Hip hop fans have been sleeping on Denzel Curry so long that I’m surprised they haven’t got bedsores at t his point. The fast-flowing Floridian rapper pretty much fathered Soundcloud rap – although to put him in the same category as dumbed-down goons like Lil Pump seems a bit of an insult. Denzel’s music is its own blend of ingredients (his very own musical curry) – a mix of speedy flows, angry delivery and half-trip/half-trap beats.
2016’s Imperial, an album of wall-to-wall bangers, showed how fun Denzel could be. My only gripe with this record was that it lacked dynamics, with the energy seemingly jammed in sixth gear. Denzel Curry clearly must have read my review, because if there’s one big change on this album, it’s the newfound dynamics.
Taboo (stylised TA13OO) is divided into three acts – Light, Grey and Dark. The ‘Light’ section opens the album with Denzel showing off his crooning skills (yes, this man can now sing), carrying a tone similar to Andre 3000 over a selection of lush and soulful beats. This is followed by the ‘Grey’ act, which is largely trap anthems. It then ends with the ‘Dark’ section, which borders on screamo rap with its aggressive closer ‘Black Metal Terrorist’ in which Denzel attempts to finish off the listener in a Mortal Kombat fashion.
The light/grey/dark theme doesn’t completely make sense – lyrically, there’s not much lightness on any of the tracks. Even the first act delves deep into depression (although the lyrics certainly get more unhinged, with Denzel contemplating terrorism by the end). I’m also unsure why aggressive banger ‘Sumo’ ended up on the light section, nor do I understand why ‘Vengeance’ takes a smooth jazzy turn despite being on the dark section.
Thematic discrepancies aside though, the individual tracks themselves on TA13OO are Denzel’s best so far – so much so that I’m willing to overlook the theme entirely. There are more hooks in this tracklist than a fishing store – ‘Black Balloons’ hasn’t even finished and I was already mouthing the words ‘let it flow, let it flow, let it flow by me’. As for Denzel’s delivery, this is where the newfound sense of dynamics really makes an appearance. Whilst he still throws out his hyperspeed flows on occasion, most of tracks see him reigning it in so that he can vary up the pace. ‘Switch It Up’ is the perfect example of this, in which he jumps over the 808s like an acrobat, switching his flow up (hence the title) from bar to bar.
Lyrically, Denzel is also on top form and equally diverse. When he’s not pulling out fun and esoteric pop culture references to anime characters and wrestlers on tracks like ‘Sumo’, the rapper is confronting more serious issues such as suicide on ‘Clout Cobain’. This latter track is a fresh take on the pressures of fame – the shocking music video gives the track most of its power, but the song itself is still innovative. Even token anti-Trump track ‘Sirens’ isn’t all that bad, featuring a guest verse from J.I.D (who I keep meaning to check out more from) and a great line about how one narrow-minded white person can make a black community insular: ‘with a good girl gone bad girl/ who went gay cause of date rape/ that’s a metaphor for the US/ cause they got us in the same state’.
Denzel may not possess the poetry of a rapper like Kendrick, but he’s still got a flow and energy to rival these artists. It’s about time that he started to get recognition - already this album is converting new fans and making him the household name in hip hop that he deserves. I’ll agree that the light/grey/dark theme isn’t entirely watertight, but this doesn’t really matter to me given that the songs themselves are some of the most well-rounded and catchy rap songs to drop this year.