Everyone’s favourite new MC Curren$y returns with a sequel to the critically acclaimed Pilot Talk, which contained some of Hip-Hop’s most smooth and smoked out tracks of 2010. Hailing from New Orleans, Curren$y’s career trajectory has been a roundabout one, being a member of the young money entourage for much of the past decade before branching out to mixtapes and since 2008, fully fledged LPs. His debut LP This Is Not A Mixtape, ostensibly attempted to push Curren$y away from the multitude of mixtape rappers in Hip-Hop and succeeded, largely thanks to Monsta Beat’s production and the laidback MC’ing combining to create the year’s go-to summer album. The Jet Files came and went, a rather hurried and stale sequel, before Curren$y hooked up with veteran producer Ski Beats (the one time Camp Lo beatmaker, also notably made Jay-Z’s Dead Presidents) to create Pilot Talk amidst positive reviews from Hip-Hop fans and the hipster press. Maybe more importantly, Curren$y is the leader of a new, and vitalising, movement of weed rappers (Wiz Khalifa, Smoke DZA, Mac Millar) specialising in smooth, ear-friendly Hip-Hop that nonetheless takes the art of MC’ing and the crafting of music seriously. Pilot Talk II then represents the continued evolution of both Curren$y the MC, as young money weed carrier, then mixtape rapper and now every hipster and indie head’s favourite new MC, and of the wider weed rap movement he embodies.
One might as well get the bad news out of the way – Pilot Talk II isn’t really on the level of the first, lacking its many high notes and in fact it isn’t quite on the level of the ultra consistent This Is Not A Mixtape, although many will find Ski Beats production style, based around funk and soul samples craftily remade with live instrumentation, more ‘mature’ or interesting then Monsta Beatz work on TINAM. That isn’t to say there isn’t numerous high-points on Pilot Talk II. Most notable is the surreal opener “Airbourne Aquarium”, a track dominated by a whistle sample, some warm bass and Curren$y’s best vocal performance on the LP, spitting his typical braggadocio lyrics with more energy and speed then usual. “Flight Briefing” features some of the lighter, more positive production of the album and is dominated by the smooth flows of fellow weed-rappers Young Roddy and Trademark – both upstage Curren$y on “Hold On” as well, although the vocals in general take a backseat to some more of Ski Beatz’s brilliant production, the track featuring a brilliant guitar lick. Elsewhere “Fashionably Late” is Hip-Hop mixed with funk at its finest, features the album’s best hook and is a perfect example of Ski Beatz’s light musical touch mixing piano, horns and other elements without making the track seem cluttered. Similarly, “Highed Up” is dominated by more gorgeous horns, some rambling bass and features Curren$y at his most entertaining, arrogant and determined.
Unfortunately the rest of the album doesn’t quite match-up to the above examples of Ski and Curren$y at their best, and there are examples throughout of things being a little more rushed, and a little less fine-tuned, then they need to be. The album’s darkest moment, “Micheal Knight”, is let-down by an overly simplistic and annoyingly repetitive hook; “Real Estates” has little going for it other then some wonky bass and features a pretty dull performance from Don Kennedy, while “Silence” is overly serious, featuring a solemn hook and some turgid piano work (note to Ski and co – generic piano ballads are not Curren$y’s forte). Finally, much of the production feels overly clean – to avoid sample clearance fees and hold-ups, producers like Ski and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League re-create samples with musicians, something that sounds a little bit better on paper then in reality as too often the dirty, dusty, unique feel that one often gets with old soul and funk is lost in translation. As such, tracks like “Montreux” and “Famous”, while not bad seem too clean to the point of being uninteresting. Similarly, and bar a couple of tracks like “Fashionably Late”, the hooks are a step down from earlier releases, particularly This Is Not A Mixtape. Unfortunately for Curren$y, if the beats and hooks aren’t quite up to scratch then his MC’ing skills alone aren’t strong enough to hold down a track on its own. Curren$y’s strength on the mic revolves around his ability to flow so smoothly and effortlessly over a beat, to produce clever hooks and one-liners and because his voice and tone is so unique – he is the type of MC reliant on strong production to flow over, rather then an exceptional MC that can fall back of jaw-dropping lyrics and delivery. As such, when some of the hooks and beats fall short, as they do on a number of tracks, Curren$y isn’t really going to hold the listener’s attention on his own.
Pilot Talk II is undeniably one of the better releases in 2010 Hip-Hop; Ski Beatz and Curren$y’s chemistry is still undeniable on tracks like “Airbourne Aquarium” while Ski is still one of the freshest and most interesting producers in Hip-Hop. However the album is also a slight step backwards for Curren$y – it lacks the consistency and unique feel that the original had in abundance, and lacks the quality hooks that defined his debut. One can only speculate as to the why this slight drop-off in quality control is – possibly because sequels tend to lend themselves to comfortable repetition and a lack of artistic rigour, possibly because Ski Beatz and Curren$y are producing too much music and spreading themselves rather thin – but there is little doubt Pilot Talk II is a bit of a disappointment by Curren$y/Ski’s very high standards. And with Pilot Talk III on the way, one worries that this downward trajectory may continue.