“You don’t want to f**k around and catch some s**t. It’s in your body,” Curren$y says, his New Orleans accent embellishing the latter point. It’s around 10:00 p.m. at the Gibson Hit Factory Studio in New York City. The rapper is standing hunched over a plate of chicken wings after the listening session for his fifth studio album, Canal Street Confidential (out today, December 4). The air is thick with marijuana smoke — he’s smoked a few joints since I’ve seen him — and a guy outside is selling weed brownies and red velvet cake for $10. The rapper is explaining to me the importance of buying quality edibles. “You don’t want to roll the dice with your body,” he cautiously advises. “I know the weed was quality.”
Curren$y (born Shante Franklin) is kind of the Yoda to this weed s**t. He’s a heavy smoker — duh — and has probably schooled your favorite rapper on how to properly light up. For over a decade, the rapper has steadily built a fan base around his hazy and cool-as-f**k persona. His Pilot Talk series has kept smokers and rap bloggers lifted since its first installment dropped in 2010. The 34-year-old has accumulated cosigns across regions — notching collaborations from Wiz Khalifa and French Montana to Juvenile and Rick Ross — and he’s the only artist to be signed to both No Limit Records and Young Money Entertainment. He’s got the underground on lock, but mainstream success has remained elusive. His first single, “Bottom of the Bottle” (featuring August Alsina and Lil Wayne), reflects his headspace. With this new album, Spitta is looking towards the big leagues.
Canal Street Confidential is out. How are you feeling?
Were you here long enough to hear some of the cuts? Did you hear a few?
I was standing behind you. Some groupie tried to run up on you and I didn’t want to interrupt and c**kblock.
Oooooh! Look! OK, I can dig it. I’m really excited about the reaction and feedback I’ve been getting. People aren’t upset or feeling like I changed my style, in me doing so many features with people enjoying mainstream success.
Everybody know that I still maintain my sound. I feel like we’ll get more attention than we’ve ever gotten this time. I feel people who’ve always wondered about the music will give this one a chance. There’s enough on there to satisfy anyone who picks up the album.
As an underground artist, did you worry that putting artists like Future and August Alsina on an album would alienate your core fans?
You not supposed to think about it, but it’s gonna be in the back of your mind because, the whole thing you built was one way. The thing of it is, both of those people you mentioned, they built their runs underground as well. One of August's first projects — I can’t recall the name of the tape — me and him did a record on the tape because he was doing mixtapes. Future’s s**t was the same way. We all from the same world. It’s just some people manage to hit a little stroke above ground. This is my step into that world right now.
Do you care about mainstream success?
No, because the underground is really supportive. I’ve been able to tour all my music for years. As long as I have avenues to put music out, they’ll always come out to venues and show love.
You’ve already had underground love. Is there some part of you that wants that crossover look, like Curren$y and Justin Bieber on a track?
With anything that you do, you wanna reach the top. If I’m playing basketball, I wouldn’t just say that I want to make the team. I’d want to be one of the greats. Why would I just settle? They’re like, “You’re an underground legend.” I’m like, that’s what’s up. I wouldn’t mind being a full-on legend. Why not throw my hat in the ring and see what I could do?
A lot of underground rappers are actually making more money and have longer careers than their mainstream counterparts. It’s a trade-off it seems.
This is true. This is absolutely true. That’s why I just want to conquer both worlds. The underground is automatic. I’m gonna devote some time to this above-ground approach. Once I get them all high, both machines be clicking and I’ll f**king have to buy a bank.
What’s after that?
I got the next album halfway done. Canal Street Confidential will probably be like a three-part series.
Where does the album title come from?
Canal Street is from New Orleans. That’s pretty much the main street in my city. You want to get to Bourbon Street or anything you wanna do, it’s right off Canal.
In New York City, Canal Street is where bootleggers sell fake Gucci bags and Louis Vuitton.
I know! That’s nuts! I’ll clear up that stigma for people.
(Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for BMI)