Q&A: Curren$y and Producer Ski Beatz (and Damon Dash) Talk Pilot Talk, BluRoc, and Eating at Bubby's in Tribeca
Sir Lucious Leftfoot and Teflon Don have (justifiably) monopolized the conversation in recent weeks, but there's at least one other new hip-hop album worth clearing earspace for: Pilot Talk, a soothingly mellow alternative from the Damon Dash-backed Tribeca transplant Curren$y released last week. A native of New Orleans, the preternaturally laid back 29-year-old sat on the shelf at both late-era No Limit and an early incarnation of Lil Wayne's Young Money before becoming the lynchpin of the loose, somewhat random collective of rappers (Jay Electronica, Mos Def, newcomer Stalley) who've coalesced around Dash's DD172 compound in the last year. Pilot Talk also marks the triumphant return of Ski Beatz, the former Roc-A-Fella producer behind early Jay-Z singles like "Who You Wit" and "Dead Presidents" (as well as Camp Lo's Tunnel-era anachronism Uptown Saturday Night). Rapper and beatmaker spoke with us in a crowded room at the always-surreal DD172, as Dash and others filtered in and out.
You're from New Orleans, which some people might say is a better place for a rapper than New York right now. How and why did you end up here?
Curren$y: That guy right there [points to Darien Dash, a nephew of Damon] and his cousins referred Damon to my music. He was working on BlakRoc 2 and reached out to me about putting a verse on that project. We reached a lot of common ground just based on the first conversations we had, so I didn't leave.
Do you live right here?
Curren$y: I live a block away. Maybe two blocks, I don't know. On Duane Street.
So you moved here just off that first meeting with Dame?
Curren$y: I might have known him for seven days. But I've been through a lot, so I know shit from sugar. I know whether a situation is right so I wasn't really tripping. I had stayed out here for six months at one point when I was thinking about taking this deal with this one label, but then I ended up not doing it. Deals and shit aren't really that cool.
Ski, you were one of the original Roc-A-Fella producers, and did various projects in New York in the late '90s but kind of disappeared after that. What happened with the Roc-A-Fella relationship?
Ski Beatz: I had a lot of people in my ear and my star was rising. People said you should do this or do that. I stepped out on my own and started my own version of Roc-A-Fella, Rock-A-Block. I kind of jumped out the pot before it was finished cooking.
Damon Dash: You didn't do nothing wrong. You did the right thing. You went and did the entrepreneurial thing. And we popped bottles for him. It wasn't like he turned his back. He just chose to be independent.
Ski Beatz: I went back to [North Carolina]. Got married, had kids, worked with artists down there. But it wasn't in my heart. So I came back, I reconnected with Dame. I liked the movement he started. And then he introduced me to Curren$y. No disrespect to Curren$y, but I was way out of the loop, I didn't know who was who. I liked that because there were no pre-conceived notions.
So you actually live here, at DD172?
Ski Beatz: I live here.
Curren$y, my favorite line on Pilot Talk is when you talk about [TriBeCa restaurant institution] Bubby's.
Curren$y: Bubby's changed my life. That was the first place I went when I came and I met Dame. We ate at Bubby's that night. I eat there every day. Maybe four times out of a seven-day week.
You seem like a man of regularity.
Curren$y: I'm just chilling. I like what I like.
You've said you're always high. Is that true?
Curren$y: That's probably right. I think I smoked three joints in front of you. [Passes joint]
I'm good. Smoking that much doesn't decrease your productivity?
Curren$y: I don't know. It's not about that. I'm not really a fan of the world and the way shit goes down. But I'm here and I deal with it. And this makes things a little bit easier. It's like how beer goggles makes an ugly chick look good. These are like beer goggles for this ugly world. Everything is OK. But it's really fucked. But it's kind of not. To me.
There's been some confusion about your label situation. It was said in a lot of places that Pilot Talk was going to come through Def Jam on a re-launched Roc-A-Fella. But the label is BluRoc....
Curren$y: It was always BluRoc...We were saying that on the idea of what [Roc-A-Fella] stood for. How all that Roc-A-Fella shit is back in the form of BluRoc, the label.
Did Def Jam actually do anything on this project?
Curren$y: All they did was [production and distribution]. We did everything here. Artwork was on the second floor, I did all the rapping, [Ski] did the beats.
You and Wiz Khalifa have done a lot of music together, and have an almost Meth-and-Red type chemistry. Have you thought of forming a group together with him?
Curren$y: No, we're going to do another mixtape but we got separate teams and separate missions.
What about Center-Edge Territory with Jay Electronica and Mos Def? Is that an actual project?
Curren$y: When we say that that's a group, there's music that's been recorded but we don't plan on putting out an album. That track "The Day" was on my album because the game is in turmoil. That song is fitting for that time. The "day" is referring to the day that wack shit died, and that's the day that we decided to start recording collectively. Anytime the energy meter on the game is depleted way to the red, then we'll throw another record out. When it's needed. Nothing is like it was, not if it's got anything to do with me. Like how you asked me that about the group? Well the typical answer would be like, 'We're doing an album.' No. But it's still a group. Just not like what it was.
Were you surprised to get a call from Rick Ross for the "Super High' remix with you and Wiz Khalifa?
Curren$y: I didn't think that was really him because he hit me on Twitter. I ignored that at first. My account's not verified and his wasn't at the time. But I knew how to find out, [and] it ended up being legit.
Ski, what happened to your project, 24 Hour Karate School? It was a mixtape but now it's an official release. What was the reason for the change?
Ski Beatz: It's done and mastered. We didn't want to clear samples so we just basically reworked them with the band here. We call our band the Senseis. That's Brady Watt on the bass, Daru Jones on the drums and John Cave on the guitar.
Is that driven by economics, or wanting to come up with a different sound? You could fool me that a lot of the tracks you do aren't samples.
Ski Beatz: It started off economic but it just became our way of making music.
Do you have a certain type of beat you look for from him?
Curren$y: I always tell him that I want to feel like I fell out of an airplane but I'm not gonna die. Whatever that sound like.
Curren$y performs Pilot Talk in its entirety at Public Assembly tonight.