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Wiz Khalifa/Curren$y - 2009 Music Album Reviews

The ostensible sequel to How Fly offers a few fleeting glimpses of the easygoing, unruffled, and effortlessly cool rap produced by the duo 10 years ago.

Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y’s 2009 mixtape How Fly—blog era rap’s own Watch the Throne—was a transitional and somewhat ephemeral moment. NahRight posts were the coin of the realm and going double-platinum on the mixtape database DatPiff was a valuable metric. It’s a tape almost displaced from its time—buried by commercially successful artistic failures from legacy rappers (JAY-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent) and pivotal moments of ascension for their successors (Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Kanye West)—yet also almost entirely of it. There’s a bar on How Fly about playing Nintendo Wii while using the now-defunct iChat. These days, the rap duo swaps in Nintendo Switches and Instagram, but in the decade since teaming up, almost nothing has changed about them.

That’s kind of the point of 2009, a mixtape that has been at least four years in the making: Despite a seismic shift in the world and music industry, they’re still the same guys, only richer, making the same songs. After an unofficial reunion in 2013 on the stopgap EP Live in Concert and years of teasing How Fly 2, the duo has finally released a proper sequel to their high-times epic. And they want their credit: “One of the originals who showed you fools how to turn the internet rhymes into residuals,” Curren$y raps on a song called, well, “Stoned Gentleman.” They are very clearly trying to replicate something here, working with producers from their shared pasts (Cardo, Sledgren, MonstaBeatz) in search of the fleeting high that is nostalgia. There are glimpses of the easygoing, unruffled, and effortlessly cool rap produced in the apartment on the tape’s cover, but it’s diminishing returns.

Listening to How Fly and Live in Concert now, it’s easy to see why it worked before. They were lovable stoners. They interpolated OutKast, presenting themselves as the zonked-out second coming of the two dope boyz. They sampled Ron Burgundy flute solos. One was a major-label prospect who’d escaped an unflattering situation to become a prolific artist; the other was a major-label hopeful earnestly producing DIY mixtapes and maximizing a fledgling online economy. They’d taken opposing trajectories to wind up in the same place—the origin story of most great buddy cop movies—and as a tag-team, they felt refreshingly outside of the grinding gears of mainstream machinery. Even when Wiz signed his Atlantic deal, this partnership still seemed to ground him.

But Wiz and Curren$y are an odd couple. They have little in common beyond a love of weed and women, lounging around and cruising in foreign whips. They are very different rappers, too. Curren$y is a marble-mouthed spitter who bends flows so dramatically they can seem out of time. Wiz enunciates each syllable distinctly and sticks rigidly to cadences. Curren$y slithers through verses, perpetually spontaneous. Wiz’s easy-bake flows couldn’t be more formulaic.

At this point, it feels like every line out of Wiz’s mouth is something he’s rapped before. He presents all of his ideas in the most primitive ways. Curren$y, on the other hand, is still capable of rapping something so simple it’ll make you wonder how no one has rapped it already. “The vision for us was quite clear/When the smoke clears decades later we’ll still be here,” he spits, summing up the Jet Life mythos. They have similar laid back ideologies but there’s a noticeable disparity in the presentation. Curren$y summarizes his particular methodology best, on “Forever Ball”: “Musical scholar, pennin’ his own products, straight narcotics/Watch me turn this beat into a foreign with a spoiler on it.” The keyword is watch; the difference is in the showing.

When Wiz raps about expensive supercars they are itemized in his brain: “And my cars is decent, some of ’em older, some recent/Leaving my keys in, this one for today/You gon’ see a new one this weekend.” Meanwhile, Curren$y identifies what he’s driving like each model has a distinctive birthmark—the Cabriolet, the Italian design, the white-wine interior. “Came through in the space coupe, everything new/Umbrellas in the door, galaxy in the roof,” he raps on “Getting Loose.” “Be cool, muhfucker, ain’t nobody asked you.” Many of the Curren$y verses on 2009 make the poorly aging Wiz verses look shapeless. The difference in style and detail can be like going from seeing in three dimensions to two.

Even though his role is diminished, there is still a place for Wiz in this stoner paradise. His delivery can be stiff—stilted, even—but he can also be charming. When he gets a flow off, as on the vintage “Plot Twist,” he seems almost infectiously nonchalant. He sometimes shows off his mastery of the patronizing put-down, self-aware and awkward about it: “My closest filled with all types of shit/It’s bad you’d probably work your whole life for this and I’ll get it in one night,” he raps, almost embarrassed for you. When both he and Curren$y are in their bags, locked in on the shamelessly nostalgic 2009, it can feel like a How Fly retrospective, allowing the listener to channel that experience. But when the glow wears off, you’re left with half-baked impressions of a bygone era.

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