“I didn’t want to end up as that guy that everyone was like ‘Oh that’s the dude who had that one hit.’ I want to carry a legacy,” Denzel Curry says passionately reflecting on his meteoric rise over the last couple of years. Since Clash last sat down with Denzel, he’s gone on to release his second album ‘Imperial’, a double EP entitled ‘Planet Shrooms/32 Zel’, sold out countless shows across the US and Europe and had his music featured on an advert for Adidas. Last year was arguably Denzel’s biggest in terms of exposure, with the aforementioned commercial amassing over 750,000 views, and his track ‘Ultimate’ also becoming the official soundtrack for the viral sensation that was the ‘bottle flip challenge’.
2016 also saw Curry gain recognition from fans and critics alike, including a spot on XXL Magazine’s infamous Freshmen list, a decision that Denzel thought should have been made in the years prior. “I always thought I should’ve had the cover in 2015, I always tell people that. Everything happens for a reason, and it was all about timing, I can’t be mad about timing!” And indeed patience was a virtue for the young Miami native, who never initially set out to prove his worth as a rapper; “it was just getting all my aggression out, it wasn’t about proving anybody wrong it was a release” he continues. “I was going through some things at that time and I just felt like I should express myself instead of destroying myself, which would eventually lead to me being known by nobody”.
Denzel hails from Carol City, Florida, a dense neighbourhood with a crime and drug rate that sits drastically higher than the national average. With so many climactic challenges going against young people growing up there, the success of Curry, and other Floridian rising stars such as Yung Simmie & Pouya, sets an important example for the power of self-suffiency. “What makes the Florida scene is individuals, there’s a lot of weird characters now,” he offers, “I feel like people weren’t paying attention to us, you had certain rappers that were above us but didn’t want to put us on. So we were like ‘Fuck that shit, if they’re not gonna help us then we’re gonna put ourselves on’, and that’s what happened with the Raider Klan”.
The Raider Klan reached cult status amongst underground rap fans and when the collective disbanded, it was a battle. “It was like every rapper for himself, like the Hunger Games,” Denzel continues. “It showed you who was out here trying to survive, who was out here slayin’ shit and who was out here dying. And the ones that were left under the rug, that died, they’re trying to find a new wave to come back on, and it’s not gonna happen”.
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Denzel has a knack for consistently releasing hard hitting rap music, and his back catalogue is testament to this with a mesmerising double EP and tough first album to boot. However it’s his latest album ‘Imperial’, released in the middle of 2016, initially as a free download, that caught a lot of people’s attention. The continued development of Curry’s music was clear to see, something that he himself is well aware of. “I can evolve as a rapper by experimenting with different sounds, but at the same time, if I’m trying to recreate what I did last time, it’s gonna come out weak, watered down,” he explains. “When I was progressing with ‘Planet Shrooms/32 Zel’ I realized I couldn’t be that person I was trying to be, I knew I was gonna be myself”.
The album also gave Curry the chance to have a Carol City legend, jump onto one of his tracks, when Rick Ross laid down a verse on ‘Knotty Head’, something Denzel never thought would happen. “It was a wow moment for sure. It was crazy,” he recalls. “This is a dude who's video I saw down at the Carol Mart when I was younger. That’s a legendary spot in Carol City. It’s like THE trademark spot, everybody knows where it is. When I saw that I was like ‘Man that’s someone from our city, that video was shot right down the street I never would’ve guessed it.’ And now he’s on my track!”
Interestingly enough, Denzel linked up with one of the UK’s most highly sought after grime artists, AJ Tracey, on the remix of ‘Knotty Head’, and the trans-Atlantic pairing got along like a house on fire. “I love the way he raps, he’s so raw,” says Denzel of the Ladbroke Grove representative. “When I met him he was so humble and grounded, he’s a really cool guy”. The pair shot the video on location by West London’s Trellick Tower, when Denzel was on tour, evoking memories from the Miami rapper the online videos that introduced him to Grime from across the pond: “I used to watch Lord Of The Mics, y’know, and I used to listen to Devilman and really early Skepta, that kinda stuff. When Skepta clashed Devilman on Lord Of The Mics that was one of my favourite battles. I listen to Wiley, Kano and Jme as well, I fucks with the whole grime scene.”
Other than his aggressive rap style, Denzel Curry has a commonality with Grime in the down-to-earth realness of his lyrics. He differs from a lot of his US peers by not rapping about stereotypical, superficial things such as cars and money, which he believes keeps his fan base ever growing. “[The honesty] builds trust within my fans,” he says. “The fact I can get personal with them and they’re like ‘man this guy is REAL’. That creates my cult following, that’s why people listen to what I gotta say.”
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Words: Mike Wood