This 29-minute rush, rapped off the dome and made less than a year from Curry’s breakthrough is one of the best rap records of 2019.
Feels weird to call Denzel Curry a hip-hop elder statesman. Dude’s just 24. Though his prolific nature adds to the resume (averaging a tape or album a year over the decade) his outsized influence nails down his legend. He was part of the horror-infused trap clique Raider Klan whose early mixes rippled into the underground, helping create the Soundcloud boom now dominating rap. If you could trace trap’s current love affair with metal you’d find—well Rage Against the Machine, but you’d also see Curry’s ferocious, Nu-metal loving howl at the forefront. Though he drops anime references like Toonami on repeat, he’s an old head and a triumphant survivor.
His blow up came from the memed-to-death but hard as hell “Ultimate” in 2015 and the rare critical and commercial combo victory TA13OO last year. His newest, ZUU, is TA13OO’s scrappier brother, less experimental than the wonky visions Curry explored in 2018 but constantly hopping between styles that draw from his home town Miami. Though Curry’s decision to freestyle most of ZUU might have made the record looser, it serves another purpose. It allows his trademark crowing to filter through decades’ worth of sound. TA13OO was the masterplan executed in cold-blood calculation. ZUU is the victory lap post world domination.
Friends, family, faith. The foundation for a frankincense-worthy Christian Rock album and, apparently, one of the year’s hardest rap albums. And all of that bedrock is further centered on Florida, which acts like a character as much as an environment through guests and sound. Rick Ross looms large, both on his hedonistic flow on “BRIDZ” but also through the neon-colored, strip clubbed filled reality that’s inseparable from the last 20 years of Miami rap. And the icon all Florida rappers evoke, Scarface (Al not Brad), is all over the album, his blood-soaked visage rising from a cocaine-laden tomb on highlight “Speedboat.”
“Put a red beam to your head like Arby’s/ Either go to school, go to jail or the army/ Keep a close eye on the things tryna harm me,” Curry spits on its first verse. And enemies are everywhere in his eyes. From the Devil to a legion of new “friends” looking to latch on lampreys, Curry prays for the strength to deny them and the intelligence to stay true himself. And he finds his compass in his family, “day ones” and spirituality. Album centerpiece “Ricky” is a tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Curry. Ricky Curry, it turns out, brought a young Denzel to his first shows, both watching and preforming. The absurdly catchy chorus is a laundry list of parental adages. “Trust no man but your brothers,” Curry rasps over a detuned steel drum before claiming his crew is “Wu-Tang mixed with Dipset!”
That grittiness flows well over the humid logic of the beats. The title track and “Wish” swim through with touches of vaporwave and ‘80s synth pads. Curry, it turns out, is a hell of a hook man and could have lounged through the smooth era of Warren G and Nate Dogg. Strangely, it’s the hard shit that suffers. Curry’s first attempt at an ode to a stripper has Ross’ sticky fingers all over it and the disciple feels unnerved on “Shake 88.” Not that Curry can’t make a good head-knocker about twerking, but his bread and butter is Akira references smuggled between apocalyptic beats. Similarly, closer “P.A.T.” has him growling “sticks out like I’m Voldemort” which—I mean it’s a freestyled album but still.
But it’s got to be a terrifying realization for everyone else in the game. This 29-minute rush, rapped off the dome and made less than a year from his breakthrough is still one of the best rap records of 2019. It’s like he’s wearing training weights and still beating your ass.