Covert Coup

(Warner Bros. / Jet Life Recordings; 2011)

By Brian Riewer | 7 December 2011

Digging through the prodigious amount of material he’s produced in the last three years (currently eighteen albums/mixtapes and counting), the odd duck in Curren$y’s catalogue tends to be this one, Covert Coup. Like a military uniform in a closet full of velour suits, out it sticks, remaining his only release that doesn’t suggest the couch and the video games but instead some active, violent participation. Just looking at the two alternate covers of the album—the one Wikipedia uses depicting a fallen statue of Joseph Stalin, and the one Curren$y has on his bandcamp which I call the Metal Gear Solid one—or hearing the name Covert Coup give a strong indication that this is a much different affair than the egg chairs and ‘80s comedy movie references characterizing the rest of his work.

Apparently looking to put to death the idea that he’s prolific but one-dimensional, Curren$y gave Ski Beatz and his buttery-smooth lounge sampling the day off for this, his first (and best, in my opinion, though the whole of the CMG staff probably disagrees) album released this year, allowing the much harder Alchemist a go as the Fly Spitta’s executive producer. The result is a revelation, really: Curren$y drops some of the meanest shit he’s ever done, giving real credence to his attempt to crawl out of his obvious niche. Just a year ago he spit, “Condo full of snacks / Spitta not leaving” without the slightest bit of irony; comparatively, his views are now better summarized by “Them other fools ain’t fly, they fuckin’ mosquitoes / Don’t work, they just crying, whine / Fucking pinot grigio, you need to get on your grind.” He draws ursine metaphors to illustrate his ferociousness twice, first on “BBS” with “fuck playing dead I’mma play the bear,” and on “Ventilation” with “if that dog don’t hunt don’t come in the woods with it,” punctuating the ominous feel of the shadowy-forest instrumentals, and then crate-digs the Outkast-aping refrain of “The Type”—“We bust rap like b-boys bust gats / We the type of people that don’t bury the ax.”

Through most of the album, though, Curren$y is working on a wire-to-wire, largely chorus-less style. His flow is deft, a fatless economy of motion which the Alchemist is only too eager to oblige. At 28 minutes, Covert Coup is all quicksilver and assassin-swift, lithe but athletically so, no song bothering with building and descending in more than a few bars or, save “The Type,” with featuring the orientating influence of a chorus. Given the opportunity, the Alchemist matches the revolutionary pallor of Curren$y’s thematic choices. The stress-inducing tenor of his restless bass work allows “Blood, Sweat & Gears” the depressed tone Curren$y and guest Fiend seem to want, while on “Scottie Pippen,” a mournful guitar emulates a howling wolf and provides Freddie Gibbs the perfect accompaniment for the token “Guest Spot That Gets the Best of Curren$y,” following the path set by Big K.R.I.T. on “Skybourne” and Dom Kennedy on “Real Estates.”

This partnership’s potential is in full bloom on “Full Metal,” an ending which leaves one hoping this isn’t a one-off duo (luckily, no: Re-Conversionalize supposedly comes out next 4/20). Over a bed of violin crests and gunshots Curren$y stomps, mayhem at his side, dropping lines like “Cake all layerish, playa all Himalayerish”; as the director offscreen the Alchemist intensifies the storm, setting off explosions like Michael Bay. And in these tumultuous situations he creates—if Ghostface and/or Raekwon don’t tap the RZA for their next solo albums, the Alchemist should be their first options—it’s surprising just how well Curren$y handles himself, this guy known for video games and couches. He may come off as lazy—though with the bounty of his output, that’s a hard sell—but you’d be crazy to call him soft.