We begin with your once-every-five-years Fiend update: The ex-No Limit rapper-slash-grizzly-bear-throated drug linguist is still making records—mixtapes, mostly, charming on the whole. If you grew up during the break-up of New Orleans’ rap empires, this news comes as a delight, like an ancient comet spotted orbiting back towards Earth, taken as harbinger of the reemergence of a No Limitarian whose latest gift to civilization was a 1999 cut called “Mr. Whomp Whomp”. This time, he’s International Jones, and the sound of his melodic baritone resurfacing into 2011 seems 2012 in the Mayan sense of the number. Strange things are happening. If Mr. Whomp Whomp is making records—relevant records—then something in the universe is possible again.
The first year of the decade was a strong one for Jets Life Recordings, the smattering of lost-to-time rappers, Fiend included, who surround Curren$y—himself one of those erstwhile No Limit up-and-comers forever hyped on the now-fossilized pages of old No Limit CD booklets. History has a way of rhyming. Curren$y’s clique is today the closest thing New Orleans rap has smelled to a movement since No Limit fractured, and since Cash Money Records’ CEO Baby (allegedly) stopped paying his performers until they left.
The reassuring news? It’s hard to imagine any member of Jets making enough money for anybody else to leave. Certainly not in this economy. You can cross whole stretches of these people’s mixtapes without hearing the name of an automobile or club. Hunker down with their relaxed-but-syncopated beats ambling under half-hearted boasts, and you will learn more about sports than champagne. You will come to the finding that, for these fellows, bottle service means: “Bring me another High Life from the mini-fridge.”
Which is all refreshing, given the times. Jets’ 2011 streak may be the most recession-friendly oeuvre since Field Mob, a Georgia plains duo who asked, “Have you ever bathed in soap the size of a Cert?” In the 365 miraculous 2011 days God giveth to them, Jets crew sounds as if they—just like 9.1 percent of the labor force—wasted most of them, musing on life’s disappointments in between exhibition matches on Madden. And they wrote records. Playful mixtapes, nothing serious. They stacked verses with far fewer ad-libs than mandated by the hip-hop guide to over-producing a record, and never once hired a singer. They wrote okay puns. (“Pattycake-pattycake, I’m baked my man.”) They pushed the air- travel-as-success-metaphor to new…heights.
I have only good things and no great things to say about this group whose acronym breaks down to “Just Enjoy This Shit.” I do. About the worst thing I can say is that I half-just-enjoyed every minute of the mixtapes I haphazardly streamed, intensely enjoyed just some of it, and hope to enjoy their Jet World Order November 29 release.
Jets’ lack of aspirations may be the best thing the clique has going for it. Over the past two or three sessions of Congress, rap has been too single-minded in its pursuit of excellence, too busy Looking for the Perfect Beat. Someday, this stretch of history will sound like a haze, as impenetrable to later listeners as ragtime. Past-gazers will wonder what compelled a cyborg like Kanye to pour away years of his existence into soft, synthesized subtleties, to announce every chorus with a crass crescendo, to slave over bogus bragfest Watch the Throne, packaged as some Great American Rap Record, when everybody understands that the Great American Rap Record is probably Kilo Ali’s Bluntly Speaking. They in our future will ask obvious questions about AutoTune. They will wonder what form of indentured servitude drove studio engineers to clock in 16-hour workdays at the ProTools console, copying and pasting hooks in lieu of Just Enjoying That Shit.
When those inquiries are determined unresolvable, we’ll be left with Covert Coup, a 27-minute mixtape. Curren$y released it on 4/20. Of course. The real joke is that he must have made it on 4/19. The record’s sharp focus and ear for detail completely counterbalances the slugabed, let me start-my-morning-with-some-“purple” masquerade Curren$y impersonates. The 30-year-old rap manufacturer grinds way harder than his somnambulist drawl would let on, and, given the quantity-plus-quality of mixtapes he accomplished this year, he might be the hardest-working man in the being-stoned business. The record’s producer, Alchemist, puts down precise, if loopy, beats like the rightly titled “Ventilation”, over which Curren$y offers rigorous rhyme schemes like “grappling hooks, scaling the building / rap with no hooks, how is you feeling?” You wonder if he inhales.
His answer: “The toxic air that I’m breathing will leave an average man weakened.”
My guess is Jets has until 2016–the year economists forecast full employment will return to America—to keep milking this gag. I hope they do. It’s artistry to make the consistently good sound easy. It’s a mystery that these guys can make it sound so lazy.
JETS’ Productions in 2011
Weekend at Burnie’s (album on Warner Bros.)
Corner Boy P
Trademark Da Skydiver