The Stoned Immaculate

(Warner Bros.; 2012)

By Brent Ables | 14 June 2012

The Stoned Immaculate is a seminar in the art of the crossover. It’s more than a work in progress, but less than a masterwork; call it a workshop. Spitta has already established his reputation as a singularly reliable curator of tracks in the hip-hop underground, “dropping album after album like them bitches slippery,” never yet releasing a dud. But like Big K.R.I.T., another mixtape vet who has toured with Spitta and shows up here on “Jet Life,” Curren$y has his sights set higher than the underground. He’s already taken steps in that direction: signing with Warner Bros. for last year’s excellent Weekend at Burnie’s, sharing the stage with a legend like Method Man on the 2011 Smoker’s Club Tour. Whatever else Spitta might mean by calling The Stoned Immaculate his “first real album,” it’s clear that he intends it to be his first sustained attempt at crossing over into the rap mainstream. It’s not a perfect attempt, and whether his crossover gamble will be a success remains to be seen; in the meantime, we’re left with a hell of a rap record.

Some critics have already dismissed The Stoned Immaculate as just “another Curren$y album,” as if the money and personnel that contributed to this record were all a smoke screen thrown up for publicity’s sake. Which isn’t just lazy, it’s untrue. Sure, Curren$y mixtapes have come to follow a pretty predictable pattern: luscious, slow-tempo, druggy beats serve as the backdrop for Curren$y and his Jet Set to drop lazily fluid rhymes about—in no particular order—the good life, the chill life, and the jet life. He’s typically been teamed with a single producer—most notably, Monsta Beatz, the Alchemist, and Ski Beatz—and has therefore been able to maintain a consistent sound and quality from track to track. But The Stoned Immaculate, which isn’t a mixtape if anything ever not was, breaks this pattern. Each track is helmed by a different producer (Monsta Beatz has two to his name, but even they don’t sound much like anything off Weekend at Burnie’s), and so the album covers a variety of sounds and styles. Not every style suits the versatile Spitta equally well—he sounds particularly out of water on the Futuristiks’ thundering beat for “No Squares”—but mostly it’s a joy to hear him spit over new sounds: Pharrell’s skewed trap-hop on “Chasin’ Papers,” for example, or K.R.I.T.‘s dreamy soundscape for “Jet Life.” Some might lament the loss of the sonic consistency that’s marked his past releases, but the chance to hear Curren$y embed his inimitable flow in new waters is worth the change.

Another welcome change: hooks! Spitta’s mostly eschewed refrains in the past, typically leaving plenty of space in the track for he and his crew to unspool their languid verses. As if to make up for past absences, they’re in abundance here: Young Roddy and Trademark trade heavily-distorted lines to a blistering backdrop on “Armoire,” and on the album’s best track, “That’s the Thing,” British R&B goddess Estelle delivers a full-throated chorus that’s as singularly lovely as anything Curren$y’s ever put his name on. That track, masterfully produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, represents the album’s most fruitful collaborative moment. Sadly, it’s more the exception than the rule: the guest verses by Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz, and an idiotically cackling Wale are without any doubt the weakest moments on a generally strong album. (Curren$y hasn’t, to my knowledge, let another MC deliver the first lines on any of his past records—did he really need to give that honor to Wale?) It’s perhaps the most glaring disjunct between Curren$y’s abilities as a standalone MC and his aspirations to be part of a bigger league, and he’s clearly going to have to learn to be as selective with his guest verses as he’s known to be with beats before he can play this part fully.

But in the end, a few weak verses are easy to brush aside on an album this likable. And most likable of all, as always, is Curren$y himself. His ironic, intelligent, cocky musings on topics as mundane as weed, girls, and video games are still the official currency here, and his flow is as slippery and enticing as ever. Sure, he does expand his accustomed lyrical themes a bit, reflecting on a troubled relationship in “That’s the Thing” and taking stock of his ascension on “What It Look Like.” But mostly he’s still detailing the (Jet) life of luxury and leisure—a life that may have just been the stuff of fantasy a few years ago, but is increasingly becoming a reality for the red-hot MC. With so much else changing around him, it’s refreshing to know that Curren$y is still pretty much the same dude he’s always been.