Illustration by Gemma Fa-Kaji
With the emergence of SoundCloud, a new wave of rappers have risen to achieve mainstream success. These artists have tapped into the internet generation, by rapping about depression and loneliness. This clicks with millions of millennials and members of our generation. Artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Princess Nokia, and the late Lil Peep have popularized the genre and are considered icons in this growing style of rap, with hundreds of other artist all vying for their level of fame. However, the oversaturation of a genre can make it disorienting when searching for people with potential to be the next big thing.
While for many the name Denzel Curry may appear unfamiliar, his reputation and history within the sphere of music goes a long way. Curry was responsible for creating the aggressive smash hit “Ultimate,” popularized as the theme for the bottle flip challenge. Ever since the single came out, Denzel has been on a journey to become more than the creator of the meme song, and to be taken seriously. Although he released two studio albums since, his latest album TA13OO (“Taboo”) places him above both the meme and his contemporaries with visceral and hard hitting lyrics; intricate and gritty flow; and his uncanny ability to make hits out of every beat.
In another attempt to make his album standout from the rest of his peers, he split it into three parts: Light, Gray, and Dark. Along with the colors the subject matters get progressively darker and more tormented. However, the gimmick runs thin; from the beginning, allusions to abuse, murder, and drugs are made. The shades between these parts are pretty indistinguishable, and it is unessential to think about while listening to the album. Regardless of what color you’re in, the album is aggressive from the first song to the last with hardly any breaks to breathe.
What Curry brings to the table is his aggressive voice and his ever-evolving flow that fuels the album’s energy and liveliness.
Denzel can switch from a grotesque and horrific raspy gnarl to a clear and powerful shout at a moments notice, changing the albums direction and keeping you on your toes. His tone of voice and rhythm creates an endless cycle of reinventing the album with each song: layering the project with endless depth and continuity. It’s most apparent on the track “Vengeance,” where his duality is shown. The vocals begin high pitched and goofy, and slowly morph into something menacing.
Despite evolving as a rapper from his “Ultimate” days, one thing has remained consistent throughout his career: energy. It’s raw, brutal, unrelenting, and, at some times, overpowering. Songs like “Sumo,” “The Blackest Balloon,” and “Black Metal Terrorist” hold nothing back, unleashing a side of the listener perhaps best fit for the mosh pit. Elsewhere, songs like “Percs” and “Super Saiyan Superman” will imbue you with confidence, if you manage to overcome the fast paced and perfectly clear bars.
However, this energy isn’t consistent with the entire project. The song “Mad I got it” has Denzel slowed down to sing over a conventional trap beat and fails in comparison to his other works. This makes it a rare instance where his vocal instincts fail to pair with the song and it comes off as a brag aimed at people below him rather than a testament to his hard work. The melodic singing in the song creates a disconnect from the rest of the album and “Mad I got it”.
In the SoundCloud age of rap, new acts lump together to create a stereotype of the modern rapstar. While peers mumble in silence, Denzel Curry shouts with the clarity and confidence to poise himself above the rest. He doesn’t want to be a follower of current trends, but one who creates them. Devoid of cliché, Denzel Curry stands alone against others. But his refusal of the status-quo sets him apart, leading to career-defining art and a bold statement of rap as a whole.