In the mid-2010s, Denzel Curry’s aggressive, frenetic style caught ears instantly, though it was his messaging that made his presence particularly distinct. Compared to other members of South Florida’s Southcloud rap scene, Denzel Curry was more of a chameleonic bridge between old and new. Influenced by Miami bass music, Houston screw, and Memphis phonk, Curry was able to pay respects to the MCs before him while laying the framework for a path entirely his own. Not to mention it was easy to gravitate toward his eccentric personality.
2018’s TA13OO showed the melancholic makings of a relatable, creative force. As he garnered more national and critical attention, Denzel delivered Zuu – a banger-heavy ode to the multiple generations of hip-hop from his home state. In 2020, Curry continued to reinvent his approach when he linked with producer Kenny Beats to create the world of Unlocked. The unbound creativity and relentless commitment to honing his craft made Denzel one of the more impressive young artists in music.
On his latest LP, Melt My Eyez, See Your Future, Denzel once again retools his sound as he takes the deepest dive into his psyche yet. And he knew there’d be nowhere to hide when delivering a record as personal as this one. “Ultimately, this album is about me, Denzel Curry. No alter egos, no nothing. Just Denzel Curry,” he said prior to the project’s release. Though he does slightly overstate how fleshed-out his previous “alter egos” were, Melt My Eyez shows the most transparent version of Denzel we’ve heard. At its core, Melt My Eyez follows Denzel as he wanders across the desert searching for sanctuary. With precise drums, airy chords, and hallucinogenic vocals, there’s a certain spaciousness to the instrumentals that’s critical to the overall theme.
Throughout the album, Denzel’s tone is more subdued, slowed, and contemplative as he reaches the pivotal age of 27. It’s evident from the first verse on the intro track “Melt Session #1” where faint vocal harmonies and moody jazz leads combined with pretty fragments of the piano set the stage for Denzel to open up in a bold, uninhibited manner.
“Dealt with thoughts of suicide, women I’ve objectified / Couldn’t see it through my eyes so for that, I apologize / I’m just hypnotized, working hard to empathize”
Denzel’s delivery is sporadic yet calm as he introduces several of the ideas consuming his mental, including temptation brought on by drugs and women, mental health, and a desire to grow from his past self in order to improve his future. Denzel’s stream-of-consciousness delivery is scored with a jazzy instrumental courtesy of Robert Glasper, giving the track a distinctly woozy, almost psychedelic feel.
On the project’s lead single “Walkin,” Denzel toys with inflections as his mind teeters between logic and emotions. In the accompanying music video, vivid imagery of female bodies, men in chains, and houses burning symbolize the thoughts consuming Denzel in the desert of his own mind. For Denzel, the only way to feel better is with constant movement. He must accept his shortcomings and the cards he’s been dealt, thereby killing his ego and melting his eyes. On “Worst Comes to Worst,” the first verse lays out the questions, while the second provides the answers he soon regrets asking for. The standout track “X-Wing” sees Denzel drift from his typical style to float over melodic leads and crispy trap rhythms. He reflects on idols such as Biggie and Tupac and peers like Mac Miller who didn’t reach his age, citing them as motivators on his journey to both raise awareness and further the culture.
Though the emphasis on candor and self-examination are evident, sometimes Denzel’s takeaways are a bit underwhelming. Much like the desert, certain learnings are vague and distant. On the T-Pain-assisted “Troubles,” Denzel’s flow and energy build and build throughout his verse. But just when you think he’s going to breakthrough, it’s the chorus. The upbeat, almost clubby instrumental compared to the lyrical messaging are direct opposites, creating a slightly confusing tone.
The album’s first true banger comes in the form of “Ain’t No Way” – a posse cut with 6lack, Rico Nasty, and J.I.D. The production by Powers Pleasant is very forward-thinking and experimental, colored with numerous passages and beat switches that perfectly underscore each artist’s role. Most notably, the thumping drum sections power up Rico Nasty’s infectious energy and eviscerating bars before becoming more subdued later in the track. Denzel saves his verse for last – as any headliner should – delivering one of the craziest bars on the album with “Run the jewels ‘cause I kill a mic on any LP”. The track feels like a musical odyssey traversing different sub-genres of hip-hop as narrated by some of the game’s brightest young talent. It’s one of the best posse cuts since “Costa Rica” or “Down Bad” off ROTD III.
However, there are a couple of moments on Melt My Eyez that just don’t land right. The JPEGMAFIA-produced track “John Wayne” is a dizzying engineer’s nightmare as Denzel tries to balance an aggressive delivery with washed-out vocal effects. Further, slowthai’s “Life is short, like a dwarf, fuck the world, intercourse,” chorus on ‘Zatoichi’ is lazy and uninspired. It undermines what is an otherwise solid performance from Denzel over blissful breakbeat-inspired production.
At his best, Denzel Curry is an extremely purposeful writer as he examines the effects of growing up in a system meant to trap you in an eternal cycle of violence and confusion. What ultimately prevails is a distinction between the internal and external – controlling your own mind is the only true pathway to happiness and stability. The baggage he carries is heavy and eternal, but the journey would not be complete without it. Though his tears blur his vision, Denzel is comfortable turning them into mirrors to reflect on the distance he’s traveled. Sure, Denzel Curry got people’s attention by yelling – but now he doesn’t have to.
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