Nobody in hip-hop loves Corvettes more than Curren$y. The New Orleans rapper traveled to Detroit to celebrate the great American sports car's 60th birthday—and to see its future.
This feature is a part of Complex's Corvette Week.
Written by Tony Markovich (@T_Marko); Cinematography by Ross Haines.
With his left hand firmly squeezing the top of the leather steering wheel, his left foot sinking into the clutch, and his right hand clasping the headrest of the passenger’s seat, Curren$y slides the seven-speed manual gearbox into “R” and creeps a bright Laguna Blue Corvette into a parking spot outside a drive-in burger joint. Without discussion, a beautiful woman in his passenger’s seat presses the little red button and places their order over the beefy “lug, lug, lug” growl coming from the centered quad exhaust.
Shakes, tater tots, coneys, limeades—anything that’s on that cluttered, back-lit menu of American fast food, she orders it. Two full cupholders and a few giant turning-translucent bags of greasy grub later, he throws the ‘Vette into first. Four hundred and sixty pound-feet of torque send the rear rubber into a furious fit, billowing smoke before ripping out of the parking lot. The brutal roar of the LT1 engine startles the roller-skating servers and fellow patrons alike, sending milkshakes flying and fast food spilling into unsuspecting laps.
Freeze that frame. That is how Curren$y imagines the commercial for the new 2014 C7 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. If you ask him, that scene would have those cars flying off the lot. And he should know. The New Orleans rapper and car enthusiast is not ashamed to admit that it was a 1984 commercial for the Corvette that convinced him to purchase his first C4 (the fourth iteration of the classic American sports car, produced between 1984 and 1996).
He still remembers the ad vividly. “It began as genius and grew to be legend and has become, at long last, the most advanced production car on the planet,” a booming voice announces over an intergalactic background track that sounds like a video game. “You’ve never! Seen! Anything! Like this! Be-fore!”
The brutal roar of the LT1 engine startles the roller-skating servers and fellow patrons alike, sending milkshakes flying and fast food spilling into unsuspecting laps.
“How could you not buy this car?” Curren$y asks after reciting the spot from memory. “I got this shit saved on my computer. I’ll never forget that. It’s the best commercial ever.”
The 90-second spot that he became so enamored with leaves viewers with one final statement: “Chevrolet is taking charge.” As the 60th anniversary of the first Corvette to roll off the production line approaches this week, the message of that commercial has never been more relevant.
As the entire auto industry continues to make tremendous strides, on its huge comeback from the recession, Chevy has been one of the major players on the American side, pushing a reinvigorated lineup that maintains its legacy. And although the company has continued to create new solutions to improve upon eco-friendly emissions levels, it's also continued creating machines that pump out that forceful American power we love.
For the cost, the ‘Vette is the best sports car value you can find. It’s a car to aspire to, one that can hold the status of “I’m doing pretty damn well for myself” without having to sell every other car you own and downsizing your home. And that’s exactly the type of vehicle that can make the American dream come true—not some foreign car that will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. The brand's very survival may depend on their ability to translate that message to the hip-hop generation.
Curren$y’s dream, like so many other kids’, began on a much smaller scale—1:64 to be exact. His first Corvette was a Hot Wheels model like the ever-popular drag bus that’s usually seen tearing up that famous yellow and orange track. Cars were just one of the things he loved, ever since he could make decisions about things he favored and things he didn’t (don’t ever bring up mayonnaise or Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video around him).
Shante Scott Franklin’s fantasies of cruising the town were just that—fantasies, fueled by diecast models, action movie stars, and posters on his bedroom wall. That was until he was finally able to get behind the wheel of his sister’s Nissan Sentra at age 16, blasting Ice Cube and Cash Money tapes for all to hear. Since then, most of his fantasies have come to life, thanks to his successful music career—he attended the same high school as Lil Wayne, then went on to sign with Master P’s No Limit before moving to Cash Money and later Young Money. Now he’s the one starring in music videos, he’s the one with promo posters, and all his Hot Wheels are to scale and fully drivable.
Curren$y's fourth-generation ‘Vette is just one of many Chevrolets he keeps in the colorful Crayola box that is
Curren$y fourth-generation ‘Vette is just one of many Chevrolets he keeps in the colorful Crayola box that is his garage. He’s had General Motors in his blood since his dad gave him his first car, pretending his ‘84 Buick Regal had 16 switches and sat on 13-inch Daytons just like the ones he saw in Lowrider—his favorite magazine at the time. The first car he purchased with his own money was a 2000 Monte Carlo SS.
“It was my first Super Sport, even though they were putting V6s in those,” he says. “The 2000 SS had a serious 230 V6, and it was cool, but it wasn't what it was supposed to be. At the end of the day, I still had to chase down the real SS motor, which I got later on, when I bought my '84 Monte Carlo SS. That was a true V8 SS Chevrolet.”
Today, that ‘84 is one of three Montes in his 14-car collection that also includes three ‘96 Impala SS models, a second-gen Type LT Camaro, a Caprice, an El Camino, the C4, and a C6 ‘Vette.
Spitta's obsession with American automobiles has been reflected in his music, his album art, and his music videos, with the C4 highlighted in "Michael Knight." The love story between Curren$y and his four-wheeled friends spills out on songs like “16 Switches,” “Showroom,” “Car Talk,” and “Corvette Doors,” in which he talks about “a dollar and a dream to shut Corvette doors” over a laid-back, jazzy track.
That love is why we worked with Chevy to get Curren$y into a studio in Detroit for a personal meet and greet with the new model. The visit is almost like an interlude, if you will, on the GM mixtape we could throw together using the numerous car references he’s put out on his various musical projects.
With the completely redesigned C7 Corvette, General Motors hopes to reignite the kind of heat that could only burn in the combustion chambers of a ‘Vette. In order to do that, Chevy’s team knew this generation of Corvette had to be both familiar and unlike anything that came before.
“With the 2014 Corvette Stingray, we’ve chosen the bold avenue,” says John Fitzpatrick, marketing manager of the Corvette, Camaro, and SS. “We’re designing and delivering a very bold, striking, beautiful sports car that is really keeping the essence of Corvette. But we presented it in a brand new style, look, and feel that we think will change the Corvette perception in the marketplace. When we did this car we wanted to really reinvigorate the entire Corvette universe. I think we’ve achieved that.”
But what exactly is that essence? For an iconic car that had begun to grown stale—not having a total remodeling since 2005—it was time to make a left at the light and start building toward an entirely new direction. As the car took shape and assumed its new identity, the designers, execs and marketers couldn’t help but think of one name; a name that resonated as true sport, true America, and true leadership: Stingray.
“The goal was not to build a Corvette Stingray,” Fitzpatrick explained, dismissing the notion that the name came first. “Our goal was to build the best Corvette ever. We took a step back and said, ‘Boy, it looks like a Stingray back in 1963.’ When the Stingray first came out, it was the start of the second generation of the car. It was a bold, very contemporary message about the Corvette in the beginning of the 1960s. In some ways, we think we’re doing the same thing now with the seventh-generation Corvette.”
Despite the LED headlights and the rear panel vents, two upgraded areas that immediately draw your attention, the likeness to multiple ‘Vette generations is obvious. The forward-facing grille draws straight from the first Corvettes ever produced. The sloping rear hatch is almost identical to the C2's. The burly bulging shoulders over the front wheels draw comparisons to the C3, the slicked-back roofline is reminiscent of the C4, and the side vents and panels bring you back to the C5. Eyed from the side, you can even see the new C7 maintained the big ol’ booty that gives the C6 such an attack-stanced, wedge look.
“You still see some 'Vette characteristics transfer from the originals into this car,” Curren$y says, as he surveys the car for the first time. “That's what you don't see with a lot of those other European brands. When they come out with another car, they scrap history and what made that car that car.”
The new Corvette evokes memories of every past model, and yet, just two pieces from the C6 were carried over: the interior cabin air filter and the latch for the removable roof panel. That’s it. Everything else was built from the ground up with new high-quality products like carbon fiber body work topping its all-aluminum frame. The result was the first Chevy that was deserving of the Stingray honor since 1976.
The goal was not to build a Corvette Stingray. Our goal was to build the best Corvette ever.—John Fitzpatrick, GM
“What we tried to do is make sure it lives up to Stingray before we named it Stingray,” Fitzpatrick said. “We could have used Stingray 10, 12, 15 years ago, but it didn’t feel right. This feels right.”
Beyond these similarities, which only true automotive people might notice, a large portion of the public felt that the car had drifted a bit from the homeland toward a more Euro appeal. Spitta Andretti, as the rapper calls himself, initially had the same thought, but the more he looked at it, his sentiment took a u-turn.
“I had to step back, because I thought it was almost too much like a foreign, but it's really not,” Spitter says. “After I walked around it and really looked at the lines and all that, it keeps the muscle to it. It's round, but it's blocky, too. That's what's going to separate it from the others.”
The comparison of exotics costing $100,000–$200,000 to a vehicle starting at $51,995, although a bit ridiculous, is inevitable based on the Corvette’s position in auto culture. The base 2014 Stingray goes for $150,000-$200,000 less than a Ferrari 458 Italia, a car it’s been often compared to. The Stingray offers less horsepower (455 vs. 562), but more torque (460 lbs/ft vs. 398). The performance to price ratio on that is pretty heavily skewed in favor of the 'Vette, and the 2014’s sharp new looks give it an entirely new dimension. Kirk Bennion, the Corvette Exterior Design Manager thinks the car’s new look mirrors where the automotive design language and taste has shifted.
“If you look at the history of the Corvette, it’s always been reflective of the times,” Bennion said. “Corvette has had its different levels of evolution, but you can look at each car as having a different style to it. That’s what our customers like about the car, that it’s so diverse and that it’s not an expected approach. The surprise is part of the C7’s charm.”
Chevrolet has been working its charm on Curren$y since he was just a kid playing with Hot Wheels. Well, he still plays with and collects Hot Wheels—but he can afford the real ones now. Spitta is the co-owner of the complete car care shop New Orleans Street Customs in Louisiana with his manager and long-time friend Mousa.
Knight Rider was a Trans Am, but there might have been a Corvette he was beefin’ with. Miami Vice was full of C4s. The villains always had them.
“When I was growing up, everything that was cool, everybody that I thought was cool, those cars were involved,” Curren$y recalls. “If you look at the shows I grew up with, they were there. Knight Rider was a Trans Am, but there might have been a Corvette he was beefin’ with. Miami Vice was full of C4s. The villains always had them. Even fuckin’ Ted Nugent was in an episode in one. He fuckin' waxed this one kid who was in a Porsche. That’s the type of shit I saw.”
Fitzpatrick is not at all surprised the ‘Vette has become such an icon in popular culture.
“I don’t think there’s a car line that’s been around for 60 years," he says. “I think it’s the great American story in that the country was always founded on adventure, excitement, getting the most out of your abilities, which I think the Corvette does. It found its way back in the ’60s to Route 66 television shows and it was so huge back then that the astronauts were always driving Corvettes, remembering that sense of exploration. Later, you had Prince singing about the little red Corvette.”
Movies and television shows aren’t the only places General Motors made a mark, either. Anybody who is familiar with Curren$y’s music, Masta Ace, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and any hip-hop in general knows that Chevrolet has been the No. 1 choice in that community for decades.
“It's part of a culture of taking this classic brand and flipping it in your own way,” says R&B artist John Legend, who is currently collaborating with Chevy for a commercial with the new Impala. “I think that's what hip-hop has always done. In the communities where people kind of pimped out their Impalas, it took on a life of its own. The makers of the car probably never even imagined that that's what was going to happen to the car, but it shows the creativity of the culture.”
Curren$y couldn’t agree more.
“[Chevrolet] had the more iconic of the vehicles,” he says. “Outside of them being better-looking, because that's just a personal opinion, the aftermarket customization was easier. Chevrolet made their shit easier for people to get their hands on and made more variations. They offered so many different packages. LT, LS, SS, Z28, RS, all these options, you're bound to find something that's right for you.”
Even so, icons have their ups and downs. After hitting a bit of a lull, and garnering somewhat of a negative reputation for questionable quality in the '80s, the Corvette’s looking for new faces to brighten. The C7 is meant to reinvent and reinvigorate that sense of driving ecstasy. Already starting off with a bang as Joe Flacco’s prize for winning the Super Bowl MVP this year (a prize which he drove to McDonald’s shortly after taking its delivery), the ‘Vette is part of many pieces to a plan for a reborn Chevy brand.
First was a completely redesigned Impala, then came the new C7 Stingray. Shortly after came the brand new SS, a rear-wheel power sedan after the pure hearts of the most enthusiastic drivers. And most recently, the Z/28 badge was brought back with a refreshed Camaro, going back to the track-savvy vehicles that defined muscular performance. On the hush, there have even been rumors that a new Chevelle is in the works.
Every one of these moves is a direct reach back to the heritage that made the bowtie so iconic. Stingray, SS, Z/28, these are names that represent special vehicles made to the highest of quality that got the heartbeat of America pumping to levels they’d never experienced before.
A perfect way for Chevy to hit a new audience is by tapping into a community that has provided nothing but support since day one. This is where Masta Ace and Snoop Dogg come back into play. Hip-hop is full of people who don’t even judge the sound of a new song or album until they’ve heard it in a car. It’s a group that is extremely youthful, emotional, and enthusiastic. It’s a group that not only relates to the music they’re listening to, but also to the personality of the cars in that music. That’s why it made so much sense to bring Curren$y to the place where it all started and why it makes so much sense to partner with John Legend for a new ad campaign.
Remember the Type LT Camaro we spoke about Curren$y owning earlier? He actually received that as a gift from Mousa and his team this year for his birthday. The stock car was a pleasant surprise parked behind a concert venue. When he first walked up, the shock was to the point of involuntary screams: “WHAT IS THIS?! AHH HA HA, WHAT?! DOG!!” As it started to sink in, the emotions began to shift. Both hands covering his mouth the way your mom does when you buy her a touching card for Mother’s Day, he stepped back inspecting the pristine vehicle. Overwhelmed by happiness, he sat down on the ground, burying his head in his throwback Red Sox jersey and the knees of his camo pants.
Spitta couldn’t help but let loose some tears.
The video of the surprise proved that, in addition to the gesture from his homies, Curren$y is invested in Chevrolet. The brand has become a staple in his life, a life that will soon include another Corvette, this time the new C7. That type of emotional attachment is exactly what Chevy is going for with this new movement, and there is no doubt it’s going to work. The old-school characteristics and nameplates will evoke memories, the bold, sharp new exteriors have already been wowing the masses, and the performance is going to have people gripping the leather-wrapped steering wheels harder than ever. These are the kinds of tricked-out Hot Wheels that we played with as children. Now, the new, younger generations get to grow up with them in their driveways.