Eight months into what’s already been a stellar year for hip-hop, Denzel Curry has released a conceptual masterpiece and one of the best hip-hop albums of this era. Prior to releasing this album, Curry was at a strange crossroads in his career.
While his talent was undeniable, the 23-year-old Florida rapper was often pigeon-holed as a one dimensional Soundcloud rapper and internet meme (thanks to his viral hit “Ultimate”). Though much of TA13OO has elements of Curry’s previous music, the rapper expands on those elements and seamlessly blends in new genres and styles.
Curry’s artistic progression from 2013’s Nostalgic 64 to TA13OO is nothing short of incredible and the young artist appears poised to finally break into the mainstream.
In Curry’s own words, TA13OO is an attempt to “Connect with people who’ve been hurt…confront their pain and turn it into power.” While the concept of confronting demons in music is the furthest thing from innovative, Curry’s performance alone makes the album compelling from start to finish.
TA13OO is uniquely divided into three sections: light, grey, and dark. Each section represents a different tone both emotionally and sonically. The first section, light, is comprised of “TABOO,” “BLACK BALLOONS,” “CASH MANIAC,” and “SUMO,”
The album’s opening track, “TABOO,” has an entrancingly smooth instrumental, melodically driven by intermittent reverb-drenched guitar riffs echoing in the background.
Curry’s gorgeous vocal layering to start the track reveal newfound versatility, but his verse undoubtedly holds the most impact. Curry gut-wrenchingly dissects the pain lingering beneath the surface of a girl he loves.
He doesn’t hesitate to openly discuss the gruesome details of her demons, rapping “I heard you got molested when you hit the age of 9, so in a sense, I sensed that all your innocence had died.”
While difficult to hear and process these lyrics, they’re refreshingly honest and telling of Denzel’s ability to relate to and empathize with victims of a different struggle than the one he came from. A clear mark of emotional depth and maturity.
Beyond “TABOO”, the light section of the album is more upbeat; ranging from the pristinely produced West coast synth-funk tracks “BLACK BALLOONS” and “CASH MANIAC”, to the Imperial-era banger “SUMO”. Both “BLACK BALLOONS” and “CASH MANIAC” include well-executed features from Goldlink and Nyyjerya and see Denzel Curry spit charismatic verses with hypnotizing flows and cadences. “SUMO” is a vintage Denzel Curry banger with a ridiculously charged up performance. Definitely one of the hardest hitting tracks this year.
The grey section of the album maintains the same level of quality as the light section while taking on a notably darker tone. Comprised of “SUPER SAIYAN SUPERMAN”, “SWITCH IT UP”, “MAD I GOT IT”, “SIRENS” and “CLOUT COBAIN”, the album’s second act is filled with confident braggadocio and hard-hitting trap instrumentals.
Despite a strong performance from Curry, “SUPER SAIYAN SUPERMAN” comes off as the most formulaic and generic track on the album. Although Curry’s hook and verses on the song are on par with the rest of the album, the moody trap beat lacks any sort of interesting progression, resulting in a somewhat monotonous 2:13. Beyond “SUPER SAIYAN SUPERMAN” the grey section is nuanced and extremely well put together.
Curry’s hooks on “SWITCH IT UP,” “MAD I GOT IT,” and “CLOUT COBAIN” are infectiously catchy and aggressive. The verses on all three tracks are expectedly charismatic, but the performance on “SWITCH IT UP” is the most animated verse on the album, as Curry invokes longtime collaborator Ski Mask the Slump God’s cartoonish delivery.
The grey section’s fourth track “SIRENS” is a stunning meditation on American politics and government. DJ Dahi’s dreamy and melodic instrumental compliment Curry and J.I.D’s verses beautifully as each rapper explores their struggles and frustrations under a dysfunctional and corrupt criminal justice system.
This track features a predictably fiery verse from J.I.D and undoubtedly the most politically conscious lyrics of Curry’s career. In his second verse, Curry uses his mesmerizing flows to poignantly articulate his frustrations with Trump-era political division.
TA13OO’s final section, dark, is predictably the most aggressive of the three. The first three songs “THE BLACKEST BALLOON”, “PERCS”, and “VENGEANCE” are trap bangers with thumping 808s and some of the most complex flow switches and vocal deliveries on the album.
“VENGEANCE” is a stand out track from this section with angry verses from Curry, JPEGMAFIA, and Zillakami. The beat transitions and varied instrumentation throughout the song make the instrumental equally as compelling as the verses.
The final track “BLACK METAL TERRORIST” is the perfect crescendo of aggression and energy to cap off the album. Curry’s signature triplet flow immediately punches through the beat and evolves cohesively throughout the song.
Towards the end of the track, the beat seemingly corrodes, going through a series of violent switches and distorted detours before finally screeching to a halt. The chaotic and aggressive ending to the track perfectly concludes this chaotic and aggressive album.
With no notable gripes with Curry’s performances on any of these tracks and stellar production to boot, TA13OO is Curry fully realizing the potential he showed on Nostalgic 64 and Imperial. The extremely satisfying culmination of over a half decade of artistic growth. I’m intrigued to see where Denzel Curry goes from here.