The Lowdown: Denzel Curry has proved (better than any of his SoundCloud rap peers) he carries the charisma and skill necessary to leave a lasting impact and threaten the thrones of hip-hop’s most influential stars. Though the brands of Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Xan certainly carry youthful appeal, Curry better integrates hip-hop’s past with the present, taking influence from Tupac, DMX, and other MCs certain young rappers have deemed no longer relevant. Though he’s still searching for a masterpiece record to shake the landscape, 2018’s TA13OO delivered Curry’s most dynamic and exhilarating performances to date as he married aggression with soulful swagger and carefree energy with dark reality.
TA13OO was borne from a place of pain and grief, emotions which were only heightened by the death of Curry’s friend and fellow south Floridian XXXTentacion. At the time, Curry didn’t even want to visit his home state where the crime occurred, telling Billboard, “Home is where the heart is, but it’s also where the hate is as well.” A year removed from the tragedy, Curry returns to Carol City, Florida, on ZUU sporting a classic Marlins jersey and ready to paint a picture of the boisterous city he calls home, for better or worse.
The Good: ZUU succeeds in presenting Curry’s nostalgia for Dade County life without becoming a collection of sentimental recollections and storytelling. “I was raised off of Trina, Trick, Rick, and Plies,” Curry raps on “CAROLMART”, signaling Curry’s intent to carry the legacy of Florida’s thug-and-party-life MCs Trick Daddy and Rick Ross (who serves an excellent feature on “BIRDZ”). Indeed, ZUU is an album made for summer beach parties and high-speed boat races. Like a well-crafted action film, the 29-minute record hardly takes a breath. The blasting bass lines and crisp trap hi-hats courtesy of producers like FnZ and Tay Keith keep windows rattling from the opening title track to the hardcore explosion of closer “P.A.T.”.
Bringing balance to the raucous party nature of the record (best heard on the Juvenile-esque “SHAKE 88”), however, is a respect for and fear of the villainous thug culture that recently took the lives of X and Nipsey Hussle, both of whom receive their respects on the record. “Too many guns, too many sons/ Lost in the river of blood in the streets,” Curry laments on “SPEEDBOAT” before offering up a sober prayer: “Jesus, please deliver us from evil/ Please pray over all my people.” Curry recognizes the cultural and cyclical evils violence has produced in his hometown, remembering on “ZUU,” “Trick said ‘I’m a thug’ /That’s the hate you gave me.”
Despite the darkness, Curry is determined to press forward, resolving on “SPEEDBOAT”, “My dawg didn’t make it to 21/ So I gotta make it past 24.” Thus, Curry embraces the party to escape the evil, hustles with his music, and heeds the words of his parents who warn him on “RICKY”, “Trust no man but your brothers/ And never leave your day ones in the gutter.” Curry never forgets his day ones on ZUU, instead celebrating the city that raised him and hoping for a future devoid of the senseless deaths that pain him today.
The Bad: While social commentary has its place on ZUU, the attention Curry paid to personal pain and emotion on TA13OO is certainly underplayed here. Curry did well to tribute his city on these tracks, even while offering an honest critique. However, the intensity with which Curry criticizes US politics and racism on 2018’s “SIRENS” is just not heard here. Ultimately, the larger-than-life theatrics and dynamics we’ve heard from Curry in the past are not matched on ZUU, leading to fewer memorable moments in the tracklist. Surprisingly, Curry comes off slightly uninteresting on the Tay Keith-produced “AUTOMATIC”, for example, while the album’s two skits do little more than garner a chuckle. These small missteps normally aren’t too problematic. But in the context of a half-hour record, every lackluster step is amplified.
The Verdict: To be fair, the reason for Curry’s lack in dynamics may well be because ZUU was made for a specific purpose and audience. This is an album for the day ones, a soundtrack to the Dade County summer experience filled with aggressive parties, violence, and the consequences they demand. ZUU is Curry’s ASTROWORLD, unmistakably transporting us to a specific time and place and never apologizing for it. The 2019 summer snapshot may prove as ephemeral as the season it represents, but for Curry, it represents an important step in embracing the heart and changing the hatred of a city it’s clear he will never truly leave.
Essential Tracks: “RICKY”, “BIRDZ”, and “SPEEDBOAT”