Curren$y's road to success as a soloist has been long and convoluted, given the associations he was blessed with. The New Orleans rapper first appeared as a teenaged soldier on Master P's No Limit Recordings in 2002. A few cameos and video appearances later, Curren$y inked a deal with Lil Wayne's Young Money Ent. imprint in 2004. But the MC soon grew frustrated with the label's lack of promotion and constant delays to his solo debut, and left Young Money in late 2007. The following year, Curren$y flooded the net with a succession of cohesive mixtapes that established his aesthetic: intricate raps about ganja, girls, clothing and cars over mellow beats. Curren$y's debut album, This Ain't No Mixtape, dropped in 2009 through digital imprint Amalgam Digital. The rapper's growing cult soon attracted the attention of Roc-A-Fella impresario Dame Dash. His acclaimed major label debut Pilot Talk dropped last summer through Dash's DD172 imprint, followed by a sequel in late 2010. Ever prolific, Curren$y signed with Warner this February and has announced a slew of projects for 2011. Most anticipated is Covert Coupe, the rapper's collaboration with fellow pothead producer the Alchemist; the album dropped April 20, with early leaks melding Curren$y's relaxed lyricism and the Alchemist's menacing bangers.

When did you decide you wanted to be a rapper?
Maybe in like the 4th grade or something, 6th grade? Yeah, I was recording myself with a little tape recorder in 6th grade but didn't take it seriously until I was out of high school.

What did you sound like?
Well, in 6th grade I sounded like a child! The song was pretty violent, something about a knife, I stabbed somebody. I don't even know what I was doing it for, but I stabbed him and put him in the trunk and drove around! [laughs] It was fucked up! I don't remember exactly how it sounded but I couldn't have sounded too menacing. The tale was quite dark but from a 6th grader, I'm not sure how tough it sounded.

When did you get involved with Master P & No Limit Records?
I think I was about 17, 18.

The earliest verse I've heard from you is the 504 Boyz' "Get Back."
There's an elephant in the video! I was definitely talking about how I shot somebody in the hip twice, for ratting on me about another crime I did a few bars back. It was rough, man. Banana clips, 50 rounds of ammo. I remember a Gucci helicopter also. And that little dude from Friday, the one who was married to Mrs. Parker, is in the video.

Your rapping has changed a lot from your No Limit days to your time with Young Money from 2004 to 2007.
It's a part of realizing that you gotta do what you gotta do. I mean, I was trying to be a team player and in the end just wanting to make music with them, so I'm going to apply my rap to that. But when I moved to my next situation, I was more grown, like I gotta start carving my lane and developing my sound and what I really want to do. I didn't really change, it's more me doing what I wanted to do. And even after I left Young Money, I decided to stick even more to my one lane and owning it.

After you left Young Money, you released a lot of mixtapes but 2009's This Ain't No Mixtape was your first official album. What's your process for making tapes vs albums?
I do everything the same way. I record when I feel like recording. When I decide I want to do a project, I may speak on the project at the top of the month and people may assume I'm working on it. But I probably won't start until the 25th. For a mixtape, I'm not going to pay for the beats, obviously. I'm going to rap over the songs I like that came out already. When I do an album, I do it original to keep me out of the courtroom. That's all.

After This Ain't No Mixtape, your mixtape output slowed down a lot.
It just didn't make sense to keep issuing volumes of music like that. When I started going to retail, I was hustling. If I'm giving weed away at free parties every weekend, I can't expect to sell weed during the week.

What's your process working with Ski on the Pilot Talk albums?
I don't like to hear beats sent from producers. If I fuck with you, you got my beats because I know you didn't play them for anybody else. I'd rather those beats [made for me], and Ski works like that. So we were able to lock in and get a gang of music recorded. That's the way I work, if I can lock in with you. If you can schedule your shit the way you want, then I can work with you. That's how me and Alchemist got [Covert Coupe] knocked out.

You did Muscle Car Chronicles with a live band.
I did that when I was in New York, right when I met Dame [Dash, of Roc-a-fella]. It's a similar process, it's like performing with a live band.

Your sound has a consistent, relaxed vibe to it. What do you look for in a beat?
See, that's real tactical. I just listen to beats and I like what I like. When people ask me what type of beats I want, that's the toughest question for me. I'm like, I don't know. I might just start naming fucking movie sequences, or colours or cars or shoes... It's shit I'm thinking about.

What's your writing process?
I don't write at home, I'm trying to. I'm going to write on the bus while I'm on tour working on this Gangsta Grillz with DJ Drama. I usually just write on the spot, in the studio.

What's your favourite verse of yours?
I don't, I just do it. I don't listen to my own music like that. If I had to perform something, I'd probably say "Elevator Music."

It must trip you out when people come to you and recite verses.
That's tight, that happens to me all the time! That's tight because it's for them. I know a gang of Max B verses, so I'm a fan of Max B. And dude probably listens to other stuff, not himself. I don't listen to my shit. I fuck with it, because I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't. But it's for everybody else. Music is like therapy for people. Recording music is therapy to me, and listening to other people's music is a kind of therapy too.

What rappers do you look up to?
Snoop Dogg, Slick Rick, Biggie, Nas, Jay, Kurupt, Eazy-E, Outkast and Soulja Slim.

What other projects are you working on?
I got the album I'm doing with Chuck Inglish [from the Cool Kids], he's producing it entirely. It's going to be called Puff Daddy. And I got Weekend at Burnie's, we trying to get that out in late May, early June.

Since the album drops 4/20, do you remember the first time you got high?
Yep, absolutely do. I was watching Martin Lawrence's "You So Crazy" with my ex-girlfriend and I thought I was watching Chris Rock do stand-up. That's how I was. And I remember thinking, I never want to not feel like this again. And I managed to maintain it and it's paid me. The good thing about weed...yeah, you spend a gang of money on weed but it pays you back. If it's for you, if weed's really your homey and you're always spending, weed will pay you back in the form of some idea. Depends if you spent a gang of money. That's my philosophy. Because I love [weed] so much, it loves me back in turn. It bought me a fucking condo.