Pilot Talk

(Roc-A-Fella; 2010)

By Chris Molnar | 6 August 2010

Perhaps the most intoxicating thing about Pilot Talk, Curren$y’s major label debut, is its almost perverse sense of calm—it makes even a genial Big Boi sound agitated. But that’s only half of the picture: producer Ski’s gradually unspooling slices of jazz and soft rock often bring to mind the Neptunes’ beat for Mystikal’s “Bouncin’ Back,” but with the New Orleans atmosphere ramped up, the repetitive club potential dialed down, and the minimalism or garage-rock acting as flavorful padding. The result is a mellow, atmospheric album that still manages to embody the delicious, self-absorbed, fuck-all bombast currently making mainstream rap so exciting.

While Sir Lucious remains the closest comparison, both in terms of how long we’ve been waiting for it and in how it’s endured a Clipse-like annexation by indie rockers in lieu of a single, Pilot Talk is somehow less commercial, with no interest in or particular knack for hooks (other than a memorable ode to mimosas on “Roasted”). Curren$y’s themes are steady and indistinguishable from one another or from the greater din of mainstream rap—weed, chilling, the weirdness of this or that rap trope—meaning that when a certain line does emerge and take hold, it’s solidification has the same effect as realizing what Kevin Shields is actually saying on Loveless (1991); a certain satisfaction in catching a cryptic transmission creeps in.

That’s not to say Curren$y doesn’t have vocal authority, just that when he says, “King Kong ain’t got shit on me,” it’s an excuse to extend the metaphor into a profoundly silly three-minute pop song. “Bitches with whom I’ve slept, solidify my rep,” he drawls on “Seat Change,” and if Drake is the indulgent Fellini of mainstream rap, Curren$y’s its Buñuel, using familiar language and quaint setups for grinningly bizarre ends. With these new angles refracting in previously unseen directions, Pilot Talk on the whole becomes more universal—as quotidian as Gucci, or as sublimely happy as Jeezy, but with a philosophical, almost hallucinogenic, bent, casting the most familiar tropes or activities in a weird glow.

As such, the complimentary, laid-back beats become the defining elements of the songs. The extended horn solo that is the backbone of “Breakfast” is certainly the highlight, and the riffy noodling on “Example” and “Seat Change” sets the tone for each as a sort of highly controlled version of what Mos Def tried, with rock star abandon, on The New Danger (2004). The guests, too, help define Curren$y’s sound by their attitude more than their lines, helpfully enough that they combine to provide an easy musical equation for the star, like: Devin the Dude + Jay Electronica + Mos Def + Big K.R.I.T. = Curren$y? Snoop’s here too, but in maybe the most unobstrusive, least Snoop-like cameo of all Snoop cameos, and, of all things, right after the most glaringly Snoopilicious one ever: this year’s Plastic Beach.

Yet for all these pleasant qualities, it’s hard to track all the way through without being high, especially as the guest stars pile up towards the end and the atmosphere gets too busy for the album’s already established conceit of keeping shit conversational. Curren$y is at his best tilting towards nothingness; whenever he hands over the mic, his consistent thread of questioning, blissed-out thought gets lost, and he turns into an extremely low-impact version of any given mainstream rapper. Oddly, for someone whose chief charm is his wide-eyed demeanor, the persistent stare of someone looking out from an upstate porch, he could do with some confidence. An all-Curren$y album is what I would want, just him, beats pulled from scrapped Doobie Brothers sessions, and the weird, weird, mundane shit we all do and talk about.