Thinking back to when Denzel Curry first burst onto the scene, it’s hard to believe that he’s only 22. It seems like only yesterday that I first saw the visuals for his track ‘Threatz’. The aggression in his tone, the striking purple and green aesthetic and his affiliation with the enigmatic, hip-hop collective ‘Raider Klan’, instantly made him one of hip-hop’s most exciting and intriguing new talents. But although it may seem like just yesterday, that was way back in 2013. Since then, after 2 full length albums; a double EP; tours that have taken him all over the globe; the release of his second full-length album ‘Imperial’ which featured some of the biggest names in hip-hop including Rick Ross and Joey Bada$$ – last year Denzel was finally given his long-overdue nod for the XXL Freshman List.
Since then, he’s been venturing out into new genres by featuring on dance tracks with the likes of Ekali and Billy Davis, as well as releasing his latest project the ’13 EP’ in the run-up to his highly anticipated, third full album, ‘Taboo’. So when I sat down recently with Denzel whilst he was out in London, I wanted to gain an insight into how he had evolved from an intriguing new talent to the established artist he is today.
In a number of interviews Denzel has spoken on how he released the latest EP simply because he was bored. But it’s hard to think that someone who raps and works as concisely as he does, would release a project without putting some serious thought into it. He explains to me what’s really behind it, “The thing about ’13’ is that there’s a whole big phenomenon about it. Like, the 13th floor, Jesus and the 12 disciples make 13, just like 13 being unlucky, 13 representing “B” and “B” representing my skin colour which is Black. And black always seems to be a misfortunate thing or a misfortunate colour but it’s actually a strong colour and that’s why I chose 13.”
The tracks on ’13’ give Denzel’s fans an insight into his current mindset, while ‘Skywalker’ takes a closer look at fame and the negative attention it’s drawn to his life. When someone says “it feels like you’re ripping the skin off me, too many parasites, please get off me” it’s clear that the attention has brought some problems to the Carol City native,“Everybody wants a piece of me, that’s basically what the song is about. If it’s not my friends it’s my family. If it’s not my family it’s my enemies. If it’s not my enemies it’s my fans. Everybody wants a piece and it feels like I don’t have no time to myself because either everybody’s looking for a handout or for me to help them and it’s like I’m not even in a position to help anyone out ‘cause I’m not even that big yet, you know what I’m sayin’?… I try my best to help them out but it’s still like, it’s not enough you feel me? Like what am I supposed to do when my best isn’t good enough?”
Yes for real. I did rap better when I didn’t have shit, when I didn’t have money
As most people do Denzel puts pressure on himself to keep achieving more but his newfound notoriety is something he’s still coming to terms with. He recently tweeted, “I rapped better when I didn’t have shit nowadays, I pretend that I don’t got it”. So when I asked him about this he opened up saying, “Yes for real. I did rap better when I didn’t have shit, when I didn’t have money, when I didn’t have females throwin’ themselves at me, when I didn’t have super big quadruple amounts of fans and shit. I used to have minimal fans. Like 10 people would show up to my shows, 10, 20, you know what I’m sayin’ [he laughs], like the bare minimum. When I didn’t have shit I was hungrier, I had something to prove, I had something that was inside of me that was burning. I still have that same fire but I feel like it’s dimming unless I have something that inspires me to go back in and do something”.
Denzel’s willingness to speak openly both on social media and in interviews is what makes him such a compelling character. He’s far more self-aware than someone of his age would normally be, most probably due to the time he’s already spent in the industry. He even tweeted, “Fuck the industry, I only worry about my artistry”. Where many other artists just stay in one lane, producing the same sound just to please the fans they already have, Denzel is trying to expand and stay diverse to gain more. He’s aware that as an artist producing the same old sound will always please some people but staying innovative and adapting to one’s environment will keep you fresh. Just look at ‘Ye with 808’s and Yeezus. When he released ‘Skywalker’ he tweeted how many of his fans were saying they just “want him to rap fast” or want him to make music like his first album ‘Nostalgic 64’.
What I want is different albums to sound different and still give you me without compromising my sound at all.
So I asked him about this topic and why he responds so personally to his fans he said “Yeah, I mean with that shit I was like “dude” when I actually do some Nostalgic shit y’all gonna be like “oh he raps the same”. But the moment I do some different shit y’all hate it and it’s just like, you don’t know what you want, I just chalk it up to that, you don’t know what you want. On the other hand I know what I want. What I want is different albums to sound different and still give you me without compromising my sound at all. So, therefore I’m gonna do what Denzel wants to do. I’m not gonna do what you want me to do. You’re my fan, you’re my dog and my fans are supposed to be my dogs, my homies, my family. You supposed to stick with a nigga. Like if you ain’t stickin’ with a nigga, what’s the point in you even listening to my shit.”
Of course each artist will approach a song with a specific mind-set based on the topic and the feel of the song, but when it comes to the“different sounds” and “different albums” Denzel approaches them with separate alter-ego’s. He explains “I still approach each one as Denzel Curry, I just gave them each of my personalities… the first personality I came out with was Aquarius Killa and it was perfect. Then I came out with Raven Miyagi and my bars got smarter. When I came out with Denny Cascasde, I had no game. I became Denny Cascade and got game, like this is on some real life shit. I’m not talking about music. Like each personality that I made in my own mind I just became. Like I was not a smooth nigga, I was not a smooth person brah [he laughs]. So I created a person that was so smooth in my head I actually felt and believed I was that person and when I became that person I started noticing how I was picking up females and how I was talking. Like the whole slang, the swag, was different from my first personality…’
“Then Zeltron’s the more self-aware Denzel Curry. Like he’s Ultimate Denzel Curry but the second version of Ultimate Denzel Curry, like how Aquarius Killa was the first version of Raven Miyagi, but Raven Miyagi came in and was like, “aight I’m the smarter version of you. You the attacker, I think and then attack” and then you got Ultimate Denzel Curry. All of the personalities mixed together to make this one being because Denzel Curry was going crazy, which is me. I was going crazy with all these personalities that I was dealing with so I made one personality to intertwine all 3 of them at the same time. The one that can talk smooth, the one that can be aggressive, the one that can think things through logically and the one that could be emotional so that’s what Ultimate Denzel is.”
I know, it’s a lot to take in. But once you understand it, it’s Denzel’s way of expressing his different sides to his artistry. He doesn’t want to be labeled as a certain style of artist and so through these personalities he can always produce music, which is fresh and different. So when I asked what we can expect from the next release ‘Taboo’ it will help you to understand his answer, “That’s Denzel Curry. That is DEN-ZEL Curry. With each tape idea, I let my personality speak but that one itself is Denzel. That’s Denzel talking, that’s not Aquarius Killa, nor Raven Miyagi. I brought them back for the flows and shit and for the way things worked and in the way certain tracks sound, you can tell which personality is which but the whole album is Denzel Curry. Point blank period… ‘Cause I’m talking about shit that I wouldn’t normally talk about or I wouldn’t tell anyone or I wouldn’t like want to admit to myself. Which caused me to be like somewhat of I guess, an escapist. You know what I’m sayin’? I would rather hide my feelings from the world than tell people about them ‘cause I don’t expect people to understand. And once they don’t understand me they just gonn’ judge me but only god can judge me kid.”
So even for myself I had to clarify if that meant we should expect a far more personal album in ‘Taboo’ to which he replied “Personal, SUPER personal. It starts off light, it greys and it gets really dark and that’s when I get really personal.”
With Denzel seemingly focused on evolving himself as a solo artist, it took the internet by storm, when out of nowhere a picture began circulating of a “Raider Klan” reunion back in August, including none other than the head honcho “SpaceGhostPurrp”. Denzel and Purrp’s problems have been widely reported with each of them previously going back to back on diss tracks a few years back, but after burying the hatchet and with this new reunion on the cards, I had to ask if a Raider Klan collaboration was in the works, “I mean hopefully man let’s just see what the fuck purrp gonn’ do… I mean there was some people who weren’t there like Xavier Wolf and Chris and Key and Amber, like some of the homies wasn’t there but for that Florida unit yeah we was there. I mean just seeing all of them in that one spot man that’s legendary ‘cause we always went to that spot to fucking rap and kill shit and like that’s where most of those ties was made you know”.
I can barely take credit for X and that shit but I had just helped them boys out you know what I’m sayin’ like that is what I did.
The impact “Raider Klan” had back in the day was felt through the whole of hip-hop and even to this day you can see artists from the Florida area who are still influenced by their trademark lo-fi style. Look no further than one of the hottest artists of today, XXXTentacion. His track ‘Look At Me’, with it’s crunched out bass and aggressive lyricism is reminiscent of what made everyone first love “Raider Klan”. “It was the blueprint man, I mean it never left Florida, it’s just that certain things happened like purrp dropped the ball and I had to pick that bitch up and when I picked that bitch up I just started running ‘Ultimate’ came out, kept runnin’. ‘Imperial’ came out, kept runnin’. Threw the ball, “X” caught it. “X” threw the ball, “Ski” caught it… Like I ain’t had nothing to do with that, I ain’t gonna take credit for that shit, I can barely take credit for X and that shit but I had just helped them boys out you know what I’m sayin’ like that is what I did. Like that was my key role just like helping them out… I thought the nigga was gonna be like “fuck you” like we had a rift several times and shit and then I would have never thought in a million years, like you know he’s got fans and everybody likes him and shit and then I’m like “okay he don’t fuck with me no more” but then like he still calls me, this shit crazy… But like yeah we really click because we like each other’s stuff. He likes my shit I like his shit you know it’s like a mutual thing.”
It’s this ability to communicate and collaborate with others that has furthered Denzel’s growth and further heightened his position within hip-hop. With the pond between the US and the UK growing ever smaller in terms of music, Denzel is also someone who has seen how hip-hop and grime are no longer two separate entities. He’s also surprisingly a huge grime head. “I mean I was listening to skepta before he became big in America like I was watching Lords of the Mics.
I used to watch Kano vs. Wiley and like old school Skepta when he whooped Devilman’s ass.
Which is why at the tail end of last year he teamed up with the UK’s own AJ Tracey for the remix to his single ‘Knotty Head’. “We just reached out you feel me, we just played him the track he fucked with it and he fucked with my music and stuff, you know he’s a pretty cool guy. So we chopped it up when we came to London. We shot the video, I went to the hood he was on, which is where we shot the video and then we took it to the show. We finna premiere this shit at the show and everybody was like (English accent) “I fucking love you bruv” ‘cause they didn’t expect me to bring out AJ Tracey. He didn’t even know that was happening… I mean I love grime and shit man, like I know I can rap like that too because I’m a fanatic for flows. But yeah I like the way y’all rap, it’s so off but yet it’s so on. Like I want to try that shit in America. Like I think I rapped on a grime beat a long time ago, when I was out here doing a Boiler Room and shit. Man like I know I could do that shit, you know what im saying? Like I know I could murder it, I would murder a grime beat. It’s like flowing backwards.
And with that our time comes to end. So looking forward to the next year as Denzel already begins his stride to the pivotal third album mark, I want to know what the next steps were for the Carol City native, “All I can tell you about ‘Taboo’ is that the video is gonna be crazy the songs are gonna be crazy, it’s gonna be adventurous it’s gonna be tight, it’s gonna be like, it’s gonna be one of the best projects of 2018. Hands down, EVER, in life and I don’t care who thinks it. I’m gonna win a grammy at the age of 23. Or get nominated at the age of 23.” A bold statement for sure but with everything Denzel’s achieved so far and looking at his development since bursting on the scene as hungry kid aged 18, I don’t think many would bet against him.