Rain tempers Mardi Gras celebrations along Bourbon Street, confining the debauchery inside bars and strip joints. Miles away in Metairie, LA., Sante "Curren$y" Franklin doesn’t participate in the festivities. Driving his massive, black Dodge pickup truck that engulfs his 5-foot-five-inch, freshly dressed frame — head to toe in 10 Deep clothing — he’s headed to the recording studio.

After locating a joint in one of the many Nike boxes that fill the cab of his truck, he lights it and turns on the stereo for a listen of his new album, This Ain't No Mixtape. Fittingly, he skips to the fourth track, "Elevator Muzik." The chorus blasts through the speakers: “This is elevator muzik, all we do is ride around and get high to it.”

Throughout the ride, he nods his head to the music in approval. “It’s like Charles Barkley’s ring,” he says of his body of work. Unlike the basketball legend who failed to win a championship, Curren$y has accomplished the one thing he’s had “hanging over [his] head” — releasing his debut album. More importantly, he’s done so on his own terms.

His pursuit of rap success is also a mission to prove his independence. “Without having to deal with any of the politics of the industry, I can do this shit myself and be on the same level as the major players,” he says confidently.

Curren$y's earned the right to boast. Some circles go as far as labeling him “the best rapper from New Orleans.”  It’s a bold statement considering Lil Wayne, the best-selling artist of 2008, also claims the N.O. as his hometown. Yet, with his smooth but complex polysyllabic rhymes, Curren$y a.k.a. Hot Spitta proves it’s within reason.

Record labels spotted his talent early, his first deal coming with No Limit records in 2002. However, their crowded roster left little room for his album. In 2004, he joined another New Orleans-based label, Weezy’s Young Money Entertainment. After appearing on Wayne’s breakthrough, Tha Carter II,  he seemed next in line to drop an album of his own, but it never materialized due to a failed first single (“Where Da Cash At”) and the label’s focus on Wayne. And so, in December 2007, as Wayne was prepping Tha Carter III, — the triple platinum LP that would elevate him to superstar status — Curren$y left.

“You’re not gonna work at Burger King if you can go open your own and make [similar] money,” said Curren$y late last year of his decision to try the independent route. “I can make hamburgers, too, so I got my own thing.”

In March 2008, he resurfaced with a free online mixtape appropriately titled, Independence Day. Releasing tapes monthly until October, Curren$y gained national exposure — via the Internet — for the first time.

Eventually, he landed on XXL’s “Top Freshman of ‘09” December 2008 cover alongside nine other up-and-coming MCs. Among the class, five were signed to major labels at the time. By April 2008, only two remained unsigned — Cory Gunz and Curren$y.

“The music that I make is more of what people want to hear, not what they’re forced to hear,” Curren$y offers. He prefers “Elevator Muzik,” a combination of the laid back, stoner-rap vibes and synth-heavy beats tailored for booming car sound systems. “[It] emulates his persona to a tee,” says Trent Clark. “Fly, spaced-out, and carefree. That's Curren$y all day.”

In his own words, he’s a “modern day hippie.” “I just like to be around positive vibes, good weed, and good music — to just keep easy,” he says. However, it’s the very reason he’s not cut out for the cutthroat record industry.

“I definitely know the politics of the industry aren’t for me so that’s why I keep to myself and try to handle everything on my own,” he says. Thus, he chose to release his album as a payable download through online distributor Amalgam Digital, forgoing a traditional deal.

“He isn’t willing to settle,” adds his friend Michael Brown. “Curren$y knows what he feels he is worth as an artist and is willing to take a risk on an independent and make more money. I think he knows if he sells a certain amount independent, it will get the majors paying attention and he’ll get what he feels he is worth.”

“We’re not going through the same channels as everybody else,” admits Curren$y. “A lot of people would’ve stopped running after this many hurdles. A lot of people expected me to stop. I think I proved to them that I knew that I could do it on my own and that they’re people out there really listening to me because I wouldn’t have [made an album] if I didn’t feel like there was a market.”-Devin Chanda