Last week, Curren$y's Jet Life crew released Red Eye Mixtape, the latest in a steady stream of product from the wordy stoner-rapper and his crew, which includes former-No Limit-grunter-gone-super-smooth Fiend alongside weed capos like Cornerboy P. But the delivery system was new: BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file-sharing client. The torrent lets you immediately download Curren$y's new single, "Right Now" (featuring Young Roddy, another weed capo) and what they're calling "interactive art," which provides you access to concert tickets. Give them your email and you can unlock the entire 13-track mixtape, a short video documentary, and a whole bunch of other digital swag.
A significant PR rollout surrounded all this, similar to Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail business-speak-meets-music-distribution mini-event. The official blog for the mixtape on BitTorrent's website even referenced Jay's "new rules" mantra. For an artist like Curren$y — prolific, but stalled in terms of visibility — it's another step in his technological evolution. My November 2011 article on “The New Underground” cited him as one of many artists shooting for sustainability and artistic freedom without tangling too much with major labels: Jumping from Def Jam to Warner Bros. at that time, he seemed to view a big record deal as a cash infusion and nothing more. His audience is already there; he just needs some dough to keep the operation going. That's a tough grind in the long term, though, so teaming up with BitTorrent theoretically increases his visibility while maintaining his musical integrity.
Since that piece (costarring Danny Brown, Odd Future, G-Side, and so forth), the Internet-rap world has in some ways imploded, or at least middled out. Which was the point, if you think about it. The goal was to stick around and keep on pushing while courting long-term fans and avoiding a major-label burnout, utilizing Internet hype cycles without depending on them. While Curren$y, Big K.R.I.T., and others are lower-profile these days, their careers aren't suffering. They've just fallen out of the rap-blog press loop. Meanwhile, the arrival of more mainstream artists co-opting that ground-up D.I.Y. spirit — from the warmed-over Tumblr swag of A$AP Rocky to the savvy, contrived virality of Baauer's “Harlem Shake” — is evidence of the industry absorbing New Underground moves, which is both promising and unfortunate.
Jet Life's move to BitTorrent is yet another milestone of artistic independence. The service has also hosted new material from both Public Enemy and Death Grips, so Curren$y is in good individualist-rap company. This also seems like a move away from websites like DatPiff and LiveMixtapes — instrumental in legitimizing the act of giving away rap for free, but now largely just another promotional arm of the industry. Not that finding newer, fresher venues is easy, exactly: Last summer, Busta Rhymes released his Year of the Dragon via the music service Google Play, but they got it all wrong. Their interface still demanded you put in your credit card info to get the free download, and what rap fan in 2012 was going to go through that hassle? We've been getting free rap with no strings attached for years. This BitTorrent move feels like it was made by people who know how rap fans want to get their music.
As for Red Eye Mixtape itself, it's more of the breezy, weeded hip-hop these guys do very, very well: The Fiend songs are typically luxurious, and Curren$y delivers some fervid verses, easing in unfamilar fans while satisfying those of us who live for this rap-comfort-food stuff. This one's also far more consistent and rewarding than the two previous Jet Life group albums, Jet World Order and Jet World Order 2, both conventionally released digitally and in stores. For web-savvy casual fans (or dabblers who don't scour the blogs or care to get a DatPiff account), BitTorrent is an easier way to go.
There's certainly a gimmicky, attention-grabbing aspect to this — a smaller-scale version of Jay Z's inside-baseball marketing shenanigans — but Jet Life's free download stands in sharp contrast to Magna Carta Holy Grail's Samsung-customers-as-VIP-section presale moves. The BitTorrent approach is all about easier, simpler access: inclusivity rather than exclusivity, far more in keeping with Curren$y's regular-dude, everybody's-invited rap values.