Say the word “Jet” to yourself. Say it again. What meaning comes to mind? Are you envisioning New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez lobbing a football downfield? Are you contemplating the loud, somewhat terrifying drone of a military jet flying over Michigan Stadium, observing the power of the military-industrial complex?

Jet Life

Jet World Order
Jets International

To New Orleans rapper Curren$y and his crew Jet Life, the word “jet” has nothing to do with football, but it definitely means something important to him, because Jet World Order is one of four aircraft-themed albums. To him, the “jet” is a symbol of liberation, nullifying the most extreme topographical hindrances. It breaks down barriers. Effectively, the “jet life” the group members talk about in interviews transcends the conventional wisdom that says artists need to sell out to get rich.

Luckily for Jet Life — Curren$y, Trademark Da Skydiver, Young Roddy, Smoke DZA, Mikey Rocks and others — the album lives up to the group’s audacity. It creates a balance by embracing pop sensibilities without groveling to the hip-hop industry’s formula for a chart-topping pop smash. On “Excellent,” the album’s first and most impressive track, Jet Life provides a down-to-earth rap experience. Young Roddy subtly excites, letting vowel sounds dance on the fine line separating snarly and soft, and the upbeat music seems to mirror that nature, with a buzzing synth line that characterizes a kazoo and a piano.

The song gets your head bopping, but it thankfully doesn’t indulge in any of the mainstream rap and hip-hop scene’s shamelessly overused tactics to draw us in. There is no soaring, emotional chorus to wrench out our tears. There is no bone-shaking bass or vitriolic verse to demand an adrenaline rush. The track simply doesn’t need any of it. It excites while coaxing curiosity, leaving us able to appreciate hip hop and rap as high art without being totally overtaken by an appetite for stimulation.

The musical innovations don’t end with “Excellent.” “Nothing Less” incorporates a mellow, wobbling synth line not much different from what one would hear from Madvillian or MF Doom, though Trademark Da Skydiver and Young Roddy don’t concede to its laziness. In “Pilots,” a falling trumpet line evokes the Doppler Effect, making the “jet” in “jet life” especially palpable. Every song is inventive — the genius doesn’t end.

The lyrics are as playfully enigmatic as the music is innovative, and in this department the album serves the essential function of demystifying Curren$y’s fascination with jets. The top-of-the-world mentality is juxtaposed alongside the anti-society, anti-machine, marijuana culture Jet Life is a part of. In “Lop-Sided,” Young Roddy spits out a line that epitomizes the group’s philosophy: “Fuck yo’ system, I’ll get paid without it.”

In short, Jet Life is incredibly ambitious. The group doesn’t want to play within the system in society or art — but still thinks it can win. And at least in terms of this album, Jet Life does. When the unfamiliar timbres of the various Jets mix with these imaginative productions, the product is delightfully fresh. Plus, it’s hard not to wish these guys well. Who wouldn’t want to live the “jet life,” making money with boundless creativity? The profundity of the mission is apparent and should resonate with anyone who has felt their creative powers quashed by the pressures of modern capitalism — essentially everyone.

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