retrospective narratives like this, creating a balance with more mainstream-friendly songs on the album.

If “Black Crown” is about Tyga’s journey to success, “Rack City” is about him reaping the benefits of it. The club-banger is reminiscent of hip-hop group The Pack — it’s so cheesy, but listeners can’t help but succumb to its infectious beat and memorable hook. Tyga will forever go down in history as that one rapper who courageously boasted, “Got your grandma on my dick.” The line is so humorous and out-of-place but is said with so much confidence and swagger that Tyga comes off as a female connoisseur, showing no discrimination to his cougar club fan-base.

Album opener “Careless World” starts off shaky. Tyga’s declarations of being a king is dubious at first, but once the angelic strings and lavish production kick in, the rapper’s boasts actually carry resonance, rather than coming off as foolish and arrogant. Add some rapid-fire verses, assault rifle hi-hat cymbals and staccato snares into the mix and you have a song that displays Tyga’s larger-than-life dreams for himself.

Tyga’s songs are all spread out, giving the rapper moments to boast about sexual encounters (“Faded”) and analyze his growing success (“This is Like”). It’s refreshing — his 2008 independent release, No Introduction, was mediocre. Being on record label Decaydance Records with cousin and Gym Class Heros singer Travie McCoy proved unsuccessful, as the rapper flopped over dance-driven production handled by Pete Wentz — probably Tyga’s first mistake.

At least now he’s under the tutelage of a record company that is actually known for creating mainstream hip-hop, and this album is proof of that. There are no “Coconut Juice” sequels here, just songs that show Tyga’s rise to hip-hop superstardom.

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: Rapper heals repute in breakthrough

Photo Credit: Andrew Craft | Daily Texan Staff

When power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé announced the birth of daughter Blue Ivy Carter on Jan. 7, the Carters became the definitive example of what a hip-hop family should be. Soon after Blues birth, rumors that Jay-Z would discontinue his use of the word “bitch” began to surface. People believed the rumors were true; after Jay-Z released “Glory,” a somber reflection on Beyoncé's miscarriage that concludes with a more promising look to the future, critics and fans alike had no doubt that the hip-hop artist had turned over a new leaf.

Then, during an interview with the New York Daily News on Jan. 17, Jay-Z only had one thing to say about the story: “It's fake.” The artist's short response resulted in discussion, with many arguing that Jay-Z should not have to change. The deletion of the word would drastically effect songs such as “Is That Yo Bitch,” “Bitches & Sisters” and “Stick 2 the Script,” among others. A contributor to the website LOVELYiSH explained the situation best: “For me personally, I didn't really understand why Jay-Z would stop using a word that meshes with his music persona because he has a daughter now.”

Jay-Z's denial brings about an issue that has been the focal point of hip-hop and parenthood for years: being able to distinguish the rapper from the individual. The reason Jay-Z is being accused of continuing misogyny in hip-hop is because some believe that the artist could have used daughter Blue’s birth as a means to renovate himself. But people need to be able to differentiate Jay-Z from Shawn Carter.

Regardless of the birth of his daughter, Jay-Z still has a persona to uphold. Last year, the artist's collaboration with Kanye West, Watch the Throne, revitalized Jay-Z's rap career, resulting in sold-out shows, a possible sequel to the album and an upcoming solo release. However, Jay-Z's contributions to Watch the Throne came under scrutiny, specifically for songs that refer to his wife Beyoncé as a bitch. From “Ni**as In Paris” (“I got that hot bitch in my home”), to “That's My Bitch” (“Get ya own dog, ya heard, that's my bitch”), listeners criticized the artist’s descriptions of his wife.

Although Jay-Z speaks of Beyoncé and women in general like this in his music, his public persona is the opposite. In an interview with Rolling Stone back in 2010, the artist spoke positively about his wife. “Sometimes on creative stuff, one of us will ask, ‘Do you think this is cool?’” Jay-Z said. “I defer to her on those sort of questions.” This is where the complexity lies: Listeners and critics do not separate the artist from the individual, and choose the former over the latter. This only contributes to the difficulty in raising a child in a hip-hop world, where people are skeptical of the artist’s transition into a parent.

O'Shea Jackson, better known as Ice Cube, experienced a similar situation when he made the transition from gangster to family man. Once a member of the controversial rap group N.W.A., Jackson is now a producer and director in cinema, having produced the well-received family comedy “Are We There Yet.” In an interview with NPR's Terry Gross back in 2005, when the rap star was asked what his response would be if someone had told him he would be creating family-friendly movies in the future he replied, “I would say they were crazy.”

The AK-47 toting vigilant of the past has been completely renovated, accompanied by wife Kimberly Woodruff and his five children. During the same interview, when asked if he allowed his children to listen to his music, Jackson replied, “What's worked for me is instilling in my kids a level of self-respect.” Gross then asked Jackson what he tells his children about profanity: “There are appropriate times to use any kind of language ... Adults should never hear you use these words. If you want to use these words around your friends, that's really on you.”

Jackson is proof that regardless of the complexities of parenthood in hip-hop, the transition is attainable. As Jay-Z begins his parenting career, he will have to take similar issues into account. “Glory” serves as an indicator that Jay-Z plans on being the father he never had. “Goddamn, I can't deliver failure,” raps Jay-Z, the anxiety and frustration a heavy burden to bear. He knows of the challenges he will have to endure as a father, but optimistically looks toward those challenges: “Baby, I paint the sky blue/My greatest creation was you.”

Jay-Z does not need to change; he is one of hip-hop's most prestigious characters. His real challenge will be the transition into fatherhood, and whether he can find a balance between rapper and parent.

Tunesday Review

For his latest release, Jet World Order, Curren$y enlists the help of his Jet Life Recording label-mates. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Records)

New Orleans’s Curren$y has had a busy year. From performing at this year’s South By Southwest to releasing a handful of mixtapes and albums, the chilled-out, newfound leader of stoner rap is anything but lethargic. Never taking a break, Curren$y returns with Jet World Order, a compilation album that shows Curren$y transitioning from hip-hop underdog to rising mogul, accompanied by an assortment of Jet Life Recordings label mates.

Curren$y’s strengths lie in his vocal delivery. Through combination of his distinguishable southern drawl and relaxed demeanor, Curren$y attacks like stoner rap godfather Snoop Dogg. There’s a sense of intimidation that contributes to the rapper’s calmly assertive voice. “1st Place” features soulful guitars, keys that crescendo and contributions from label-mates Trademark Da Skydiver and Young Roddy. “Paper on my mind/doing business with whoever’s payin’ the most,” declares Trademark Da Skydiver, followed by a guest appearance from Cool Kids’ Mikey Rocks.

“Paper Habits” stands out with its funky bass lines and the conversation-like delivery between Young Roddy and Trademark Da Skydiver. “Now my buzz hot like my winters be,” says Young Roddy, his youthful vigor refreshing, accompanied by Trademark Da Skydiver’s raspy declarations of wealth and smoking the best kinds of weed.

“Blow Up” explodes with fuzzy, dirty-south synths, staccato hi-hat cymbals and snare drums and rapid-fire rhymes from Young Roddy and Trademark. “It’s guerrilla warfare so I load up,” says Roddy, while Trademark raps that his New Orleans upbringing made him the man he is.

Unlike his contemporaries, Curren$y realizes that quality over quantity is the best method of success. Although there is not much variation between the artists (Jet-Life accomplices Smoke DZA, Street Wiz, Fiend and Corner Boy P make appearances as well), each one contributes in their own way, resulting in a collaborative effort that is cohesive and smooth.

The production values, like most releases from Curren$y, are nearly flawless. Like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, Curren$y’s intricate sampling helps emphasize the marijuana rhymes of Curren$y and his Jet-Life crew.

The group still has room for improvement: Young Roddy and Trademark’s confident boasts are not yet up to par with Curren$y’s. Where Curren$y effortlessly weaves rhymes with narratives and aspirations of gaining more notoriety, Young Roddy and Trademark are left out at times, their delivery revolving around one subject.

Jet World Order is an appetizer that will hopefully be followed up by an even better collaborative effort as the Jet-Life crew begins to solidify itself as one of hip-hop’s new voices. The true challenge will be whether the group can become an integral part of Curren$y’s growing label, or remain indistinguishable clones of their commander.

Printed on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 as: Stoner rapper Curren$y flies ahead in Jet Life