Constantly changing his sound, searching for creative limits, and delivering bars that both old-heads and new fans of hip-hop can appreciate, Denzel Curry deserves far more recognition than he’s getting.
He's coming to Aotearoa in April (proudly presented by us, Mai FM) and I want to see his concert as packed as can be, it's the least I can do after listening to Denzel daily for the past four years.
If you think you’ve never heard a Denzel song, I’d bet you’re mistaken. His song ‘Ultimate’ went viral years ago for its hard-hitting drop and cocky, loud lyrics, often being used on Vine to turn someone into a bad MF. This aggressive and brash sound would come to define Denzel’s earliest sound.
He’s also one-fifth of one the most widely appreciated freestyles of all time. Viewed 210 million times and also featuring 21 Savage, Kodak Black, Lil Uzi Vert, and Lil Yachty, the 2016 XXL Freshman Cypher, in hindsight, ushered in a new era for the genre and is undoubtedly a modern classic.
But Curry is so much more than a couple of viral flashes in the internet pan. I became a fan of his in 2018 when he released his third album ‘TA13OO’ (pronounced Taboo), an extremely personal project that is funky, atmospheric, hype, rhythmic, and full of cunning lyrics across its thirteen tracks.
The topics Curry smoothly raps about in the project are intense. A statement released prior to the album's release reads: “Across Ta13oo, Denzel explores topics including molestation, the presidential election, fame, hatred, paranoia, revenge, love, the current state of music and personal tales of his own near-death experiences.”
At this point, Denzel had me with his music, but seeing him live solidified him as my favourite artist on the planet. He performed at Auckland’s Laneway Festival in 2019 and his energy and crowd work was something I had never seen before and still haven’t. If you get the chance to see him live (and you do, tickets here, presented by Mai) do it.
All of the projects Denzel released after ‘Ta13oo’ are full of some of my favourite tracks ever, but what sets him apart is his creativity and willingness to depart from the sound that had got him to where he is.
His 2019 album ‘Zuu’ is definitely sonically similar to ‘Ta13oo’, but the lyrics are much more fun. It serves as a celebration of Denzel’s newfound success and an ode to his home town of Carol City, Florida.
His collaboration with producer Kenny Beats, ‘Unlocked’, is one of the most unique hip-hop projects of the last decade. It’s a sleek, fun, and weird project that is inspired by some of hip-hop's greatest yet is still a brand new sound that only Denzel could bring. ‘Unlocked’ would fit seamlessly into MF DOOM’s discography and if you had told me the Wu-Tang clan were in the studio giving Curry pointers I’d say ‘duh’.
Fast-paced, witty and thought-provoking bars are spat out by Denzel throughout the project, but he also reflects on his past mistakes and society’s current turbulent state with what could easily be Western or Samurai movie instrumentals woven behind his wordplay.
The Extended Edition of ‘Melt My Eyes’ sees Denzel turn the album into a live jazz musical experience and it’s better than the original. Hearing Curry seamlessly merge himself with his Cold Blooded Soul band fully cemented him as a must-listen artist in my mind.
Your head will instantly bop when the band comes in and Denzel’s little adlibs make the album an extremely enjoyable, relaxed listen. He somehow turns that Western/Samurai vibe into sitting front row at an RnB concert without losing any quality.
And he's not just excellent in the ever-widening hip-hop genre. His cover of Rage Against the Machine's 'Bulls on a Parade' is another beloved internet artefact Denzel's name is on, and it came in at #5 on Triple J's 2019 'Hottest 100 list', which includes any track ever.
Denzel is a diverse, boundary-pushing artist with slick wordplay and adaptable delivery. He can get you pumped up or get you crying in the club, do your ears a favour and listen to more Denzel Curry.