He may not yet be a household name, but it is undeniable that Denzel Curry has been a leader of the new school for quite a while. Alongside the Raider Klan, he helped forge a new lane for rappers in Florida that had not existed previously. He shares many attributes with his contemporaries out of the state, but Denzel’s attention to detail in the art of song crafting had set him apart ever since his first mixtape dropped in 2011. His 2013 debut studio album, Nostalgic 64, proved he was a potential force to be reckoned with in hip-hop. Three years later those raw mic and penmanship skills were refined further on Imperial; however, despite carrying the poise of an artist several years older than he is, it felt as if Zel had more to give. Another gear he hadn’t quite discovered. One that would theoretically take his material from great to phenomenal. Lofty lingering expectations developed, and as soon as TA13OO was announced his fans began clamoring to see if he would rise to the occasion.
Denzel Curry has never been one to fail at being engaging behind the mic. He has brought a near uncontrollable energy to everything he’s touched throughout his remarkably consistent career. That remained unchanged on TA13OO, yet something felt distinctly different. Vulnerability. As the album progressed it became clear that Denzel had no intent in maintaining hip-hop’s hyper-masculine status quo of emotional detachment. Sensitive topics such as sexual assault, political unrest, jealousy, suicide, depression, and violent urges were all approached head on; moreover, with its creative three part structure — comprised of Light, Grey, and Dark sections — he was able to gradually ease the listener into accepting socially unaccepted subject matter. The album opened by presenting heavier content with a much lighter tone, almost as if he was hiding it behind false happiness. As the transition from the beginning into Grey and finally Dark happened, that facade was peeled away. It became increasingly honest, pained, open, and personal. Denzel executed this really well both in his writing and his delivery, making it extremely easy to feel the type of sentiments he was expressing at a personal level. Whether or not the situations he rapped about were relatable didn’t matter because it was all presented with such clear poignance. Denzel truly elevated himself, combining what made him stand out as special from the beginning with a newfound conceptual focus and further improved vocal versatility.
It felt as though he fully came into his own, which was mesmerizing as an already talented emcee.
Though Denzel was the star of the show, he carried an impressive supporting cast of very concise and purposeful production choices. J Gramm, FNZ, Mickey de Grand IV and a handful of others supplied a plethora of extremely bassy, unique sounding instrumentals. Despite the wide range in sounds, they all had just enough in common to complete TA13OO as a cohesive piece of work. Curry utilized this variability, arranging them in such a way to aid in the sonic development of the album. The lush and bouncy beginning faded to a cloudy melancholic middle, and eventually a hateful aggressive finish. While songs like “Black Balloons” and “Vengeance” could not be further removed from each other, carefully planned sequencing allowed for them to live on the same tracklist harmoniously. It mirrored his performance, boosting the listening experience to soaring heights.
The guest artists on this release did a splendid job of contributing to the overall themes and concept, while not having felt out of place in the slightest. JPEGMAFIA came through with an absolutely monstrous verse on “Vengeance,” and was perhaps the biggest standout feature. That’s not to diminish the contributions of Goldlink, JID, or ZillaKami though, as they each brought 100% effort and a needed splash of variety to their portions of the album. Nyyjerya and Billie Eilish were utilized well on a pair of hooks, and provided a bit of a break from Denzel’s aggression so the music had room to breathe. All in all, his highly selective deployment of other talents was nearly flawless, fleshing out TA13OO into a monster worthy of very few demerits.
There are times when it is obvious that an artist had a lot to say. It often results in extremely inspired music, with an immeasurable sense of belonging behind each songs existence. This album was a prime example of that sort of feeling. On a first listen certain tracks may have felt out of place with the ideas Denzel was trying to illustrate, only for them to reveal that they were exactly where they needed to be with subsequent plays. He assembled things in such a way that the presentation genuinely mattered just as much as the keynote talking points he chose to explore. He took the listener out of a place of projected stability and comfort into something more firmly grounded in real life. As many know, or will come to find out in the future, reality comes with many roadblocks that are difficult. Difficult to experience, difficult to process, and ultimately difficult to discuss without shame or embarrassment. Denzel Curry did put out a fantastic album with TA13OO, but more importantly he showed courage in the face of things that cause many to live in fear. He set an admirable example for a genre that has often struggled with remaining guarded. An example that is well worth lending an extremely attentive listen as a lesson in normalizing openness with hurt that is too frequently rendered as social taboo.