When two budding rappers named Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y released their joint mixtape How Fly in 2009, the world was a different place. Barack Obama was serving his first term as US President, Apple still made iPod shuffles, and Twitter was a brand new thing. People weren’t buying CDs anymore but streaming services were still in their infancy, and hosting sites, blogs and forums like DatPiff, 2DopeBoyz and NikeTalk were providing a direct artist-to-fan connection via download links, cutting out industry middle men and knocking down decades-old barriers in the process.
Maybe it was because of both Khalifa and Curren$y’s brief, lukewarm experiences with the music industry pre-2009 that they were so willing to get rid of these barriers. Whatever the reasons, the two rappers were among the first to commit to a new strategy that made no sense by traditional industry standards: Try to build a broad but dedicated fanbase by releasing a ton of free music on the internet and get money from shows, touring, merch, and other avenues. That this philosophy was delivered as stoner-rap smooth jazz and was dressed up in rare boutique sneakers and streetwear brands made it all the more palatable to the era’s music fans.
Nearly 10 years later, How Fly has finally been re-released on the now-standard, industry-approved digital streaming platforms. Curren$y and Khalifa’s new and long-awaited second joint project, 2009, dropped less than a week later, with both veterans sounding reinvigorated by their reunion, with plenty left to say despite their prolific and consistent output in the years between.
On the night of 2009's release last Friday, Wiz and Spitta braved flight delays and one of the worst winter storms Seattle has seen in years to make sure the show went on for their still-loyal fans who packed out the venue. Beforehand, we spoke to the rap duo about their mixtape origins, how their lives have changed, and the rare rap industry friendship that's stood the test of time.
Taking it back to 2009, how did you guys originally get connected for the How Fly project?
Curren$y: MySpace. Just on some, "What's up man, I fuck with your shit." "Oh, I fuck with you too." That was cool but we didn’t do nothing. And then Twitter came and I could see what people were saying a little bit more, like "Why the fuck haven’t you guys done something together?" When we got everything lined up to do some songs so people would stop trippin', we found out that we're fucking brothers. Wiz is the only rap motherfucker like that for me. I don’t have rap buddies, rapper friends. The industry doesn’t work like that.
When you guys first connected you already had done the label thing a bit, and already had your solo careers going with the mixtapes…
Curren$y: Well look, we was broke at the same time. Well not broke, but compared to how shit is now we was broke! That’s a struggle, and whoever you struggle with, that’s a bond that’s different. We were both dealing with some shit that’s unspeakable: "I’m not doing good, shit's not working out." So we both had that going on and we didn’t have to talk about it much, we just got ourselves out that situation.
So what was the mission when you guys linked up for the first project then? Did you envision it picking up like it did, getting to the point where you’re celebrating a 10-year anniversary with a tour and new project?
"We didn’t really think that we would get to this level, paper-wise, with the route we were taking. We weren't doing any fake shit, and all the fakery was picking the money up." - Curren$y
Wiz Khalifa: I think we were just focused on not being what we had seen, because we had seen so much trash and so much bullshit going on [in our earlier experiences with the industry]. So it was like as long as we’re not that we’ll be cool. That was success to us.
Curren$y: Honestly that was it. We didn’t really think that we would get to this level, paper-wise, with the route we were taking. We weren't doing any fake shit, and all the fakery was picking the money up. We thought, "Well we’re not gonna make that much paper, but at least I will never say you did no fake ass shit, you’ll never say I did it, and that’s worth it."
Right. I was looking at a list of some of the mainstream stuff that was coming out around those years, and it’s crazy how weak a lot of that was.
Curren$y: And it was just a lot of people stealing from us. In 2009 everybody was like, "Oh yeah we smoke weed, we do this, we do that.” People thought that was the package to success, and people copy off of whatever works.
There are obviously a lot of things that are different from 2009 to now, musically and politically and otherwise. How are things different for you guys personally compared to when How Fly came out?
Wiz Khalifa: It’s not, that’s what’s crazy. [Laughs]
Curren$y: We got kids. He’s got a son, I got a son. But that’s it. Nothing’s changed. We don’t have to bend to fit the sound. We made the sound, so it’s whatever we do.
What about in terms of weed, since it’s legal here and a bunch of states now? Running back How Fly it's kind of funny to hear Wiz talking about "OG in my Swishers so the blunt tastes flavored."
Wiz Khalifa: I did say that!
Curren$y: There’s more fake weeds now. OG is still the shit. Some shit disappeared, I don’t know what happened to Sour D…
Wiz Khalifa: They need to bring Headband back, like the original Headband bro. Would you smoke Headband if they had it still? Most of it’s trash now though.
Curren$y: I would definitely smoke some Headband if it came through. I don’t know what happened to Sour Diesel. And there’s all kinds of weed named after like, fuckin' Sesame Street characters, soup ingredients, and other kinda shit so it gets a little crazy.
Wiz Khalifa: It was easy back then… Sour Diesel, Headband, OG…
Curren$y: OG is still good man, we both have strains of OG, Khalifa Kush and Andretti OG, so that’s it.
In your own words, what do you think you brought to rap, music, and style?
Curren$y: Be yourself in this.
Wiz Khalifa: Bruh. Nailed it.
Curren$y: Just be yourself in this. We came in, and you would have thought that shit was N.W.A. We weren't even talking about anything bad… but in a sense we were because that was before the “reeferlution,” so at that point it was different. For us to be talking about that shit so much, and so publicly, if you saw us it was pretty much an easy bust. You see him, you know there’s weed somewhere.
Wiz Khalifa: I think the cool shit too is like, we had catalogs bruh. It wasn’t just like we were talking shit. It was like, "These niggas got belts." You had done like 30 projects in a month, dropping a project or week or something like that at that time. And then you had made the XXL [freshman cover] off mixtapes and I made XXL off mixtapes [the following year]. It was like holy shit, these motherfuckers really actually know what they’re doing. That was the cool part. The dope was just the top layer. People thought it was all just weed and fun, but we really hustled our way to that point beyond n****s who was already on, you know what I mean? The hustle was crazy.
Curren$y: Cuz that’s really how motherfuckers was doing it. With just a laptop.
Wiz Khalifa: He had already freestyled over one of my joints before we even met…
"People thought it was all just weed and fun, but we really hustled our way to that point beyond n****s who was already on, you know what I mean? The hustle was crazy." - Wiz Khalifa
Do you remember which one?
Curren$y: It was “Say Yeah.” As soon as I saw the video I was like, "Yeah man I’m bout to get this motherfucker." You was in a limo… [Laughs]. Y’all was crawlin’ around in a limo and shit!
Wiz Khalifa: That was one of those label-y videos where it was like everybody was from the hood, but we were doing whatever the label said… but it was cool, it was fun.
Anything you would tell your past selves back ten years ago if you could?
Curren$y: I don’t know, I know what I’d tell him though. Not to get on that bus in North Carolina. [Khalifa was arrested in Greenville, N.C. following a performance at East Carolina University in 2010.]
Wiz Khalifa: Nah bro, that’s real.
Curren$y: Like look, don’t get on the bus, they’re about to tear that bitch down. Even though…
Wiz Khalifa: That shit did make me hella famous though.
Curren$y: I’ma give you that, but nobody wants to see their buddy led off the bus shackled up on camera. I don’t care what the end result was. So I’d definitely say that but then I might’ve been slowing him down though.
Wiz Khalifa: They tried to fuckin' lynch me down there, dog.
Curren$y: See? And that’s a lotta shit that I’d rather have you not have gone through. At what cost man? Sure, it went nuts after that, but I mean you were gonna write "Black & Yellow" whether you got arrested or not. Pittsburgh was gonna win the game, and shit was just gonna go like that.
Wiz Khalifa: They call that shit clout-chasing now…
Curren$y: Fo sho. Now motherfuckers are getting arrested like, "Yo I’m about to pull a Wiz! Arrest me so I can drop my single tomorrow please, nobody knows me!"
Wiz Khalifa: Yeah at least my shit was organic. I feel you though. We could always do without that.
Curren$y: That’s the only thing that I ever felt like happened, and that’s just one thing that I never forgot. You remember every time your homies go to jail.
Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y are currently on the '2009' Tour through March 9. Listen to the project below and check out the tour dates here.