Denzel Curry Has Unlocked A New Way To Approach His Art

"If I can’t crack jokes with you, I don’t know how I can work with you."

denzel curry photo

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Denzel Curry is hard to pin down, and that’s just how he likes it.

For many Australian audiences, it feels like the Floridian rapper has properly stepped into the spotlight in recent years; thanks largely to the success of albums TA13OO (2018) and ZUU (2019), and of course, his chaotic and brutal take on Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Bulls On Parade’ for triple j’s Like A Version.

Pull the curtain back further though, and you’ll discover one of the more intriguing and potential-filled hip-hop career trajectories of the last decade. Steadily releasing music since 2013’s debut Nostalgic 64, Denzel Curry has championed his own unique style of rap.

We can hear the evolution across Curry’s sophomore album Imperial (2016) — the same year he landed on the XXL Freshman class that also isolated artists like 21 Savage, Anderson .Paak and Dave East as hip hop’s next big names. Where Nostalgic 64 felt like Aquemini arriving at a crossroads with Nintendo, Imperial gave fresh insight into Curry’s frenetic brainwaves.

By the time widespread Australian audiences had cottoned onto Curry through TA13OO and ZUU, they were meeting an artist that was using his art to navigate and ultimately heal from years of trauma, and paranoia. They also met an artist with a fierce vision of independence and originality, one who never forgot where he came from and the creative shoulders he was able to stand upon, but one whose restlessness would drive his ambition in years to follow.

Again put plainly, Denzel Curry is hard to pin down.

Tokyo Calling

When we link up, it’s to talk about Album Number Five: Melt My Eyez, See Your Future. 

It’s an album bursting with a veritable dream team of collaborators. The whole thing opens with a track featuring maestro Robert Glasper (‘Melt Session #1’) and continues to deliver heat with guests like 6LACK, Rico Nasty, JID and Jasiah (‘Ain’t No Way’), Slowthai (‘Zatoichi’), and noted jazz musician Karriem Riggins (‘Angelz’). Clearly, Curry was onto a good thing.

And those are just the guest vocalists. Melt My Eyez See Your Future also comes stacked with producers; everyone from Thundercat and Kenny Beats, JPEGmafia, Dot Da Genius, to longtime Australian collaborators FnZ. When I rattle all these names off to him, Curry grins.

“Just looking at those guys, it’s more than the music. We have chemistry with each other.” he explains. “With Thundercat, I crack jokes with that man. If I can’t crack jokes with you, I don’t know how I can work with you. I crack jokes with Robert [Glasper], Robert’s funny as fuck. So is Thunder. You could make the most serious song in the studio, but we’d be in that bitch clowning the whole time!”

Curry’s got a reputation for blending together genres — he slams together trap with punk-tinged rap, industrial hip-hop with metal. What keeps it all together is Curry’s distinctive voice and brand of storytelling.

“Over the years, people try to define what I do, but I’ve always thought outside of the box,” Curry says early on in our chat. “Nostalgic 64 doesn’t sound like Imperial. Imperial doesn’t sound like TA13OO. TA13OO doesn’t sound like ZUU. ZUU doesn’t sound like Unlocked (2020) and Unlocked doesn’t sound like this.”

Curry contends that Melt My Eyez stands out as one of his most unique; a platform where he’s been able to leave it all on the record unlike ever before. Inspired by a longtime love for Japanese culture, as well as newfound clarity through therapy, Curry unlocked a new way to mentally approach his art.

“The only things I was doing during that time was watching anime, watching movies, doing martial arts; going to therapy, finding new sounds,” he remembered. “I was really digging into my feelings and talking about things I would not normally talk about on my records before this without disguising myself or making a story out of it.”

“It took a lot. I remember listening to a lot of Japanese jazz. Japanese jazz played a huge role in this album. Someone like Masa Matsuda and Yuji Ohno; listening to Yoko Kanno & Seatbelts… even going back to artists like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie too, putting those all on one project made it so dope.”

And the most direct homage to Japan on the album exists on its front cover. “I started diving deeper into Japanese culture on this album because I wanted it to look and sound a certain way,” Curry says. “There’s a reason why the font for Melt My Eyez is the way it is; it’s because of Gundam Wing. Gundam Wing is the reason why I have that font!”


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It Takes A Village

Sometimes it takes a village, and having your team and community around you can be incredibly important for any artist taking their next steps forward.

For Curry, he knew that the artists he’d had on his list to link up with would help shape and elevate his sound. Self-improvement and raising one’s own set of standards have been integral to the way Curry has developed artistically over the years. The Melt My Eyez sessions were no different.

“When it comes down to my songwriting, I just knew I had to be a step above the stuff I’d already done,” he says.

“People can’t complain about something that is actually real, something I’m actually going through. I knew if I could articulate my emotions better, it would be better for the listener. When I was digging through crates, when I was looking for different beats, I’d be going through like, ‘No, no, no…’ until that one hit me. If that one hits me and I’m automatically rapping to it and making verses to it, that’s how I know that’s the one.”

Melt My Eyez See Your Future has been out just shy of a month, and the adulation has poured in for Curry’s wordplay, flow, and high-value production. His recent sets at Coachella have reinforced why he has become such a leader of a new wave of Southern hip-hop: his performances delivered with equal parts snarl, charm, and excitement.

He’s motivated by a primal desire to create, relying first and foremost on his instincts.

“When it came down to the people I wanted to work with, I already had a production list of people that I would love to work with. The way I approached this project wasn’t even on a producer level like, ‘I need this producer because he’s gonna make this type of song’. That’s how I was thinking before.

“Now, whenever I’m doing a song, it’s all about the feeling. If I don’t feel it, I can’t make anything.”

Melt My Eyez See Your Future is out now through Loma Vista Recordings / Virgin Music Australia.

Sosefina Fuamoli is a Samoan-Australian music writer and content producer living on Wurundjeri land. You can find her on socials @sosefuamoli.

Photo Credit: Adrian Villagomez