HomeWorld NewsHow Curren$y Became One of the 21st Century’s Defining MCs – The Ringer
How Curren$y Became One of the 21st Century’s Defining MCs – The Ringer
September 13, 2023
Curren$y’s set begins in three hours, but he has a more pressing, if not unsurprising, concern in the interim. “You got a lighter?” he asks, flashing a toothy grin and offering a handshake in the lobby of the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. .
Fresh off a flight from his native New Orleans, the famed weed enthusiast doesn’t want to smoke out the hotel before his performance at Karma DC, so he’s in search of a light and a comfortable place to indulge. We were supposed to meet in New York back in April, but that plan fell through—after I’d arrived at his hotel. (“It be a lot of moving parts, bro,” the 42-year-old later tells me with a chuckle.) Now, after reconvening in the nation’s capital in late June, I—a nonsmoker—have joined the hunt. Curren$y is convinced someone has a lighter on them, so he ventures outside to find one. Ultimately, he’s correct: His manager, Mousa, and I locate him in front of the hotel, where he’s posing for pictures with a couple who blessed him with the device. This man-of-the-people quality has been integral to Curren$y’s success in a volatile hip-hop landscape that’s seen many artists come and go since he broke through during the late 2000s.
“I remember seeing him at Irving Plaza—this must’ve been 2010 or 2011,” says Jeff Rosenthal, who created the hip-hop sketch comedy blog ItsTheReal along with his brother, Eric. “He left the stage, in a packed venue, and didn’t go backstage after the show was over. He went through the crowd and led it, on some Pied Piper shit, through the streets of New York.”
Over the course of his winding career, Curren$y has grown into a charismatic cult figure. After stints on two legendary hometown record labels, No Limit Records and Cash Money Records, he struck out on his own in 2007 and never looked back. Across dozens of projects, he’s entrenched listeners in his purple-tinted world of weed, vintage cars, and carefully considered pop culture references. On 2010’s “Roasted,” he brags of “Olympic swimming in bitches, Michael-slash-Leon Phelps,” a hat tip to the 23-time gold medalist and the Lothario at the center of The Ladies Man. (I’ve seen him perform this live, mimicking an exaggerated yet fluid swimming stroke for comedic effect.) On 2010’s “Life Under the Scope,” he weaves a nod to an infamous RealWorld moment into a rumination on operating beneath the ever-scrutinous public eye. His vast catalog includes mixtapes named for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, songs named after Days of Thunder, and albums titled in homage toWeekend at Bernie’s.
To coincide with the NFL’s return last week, Curren$y released the compilation album Season Opener, which features artists from his Jet Life Recordings roster, some of his favorite producers, and Pen & Pixel cover artreferencing the 1998 compilation Big Ballers. Back in June, he released Vices, another collaboration between him and producer Harry Fraud. Inspired by a rewatch of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice series, it’s packed with clips from the show and samples of music featured prominently throughout the show. The opening song, “The Great McCarthy,” borrows its title from a first-season episode and is driven by a sample of the Lindsey Buckingham songsoundtracking one of its key scenes. Although Curren$y adheres to the project’s theme (the neon skylines, pastel-colored suits, and rampant illicit activity of 1980s Miami), the song’s chorus is a perfect snapshot of his attitude: “So many cars, so many broads, so many walls / I’m livin’ large, my backyard a hundred yards / So many scars, but no awards and no applause / That ain’t what I’m in it for—where my money, dog?”
Curren$y has thrived mostly outside the major label system thanks to a loyal following built on the strength of his charm and consistency. The people who get it get it because Curren$y’s stoned musings feel like those of a friend who’s effortlessly cool without a hint of pretentiousness. In his own words, he “became a millionaire just from being chill.” This pathway to success, virtually nonexistent when Curren$y first declared his independence, is the result of a seismic industrial shift.
The blog era, a revered period from roughly 2007 through 2012, saw a group of influential websites knock a punch-drunk music industry further off-balance by siphoning power away from the usual gatekeepers—mainly record labels. It helped propel artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Nicki Minaj to superstardom, but it also opened doors for misfits like Curren$y. To that end, Curren$y epitomizes what the blog era accomplished: niche artists succeeding on their own terms without the conventional support systems or traditional measures of success. “He was ahead of his time and on time, at the same time,” says Eric Rosenthal, who also created the sprawling podcast The Blog Era with his brother, Jeff.
“I never put a label on it or what I thought I was trying to achieve, I just knew what I didn’t want to do,” he says while smoking on the front steps of the National Portrait Gallery. “I never wanted to have a rap voice. I never wanted a mode I had to shift into to be whatever the fuck I had to be. I just wanted to be myself so that when it clicked, it would last long because it’s not really any work to be me.”
Curren$y’s music offers vivid glimpses of his broad interests, specific tastes, and penchant for detail. You can see the cigarette boats zip across Biscayne Bay. You can smell the sour diesel as he rolls joints with assembly-line precision. You can feel the tan leather of his car seats. It’s not just a Mercedes-Benz, it’s a 560 SL. It’s not just a Corvette, it’s a Stingray. The common areas in the downtown high-rises are adorned with marble columns. He’s just as particular in conversation, right down to the pop culture he absorbed back when he went by Shante Franklin.
His parents introduced him to movies that influenced his worldview and music, from Super Fly to the Godfather trilogy. “‘Michael Corleone, presidential Rollie on / Closet full of Jordans, Foams, Penny Ones—that’s because of my mom,” he says, quoting “Motion,” from his 2012 mixtape Priest Andretti. His love of cars stems from the Hot Wheels she bought him for behaving during grocery store excursions. He grew up in a card-game house in East New Orleans, where the Commodores, Rufus, and Grover Washington Jr. records that his mother played jelled with the N.W.A and Slick Rick he gravitated toward, creating his musical palate. He was ecstatic during the G-Funk era because he recognized various samples from the funk records he heard at home. At a young age, he also displayed a willingness to zig where others zagged: He favored Kool Moe Dee during his battle with LL Cool J, mostly because his sister preferred the latter.
Although Curren$y hails from the East, his bones were made Uptown in the city’s Third Ward. As a youth, he formed bonds with C-Murder, a younger brother of Master P, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison following a 2002 nightclub shooting that left a teenager dead (the rapper has maintained his innocence throughout); Soulja Slim, who was killed in 2003; and Mr. Marcelo, whom he refers to as his brother. “The Eastside had no rap guy,” he explains. “When [Lil] Wayne started to embrace the Squad Up movement, all of those homies are from the East. That’s when mufuckas knew we could rap, but my actual alley-oops all came from the Magnolia and Calliope Projects. That’s why I’m so closely associated and that’s why I make sure to say ‘Eastside’ so much: so that mufuckas from my hood don’t ever think I thought I needed to claim another for success. It’s just that they have a lot of love for me, too.” That love is an early example of how people (especially the elders whose respect he’d earned) gravitated toward Curren$y. “When you’re not a buster, mufuckas like you, bruh,” he says with a laugh and shrug. “What can you do?”
An unexpected encounter with C-Murder brought Curren$y deeper into the No Limit fold. After dabbling in rap as a teen, he fell back from music following a friend’s murder, opting for a job at Toys “R” Us because it felt safer. One day, C-Murder, who used to give him rides to school, showed up to buy the latest edition of Madden. Surprised to find Curren$y working retail and interested in seeing him reach his potential, C-Murder extended an opportunity. “He was like, ‘Man, you missin’ out, bruh. Come to my house tomorrow,’’’ Curren$y remembers. “So I went, and what was crazy was that I went back to Toys ‘R’ Us after three days—no call, no show. Just like: ‘My fault. Shit’s crazy, I was hangin’ out at C-Murder’s. Maybe I’m gonna be a rapper.’”
Curren$y officially joined No Limit in 2002 as a last-minute addition to the 504 Boyz. (You can catch him delivering the opening verse on “Get Back” and riding shotgun in a Gucci-monogram-wrapped Ferrari in the “Tight Whips” video.) He was supposed to be part of a new era for the label, but soon realized that Master P’s ever-growing list of responsibilities prevented him from focusing on Curren$y’s individual needs. He recalls seeing a lineup of albums slated as “Coming Soon” following the release of Choppa’s Choppa Style in 2003. Reality set in for Curren$y when he saw an unofficial photo taken outside his house next to his name. “I was like, ‘Man … I don’t think my album’s coming soon,’” he says, chuckling. “We never took a trip to Pen & Pixel. We never discussed what my single was. So I was like, ‘This is more for me to chill.’ And that’s a good thing, because P was saving lives by just giving mufuckas something to believe in. But I was like, ‘Nah, I wanna do this for real.’”
Though Curren$y released his first mixtape, Sports Center, Vol.1, via No Limit in 2004, his ambition guided him to Cash Money the same year. He signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment, delivering strong verses on Wayne’s “Grown Man,” from 2005’s Tha Carter ll, and 2006’s “Where Da Cash At?”—which became Curren$y’s single after first appearing on Wayne’s Dedication 2 mixtape. But even on a new label, Curren$y ran into a familiar issue: His career was less of a priority than Wayne’s relentless pursuit of the best-rapper-alive designation. He also noticed that, similar to Master P, Wayne and Birdman weren’t really enjoying the fruits of their labor. “I still like to have a good time, so Wayne and I would butt heads because I’d be like, ‘Yo … let’s leave out this bitch,’” he says, thinking back on their studio sessions. “‘Birdman just bought y’all fuckin’ matching Maseratis or Bugattis, let’s run these bitches up and down the street.’”
The bigger issue, however, was the slight resistance Curren$y experienced for wanting to deviate from contemporary hip-hop at the time. On a deeper level, Curren$y simply understood who he was. “I wasn’t gonna say in a rap that I smoked four niggas, because I didn’t,” he says. “We’re from a spot where that shit is like that, but we have other shit going on, too. So I wanted to talk about that, and there was a bit of pushback, but I respected it.” Rather than cause problems or risk not being true to himself, Curren$y walked away once again, announcing his departure from Young Money in a December 2007 Myspace post. “If that loses me friends r fans thats just something i will live with but i will get my just due in this rap game b4 its all said and done,” he wrote.
Existential pondering led Curren$y to the conclusion that no one else could create the right scenario for him. “I always ask people this: ‘What are you gonna do to live forever?’” he says. “Because physically, we can’t. But it’s gonna be something you do where a mufucka will always have to talk about you, so what would you do?” And that was my point. I’d just be one of the, unless I stood up, branched off, and did it the right way.” Where numerous artists would be content to orbit Master P or simply stand next to the supernova that was Lil Wayne in the lead-up to Tha Carter lll, Curren$y had the foresight to walk away from two situations he knew didn’t suit him. There’s no guarantee that what worked for Drake and Nicki Minaj would have ever worked for him.
“Gudda Gudda didn’t have the same trajectory,” Rob Markman, a former music journalist who’s currently the vice president of content strategy for Genius, says of Drake and Minaj. “Lil Twist didn’t have the same trajectory. It could work a variety of different ways. But to have the courage to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t me. I’d rather try it on my own and live and die by what I believe in’ is great. You have to applaud that.”
Moreover, Curren$y left without acrimony. Any static was smoothed over long ago, so both Wayne and Birdman have made appearances at the Jet Lounge parties Curren$y has hosted at the House of Blues in New Orleans over the years. Wayne also appeared on Curren$y’s 2015 single “Bottom of the Bottle,” although Curren$y is reluctant to play the I can get a Wayne verse if I really want it hand. “Honestly, I think when I get ready to get out of this shit, I’ll do one more joint with bruh,” he says, hinting at his eventual retirement. “Because I don’t even like to do that.”
The door is always open because of how Curren$y handled his exit. “They always told me the same thing: ‘I just like how you did your shit. You ain’t have nothin’ fucked up to say,’” he says. “And I could never have nothin’ fucked up to say. Even if I did realize it wasn’t the situation for me and I had to dip, it was beneficial.”
The blog era didn’t immediately render the established benchmarks for success obsolete, but they were no longer requirements. Artists didn’t need high-charting singles, videos on 106 & Park, or even strong record sales to get attention. Pirates were going to pirate, but a lot of the music was available for free download, making it more accessible. A co-sign from the New Music Cartel went a long way, but the key to sustainability was building an audience and keeping it satisfied. If there’s one thing Curren$y learned from his time on No Limit and Cash Money, it’s the value of releasing music regularly and keeping listeners engaged.
The seven mixtapes Curren$y released in 2008, beginning with Independence Day, created a much-needed revenue stream: show money. The new music generated enough interest that fans who didn’t pay for it were willing to pay to see him live to get the full Curren$y experience. It also earned him a spot on the cover of XXL’s December 2008 issue alongside fellow blog-era darlings Kid Cudi, Wale, and Charles Hamilton as part of the magazine’s second Freshman Class. For Curren$y, this was validation that he was on the right track and more reason to dismiss everyone who treated him “like he had shit on [his] shoes” after he left Cash Money. “I figured they’d see that it was all right to fuck with me—and now I get to not fuck with them,” he says. “That was the best part: ‘I don’t wanna do nothing, nigga. I’m good.’” Healthy skepticism is a necessary survival skill, especially in an industry as nefarious as entertainment. But Curren$y soon found a kindred spirit in another blog era success story: Wiz Khalifa.
The origin of How Fly, the duo’s 2009 Cheech & Chong–inspired mixtape, goes as follows: Khalifa, whom Warner Records discarded in 2009, was in the midst of his own independent run when he reached out to Curren$y on Myspace about collaborating. Curren$y missed the message, but once Khalifa’s ardent fan base voiced its disappointment, he suggested they do an entire project together. In addition to genuinely liking each other, they complement one another perfectly: Khalifa’s cloud of mellow harmony plus Curren$y’s nonchalant darts, with an endearing pothead common denominator.
How Fly offered vignettes of bong rips, post-club drunk-dials, and finessing women away from their boyfriends before catching the next flight. “Car Service,” however, is the enduring gem. From the sped-up Smokey Robinson & the Miracles sample to Khalifa’s exuberant opening verse and chorus, it captures the excitement of life in transit, chasing money from state to state. “Car Service” feels triumphant, and Curren$y, who calls it “the blog-era national anthem,” sums up the spirit of the time in his verse: “Ain’t tryna be a hog, dawgy, all I want is what I’m worth.” His and Khalifa’s 2019 album, 2009, was a victory lap celebrating the period in which they first linked and how far they’d come in the years since. “We fucked the game up by mistake and had mufuckas smoking different, looking different, and they had to call us to do shit,” Curren$y says. “2009 was us just saying we did all of that and mufuckas who make bread fall out, but we never did.” Even with Khalifa reaching superstar status, he and Curren$y are bound by the fact that they’ve done exactly what they wanted to do with their careers.
As the aughts drew to a close, Curren$y’s elevated profile helped him grow his legion of fans clad in Diamond Supply crewnecks, camo shorts, and a seemingly endless rotation of sneakers just like him. His rise coincided with that of Twitter, which allowed him to share his personality with fans in real time. (“Damnnnn this bitch called X now?” he tweeted in August, aghast at the site’s haphazard rebrand like countless other users.) The blog era marked the first time millennials encountered a range of artists who were of the same generation, influenced by the same art and pop culture. Curren$y, part of the first batch of millennials, connected with listeners who grew up on the same things he did, shared the same experiences and sensibilities, and felt seen by every mention of them in his music.
Curren$y’s non-regional sound also helped him stand out, even with a smaller footprint. “A lot of the sound is sort of universal because it’s like this gumbo: He grabbed it from all these different places in his travels,” says David Dennis Jr., a senior writer for Andscape. But Dennis, who lived in New Orleans and wrote for The Smoking Section during the blog era, also points out that Curren$y’s thick New Orleans drawl marks his music as Southern despite its non-regional qualities: “That man makes New Orleans music just by how he uses his voice as an instrument, and based off the slant rhymes of the accent.”
All of this crystallized into something special with the Pilot Talk series. Pilot Talk and Pilot Talk ll, released in 2010, were crafted while Curren$y shuttled back and forth between New Orleans and New York, where he worked under the guidance of Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash and his DD172 label. Through Dash, Curren$y met Ski Beatz, best known for his work on Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night. Ski, who hails from North Carolina, believes he and Curren$y found common ground thanks to Southern upbringings which shaped their musical tastes. “It just made sense: I love music music, he loves music music,” says Ski, who produced most of the Pilot Talk tetralogy. “He likes that smooth vibe, so let’s make this music smooth, real musical, and lazy—but at the same time, hittin’.”
The Pilot Talk sound—hazy, lush, progressive—set the backdrop for the universe in Curren$y’s mind. The artwork is part of that vision. David Barnett, who did the art for thefirstthreePilot Talk albums, reimagined New Orleans and New York with a psychedelic yet futuristic feel. “Then, Spitta’s flying over, dropping weed bombs on the city and the whole thing is overgrown,” he says. But it’s Curren$y’s off-kilter rhyme scheme that animates each entry in the series. His flow shifts from lackadaisical, to staggered, to laser-focused at the drop of a hat. He uses intonation for emphasis and to keep listeners on their toes. If you aren’t paying attention, you risk missing his wit. “He leaves those gems that hit you later,” Ski says. Take Pilot Talk’s “Breakfast,” a sub-three-minute, hookless work of abstract art. Over Bey and Ski’s woozy, horn-powered production, Curren$y roves from “rolled Bambú’s in the Bahamas,” to playing NBA 2K in a condo full of snacks, to The Karate Kid while utilizing wordplay that warrants multiple listens.
Fly in the hive, buzzing, them bugs can’t be him Illegible letters in ledger, they can’t read ’em Smiling, money piling, I’m cheesin’ Odometer broken, I ain’t know that I was speedin’
“That just happened,” Curren$y explains. “Any time I write a story rap, I don’t know that it’s a story until well into the first verse.”
The Pilot Talk series took Curren$y and his unorthodox approach to new heights. Bey, Snoop Dogg, Devin the Dude, and fellow New Orleans resident Jay Electronica appeared on the first installation. The second features a guest verse from Raekwon, whom Curren$y remembers as the first northern legend to show their appreciation. (“I was pretty much gonna throw up about it,” he says.) He found himself at Fashion Week, then hanging out with the likes of Vashtie Kola and producer Danger Mouse. During his appearance on Andscape’s Rap Stories podcast, he told Dennis about the time Dash brought actress Sienna Miller to the studio. “Dame Dash was buying this company that made watches, so Sienna Miller came to check out a watch and fuckin’ bam, I’m there, just dancing to ‘Rock Creek Park,’ rolling joints and shit,” he tells me. “She’s like, ‘What the fuck is this guy doing?!’ and you stay in people’s hearts that way.”
Although Curren$y and Dash’s professional relationship soured, resulting in a 2012 lawsuit alleging that Dash’s DD172 label released Curren$y’s music without a formal agreement, he still speaks highly of his former mentor. “Dame Dash is incredible,” he says. What’s more, Curren$y says the experience taught him to trust his instincts. “Roll the dice, then fix whatever didn’t work, keep what did, and come back again.”
After years on the independent grind, Curren$y signed a deal with Warner Records in 2011. The blog era gave artists more leverage, empowering them to tell the labels who would’ve otherwise ignored them “no” until it made sense to say “yes.” Curren$y also inked a deal for his Jet Life Recordings imprint, but says he’s since dissolved the partnership.
“I bought that whole thing back,” he says. “We’re just our own thing, we could put your album out right now.”
For all of the fine points and effort that Curren$y puts into his music, he’s adamant that things feel natural. It’s clear that thought goes into his work, but he’s vehemently opposed to thinking too hard about it. “What makes me leave a studio session, not do a feature, tell somebody I have to go get my son, or just come up with something else to do is when mufuckas are like, ‘So what’s the concept?’” he says. “If nothing pops into your mind when the beat comes on, don’t even say it. I don’t want to conceptualize and shit.”
Some of Curren$y’s trusted collaborators confirm this. According to Ski, he figures things out on the fly. Fraud says he straight-up doesn’t waste time. “Once the beat captures him, his pen just fuckin’ moves across the notebook,” he says. Jean Lephare, half of the New Orleans production team Monsta Beatz, is succinct in his description of Curren$y in the studio: “He’ll write that shit and then he’ll be right in the booth, bruh.”
On his 2012 album The Stoned Immaculate, Curren$y worked with a variety of producers, including Pharrell, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Bink!, and Daz Dillinger, but he returned to his comfort zone of familiarity. He’s adaptable, but values the rhythm he has with certain people. At this point in his career, he’s mastered the collaborative album where he works closely—often exclusively—with one producer. Hence why his catalog consists of entire franchises. There are four Pilot Talk albums to date, with the most recent installment arriving in 2021. He’s made six “Audio Dope” songs so far. And he says Continuance, his 2022 album with the Alchemist, is essentially the sequel to their 2011 project, Covert Coup. For Curren$y to add to a series, the ingredients have to be the same.
“The same personnel is important, right down to whoever was hanging,” he says. “The same homies and homegirls have to be around, so we do it again. It also has to sound and feel that way. I go to the studio with just my engineer, we go through beats, and I record. If I do two or three from the same producer in a night, I’m like, ‘All right, call him tomorrow and let’s lock in and do it for real.’”
Each of Curren$y’s producers of choice taps into something different, but he pulls something distinct out of them as well. “He has that air of a boss, because he is one in his world,” Fraud says. “But he also has that air of a kingpin-type figure, and I think I give him the leeway to lean all the way into that—and he gives me the leeway to produce.” Markman believes you can hear the difference in the music the producers create with Curren$y versus other artists they work with. “The stuff Harry Fraud’s made for Curren$y doesn’t sound like the stuff he makes for French Montana,” he says. And regardless of whether it’s Ski Beatz, the Alchemist, or la musica de Harry Fraud, it always sounds like Curren$y.
That said, Curren$y has learned from different producers along the way. For example, Dupri extolled the virtues of quality control. “Sometimes, you gotta take your time, let shit get mixed down, and not drop it the same night you do it,” Curren$y says of what he took from their sessions. “Because you can hear the difference. But it’s JD—the shit’s gonna sound that much different.”
It’s likely there are Curren$y fans who haven’t kept up with his output this decade, and it’s certainly possible to miss new releases with the rate at which he releases music. Although he’s the model for consistency, sticking to a blueprint that’s worked for over a decade, he’s shown a willingness to adjust his subject matter when it strikes him. The self-described “big-ass kid” has touched on fatherhood since that became his reality. On “Gold and Chrome,” from 2020’s The OutRunners, he reflects on losing friends to COVID-19, how the pandemic altered life at the most basic levels (“You gotta watch who you smoke with, who you go home with / Being smart’s synonymous with germophobics”), and envisioning his son as an adult, sliding in a Chevy just like his old man. On “The Final Board,” from Continuance, he speaks on the hurt of feeling burned by a friend he loaned money to and considers how life in the pandemic has affected his son.
To little surprise, Curren$y is indifferent about receiving credit for anything he’s done. “I don’t know how much money I could get from that credit, so I don’t care about it,” he says. “If I can’t trade it for fuckin’ Daytons, then I’m cool.” There’s a palpable cynicism, based on his experiences, that’s left him reluctant to accept praise because he’s never sure of where it’s coming from.
“I’ve been around people in such high-up positions, and I see the people around them never keep it a hundred,” he explains. “Tell them everything is great even if they really don’t think so because they want to stay in the good graces. If big dog is pulling up to the jewelry store, he’s gonna get you something because you’re always the one who’s telling him, ‘This is dope’ and blasé blah. So I don’t want none of it.”
At the same time, Curren$y is aware of the power in what he’s done and has expressed as much in his music. “I am an example of what can happen when you quit being afraid to gamble,” he says in “Example,” the very first song on Pilot Talk. Seeing what Curren$y has accomplished, by his own design, has inspired artists who have come after him. San Francisco rapper Larry June, another frequent collaborator who’s also hit his stride independently, felt empowered by it. “I call him my big brother because we’re on the same shit and he took it to the world and made a crazy impact,” June says. And while Curren$y doesn’t necessarily see himself as anyone’s OG, he will give advice to people like June whom he believes will apply it. Frankly, he’s encouraged June to keep operating in the laid-back everyman pocket on which he’s hung his San Francisco Giants hat. “Just stay in that lifestyle vein and mufuckas are gonna relate,” he remembers telling June. “Because it’s more regular niggas than jump-out shooters in the world.”
Curren$y has left his mark on the world, but all roads lead back to New Orleans for him. You can find him at his Jet Life retail store on Canal Street. You can spot him driving his cars all over the city. And in a city with a musical history as rich as New Orleans—from the origins of jazz, to the second lines and frenetic bounce music, to the respective apexes of No Limit and Cash Money—Curren$y is a legend in his own right with a mural commemorating his achievements.
Through it all, Curren$y has maintained a youthful energy about him. He’s just as happy showing off his 1992 Mercedes-Benz 600SEL as he was when he bought his first Ferrari. He’s at his happiest with his family, particularly his son, whether he’s rewarding him with an assortment of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures or just playing with Hot Wheels. “My son, he loves to make crashes and I’m like, ‘You are chipping collectibles, bro!” he says with a laugh. “He don’t give a shit right now.”
Curren$y values his privacy, but also understands that his willingness to meet his fans where they are has been integral to his success. As a result, he’s cultivated a devoted fan base that’s willing to support everything he does. And even without songs on terrestrial radio or absurd streaming numbers, people still stop dead in their tracks at the sight of him. At two different points during our conversation, fans approach the steps and ask for photos. Another sits down, rolls a joint while smoking his own, and offers it to Curren$y, who politely declines because he has to go over his setlist with his DJ. It’s a level of notoriety Curren$y is comfortable with: He can still go to Walmart or Target and buy Hot Wheels in peace.
“I don’t want to be famous,” he says. “This the dope game, so honestly, all the plug really wants to do is be unknown, supply everybody with work, and fuckin’ live on some ranch somewhere with his shit. And that’s basically what I’m doing.”
A previous version of this article said Wiz Khalifa left Warner Records in 2008. He left in 2009.
Julian Kimble has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times,The Washington Post, GQ, and many more. He’s currently working on a book about the 1996 NBA draft class’s impact on basketball and popular culture around the world.