Denzel Curry leads listeners to dark places on ‘TA13OO’
Source: Brigid EdmundsPat and Toni discuss the newest from Tony Molina, Phantastic Ferniture and Denzel Curry.
The SoundCloud rap scene is a crowded one, and, like most scenes inundated with artists, much of it is less than good. That’s putting it kindly.
“SoundCloud rap,” for as difficult to define as it is, is filled to the brim with rappers just looking to go dumb over a hot beat. And the voices that rise above the rest are either snuffed out early — like Lil Peep — accused of horrific behavior — like Teka$hi 6ix9ine — or, in some cases, both — like XXXTentacion.
But, every once in a while, a rapper rises above the rest who’s worthy of genuine praise, and thankfully free of troubling accusations. That rapper is Denzel Curry.
Curry released his third record “TA13OO,” which is pronounced “TABOO,” in three parts over the course of three days. Dividing the record into three acts, entitled “Light,” “Gray” and “Dark,” respectively, Curry separates the songs of the record into a gradient. When taken as a complete unit, the three parts of “TA13OO” seem to slowly spiral out of control, with Curry starting with groovy, sunshiny, R&B-tinged rap and slowly devolving into guttural, industrial, experimental hip-hop.
With a clear trajectory for the record, Curry displays a well-thought-out art process, unlike many of his contemporaries in the SoundCloud rap scene who would just toss a smattering of different sounds onto a record at random. And as Curry rides the spiral down from pop-rap fun to metal-rap insanity, he displays a deftness with each sound in the spectrum that’s almost unparalleled.
Let’s highlight some of the best moments from that spiral.
Early on in the record, Curry channels the energy of André 3000 — an energy that I’m always excited to hear people play with — on the super catchy “Black Balloons” featuring GoldLink and Twelve’Len.
With an incredibly fun chorus, it’s easy for “Black Balloons” to lull the listener into a false sense of easiness. Curry sounds ridiculously smooth, and GoldLink is even smoother. Contrast against the album’s dark cover art, this song almost seems out of place.
But it isn’t long before the darkness begins to take hold. On “Sumo,” the final track on “Light,” Curry begins to take a turn toward the darker, more nihilistic sounds more popular in the SoundCloud scene. While the track is a pretty standard trap-rap banger, Curry displays an impressive flow and control over his voice, rapidly switching between his standard inflection and a gravelly growl, something he maintains through the rest of the record.
However, Curry isn’t just about flow and ambience. He has serious lyrical skill.
On “Sirens,” Curry takes a stab at the current troubling political dynamic, taking aim at both President Trump and his supporters and the mainstream media.
“We livin’ in colonies,/CNN sit-comedies./Monstrosity run rampant/all throughout United States/Talkin’ about let’s make a fort,/ Talkin’ about let’s make it great,” Curry spits. Through an incredible use of internal rhyme, Curry takes the president to task for promoting divisive policies, and the media for sensationalizing it for their own gain.
Curry’s vocals only get denser from that point on. On “Clout Cobain,” Curry takes a critical look at his role as an artist, if he really deserves the money he has and what he’s supposed to do with it.
On the chorus, Curry describes a car purchased with money from his music.
“Suicidal doors, call it Kurt Cobain,/ Suwu leather seats, like a bloody stain,” he raps.
There’s a lot to unpack in these short lines. “Suicide doors” are the nickname for rear passenger doors on a vehicle with a hinge that’s closer to the trunk. They used to be a lot more popular than they are now, mostly because they caused a lot of deaths due to their unsafe design. Hence the nickname. Some luxury cars still have them, though, like Curry’s.
The connection to the late Nirvana frontman is obvious through the word “suicide,” and it’s important to remember that, before his death, Cobain was struggling with many of the same questions on the role of fame as Curry is in the song.
“Suwu,” and other variations of the word, is a call used by members of the Bloods to identify themselves. Therefore, Curry is saying that his leather seats are red, but adds a touch of violence to their coloring. In these two lines, Curry seems to be suggesting that he almost feels guilty about having been able to purchase the vehicle. By connecting it to suicide and gang violence, the vehicle seems unclean, something to be held at arm’s length.
This is the sort of in-depth analysis that Curry’s lyrics breed. It’s easy and rewarding to get lost in his lyrics, trying to find what exactly he meant.
On the closing two tracks, “Vengeance” and “Black Metal Terrorist,” Curry takes a turn toward the abyss.
“Vengeance” features Jpegmafia and ZillaKami, two of the most aggressive rappers in the game right now. Jpegmafia, as he often does, sounds manic, just shy of a mental breakdown on the track, but his lyrics are as on point as ever.
“I ain’t Drake, this ain’t 6ix, issa 9ine, sticky, blicky, iron,/Heard you f**k with swine? That ain’t my kind,” Jpegmafia yelps, somehow managing to take aim at Drake, 6ix9ine and 21 Savage all in the same dazzlingly complicated bar, accusing them all of playing nice with police.
After those bars, ZillaKami comes in with an amazingly dark verse. The emcee’s voice almost sounds more suited for metal music, as he’s just shy of using a death growl on the track. It’s one of the hardest songs of the year, by far.
Curry himself adapts the death growl on “Black Metal Terrorist,” a song that’s absolutely dizzying. It’s bizarre to think about how this album that started with smooth Outkast-type flows could end with the lead rapper screaming that he would send other emcees to hell, and even stranger to think that it could somehow make sense, but here we are.
“TA13OO” is incredible. It’s a wild ride from beginning to end, and somehow probably has at least one song for every type of rap fan. If you’re willing to let Curry take you down his spiral into darkness, you might even find yourself becoming a different kind of rap fan than you were before listening to this record.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Artist: Denzel Curry
Label: PH, Loma Vista
Best Tracks: ‘Clout Cobain,’ ‘Vengeance’