There’s a word my friends and I use when describing something good or great. That word is “gas.” It sounds stupid, but so does every other millennial term that’s gained traction over the years. “Gas” is no different from “lit” or “fire.” Sure, it’s a little weird. I mean let’s be honest, there’s nothing great about putting gas in your car, unless of course, you love ridiculously high prices and even higher credit card bills.
Words can have double meanings though, and when it comes to interpreting Denzel Curry’s music, “gas” might be the best way of explaining it. The 24 year-old rapper is one of the few artists out of the South Florida canon to perform with the same vigor as a grunge musician while still obtaining mainstream appeal with thoughtful lyricism. He’s broken through the underground without sacrificing the grimy sound that catapulted his Raider Klan collective to quiet legend status.
And while many credit SpaceGhostPurp for inspiring a variety of different styles and sounds from Florida, to Los Angeles, to New York (A$AP Mob’s entire look honestly) and Atlanta, its Curry who’s elevated the squalid aesthetic to interesting heights. He’s someone who wears his influences on his sleeve-“We was Three 6, Wu-Tang, mixed with Dipset,” he exclaims on the phenomenal “Ricky”-without sacrificing his unique and multi-dimensional approach to music-making.
Curry hails from Miami-Dade County, a place where rappers pride themselves on being as dark and aggressive as possible. PlayThatBoiZay, one of Curry’s frequent collaborators, literally just released an album full of disgustingly distorted bass and nightmarish vocal inflections. The lead single to that project, “Poison Klan,” featured Curry and fellow underground Floridian Anonymuz. The song’s tone is fantastic and frightening, but can turn mind-numbing and derivative of previous acts such as Project Pat and Three-6 Mafia; especially when spread out across an entire full length record. PlayThatBoiZay doesn’t have the ability to stretch his talents beyond a couple hard-hitting cuts. There’s even a slow-mo version of “Poison Klan” on the album-exemplifying just how limited the aesthetic can be.
In other cases-specifically Curry’s-the horror core method can present an intriguing portrait of a man tortured by internal depression and societal pressures. His first solo mix-tape Nostalgic 64 felt like an extension of everything Raider Klan did previously. Curry calls on local rappers J.K. the Reaper and Young Simmie for murderous street talk. His lyrics were reminiscent of Odd Future’s early days, when shock value became a mechanism for making waves in the industry. Mike G even shows up in the middle of the project. Stuff like this quickly became the norm for other artists like XXXTentacion and Trippie Redd. The demon talk throughout much of N64 is seen in a lot of Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert’s music as well.
The difference between someone like them and someone like Curry can be seen through progression. Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi haven’t extended their satanic brand beyond drug use and lovesick anthems. Curry has. His debut album Imperial saw melodic improvements (“Ult” is a great start to the album), as well as conceptual ones. There’s a steady diet of braggadocio, protest music (“Sick & Tired”), black pride (“Knotty Head”), and a search for loyalty (“This Life”). The project plays out like a mix-tape of emotions without ever feeling unoriginal. There’s an eerie underlying theme that eventually reaches it s apex by the end-“If tomorrow’s not here, I write down all my worst fears/Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of losing all of my peers.” Not to mention, the drums hit hard as fuck.
These emotional reconciliations morphed into a full-length Shakespearian-esque play titled Taboo in 2018. The Grammy-worthy project featured Curry fully focusing on his diverse set of tastes. There’s the light side which deals with materialism and individual catharsis (title track and “Sumo”). The gray portion, or middle section of the album, dealt more with fame and what it does to the people around you (“Switch it Up”). The strongest point lies within the dark side of Taboo, where Curry tussles with society’s greatest ales, and the ramifications that come with his actions. “Clout Cobain” was an unlikely party song, as Curry fights off the temptations that riddle his luxurious lifestyle. The raking melody and stripped-back instrumental promotes a head-bobbing aesthetic, something he’s perfected over the years. The black and white portrait present in the video gives off circus-like vibes, something that becomes a recurring theme throughout Taboo.
Typically, Curry takes his time with his projects. Taboo came two years after Imperial, and the hard work definitely shows. The hefty topics discussed throughout the three acts felt relatable. The guy who helped usher in a new era of Soundcloud rap found his way around a concept album that carries well-developed themes. A thoughtful one at that too. Much like Imperial, Curry’s second studio album left off on a loud and aggressive note, with the Miami native giving other rappers hell in a raspy tone inspired by Rage Against the Machine material, a band he actually covered in a shockingly great Youtube performance.
Despite not receiving any nomination for the 2019 Grammy’s, Curry has still been busy, and still making great music. His third official album Zuu is probably my favorite record of the year, and shows the 24 year-old at his most prideful of the place that started it all. He opens up about family, friends, and others who’ve paved the way for him. There’s also the trademarked bangers like “Birdz” and “Automatic.” It’s a noticeably shorter and lighter album (29 minutes) filled with skits that act as Miami inside jokes (the “Yooo” skit was hilarious). Zuu is arguably his most “mainstream” project to date, but that doen’tt mean there’s a dip in quality. He’s open to work with juggernauts like Tay Keith and Rick Ross (who’s also collaborated with him before), but he’s also willing to stick with what he knows.
His main producer Ronny J brings a blitzkrieg of bass and drums to the finale P.A.T. Even with a cleaner sound, a track like that reminds us of the underground days. He’s come a long way from the Raider Klan. He’s now in articles, Youtube videos and ever so close to a Grammy nomination. He’s even into fashion now, something that he never cared about before. He’s always just been comfortable in the “all-black dickie with the Raider fit.” Fashion has just become an added accessory to his image rather than the main course though. His music will always rule over everything else.
Once again, Curry failed to receive a nomination at the 2020 Grammy’s. Then again, I should;t be surprised. Rarely do they pick anyone outside of their comfort zone. I’m still thankful for Denzel Curry because he improves with every album. He’s versatile too, as shown in his last couple projects. I feel like I’ve learned more about Florida culture through him. Hopefully he continues this hot streak he’s on. In the meantime, I can’t wait to listen to his gas music while eating gas food for Thanksgiving.
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