Every morning on Power 105.1 The Breakfast Club, radio host Charlamagne Tha God spews a continuing rhetoric about people that make piss poor decisions. That’s neither here nor there. However, one of the statements he returns to time and time again is that “The craziest people in the world are from the Bronx and all of Florida.” If the rap game over the past few years is any indicator, he’s right. The innovative minds of Ski Mask The Slump God, XXXTentacion, Kodak Black, and SmokePurrp, along with endless more, are proof that something anomalous lies in the water, enabling these stalwarts to redefine the parameters of new age rap. No two Florida artists are remotely similar, and frequently, they elevate each other to harness the spotlight. We’re on the cusp of Florida becoming rap’s epicenter, snatching the title that Atlanta has held since the turn of the century.
With a serious amount of rap’s conversation pertaining to The Sunshine State’s plethora of buzzing rappers gunning for immediate spotlight, one of the more obscure names, surprisingly, is Denzel Curry. At 23-years-old, he’s young enough to be considered a new age rapper, yet old enough to appreciate the liminal space between new and old. The former 2016 XXL Freshman has carved out a stylistic niche that prevents him from being boxed into any of rap’s cliques. He sounds grizzled and jaded when he raps, yet wildly rambunctious in the same breath. His ever-shifting aesthetic makes him one of the most invigorating prospects to come out of the state in some time, even if he doesn’t get the respeck on his name he's after. The right kind of unruly too, the kind that isn’t averred through outlandish, faux stylings, but pragmatic creative choices that go farther than hair or dominatrix-inspired outfits. Everything from the vocal arrangements on his tracks to the song titles of his albums feel crafted with meticulous detail — he’s probably Kanye’s only true successor that keeps his mouth shut enough to be given the moniker truthfully. Take one listen to TA1300 and you’ll see. To call it psychedelic is a cliché, but the album is a multi-part, constantly-moving, collection of harsh emotions with a funky twist that works, even if the final leg slows down the momentum a tad.
TA1300 wastes no time with subtleties. It’s broken up into three chapters that don’t amount to a trilogy, but instead a progressively darkening mood journey. But these divides aren’t strict edits, and they don’t rely on frigid cuts to let the listener know when one ends and another begins. Avoiding the clichés, there aren’t drastic production differences to signal the beginning of another act. This turns out to be inevitably for the best.
“Taboo” starts off initially warped and druggy, with disparate sounds congealing together before some sensual ambience makes its way in. "Light," the first suite, suits Denny Cascade, his sensitive alter ego first established on debut album Nostalgia 64, who makes a surprise appearance here. Molestation is the hard-pill-to-swallow that Denzel covers in the melancholy song’s belly. Things abruptly get cheerier on “Black Balloon” featuring a blithe GoldLink and production that seems suited to the D.C. Native’s musical neck of the woods. For as upbeat as it sounds, the movie IT plays a central role in establishing thematic staidness, with Pennywise the Clown’s balloons being the subject of some intense, downtrodden revelations. By the end of the second track, it becomes a little clearer that these three sections blend closer together than one realizes.
A fragility of boundaries is a prominent feature of Curry’s work. A lot of artists will dabble in the conventions of other genres very frigidly, and when they do, their lack of mastery at all of them becomes easily apparent. But Denzel’s main strength is that he’s able to come off as amorphous as he builds his identity through song, or lack of. “Clout Cobain” is a smooth, excessively dark tracking of fame’s accompanying demons that sprinkles the coy tranquility of recent R&B on top of its urbane production – its’ puerile angst in rap.
TA1300 ‘s main strength is its colorfulness, bleeding through all three sections. Curry’s sound, when stripped of its ambience, drips with venomous energy. He raps and sings with a dexterous touch that breathes vibrant energy into even the album’s weakest cuts, the few that there are. “Percz” is a suitable turn-up record, but it sounds trite in its “I’m drug free, look at me” approach that’s common in conscious rap circles, not to mention packaging it within the mosh pit aesthetic is kind of at odds with its message.
Conscious energy drips from the album’s trappings as a whole. But what is “conscious energy?” Going on an introspective trip that transcends ass shaking and drug talk? If so, Denzel’s wild brand of music will throw you for a loop as it goes from sections “Gray” to “Dark,” digging deeper into his psyche while the sounds get creepier and stranger. Denzel’s energy makes outings that would be boring worth a second look because, out of all of his contemporaries (especially those in Florida), he puts the most energy in his raps. Nothing sounds repeated or rehearsed — it sounds like he plays with pitches and flows on the fly in comedic fashion, like he’s clearly having fun as his inflection goes up and down, round and round. The last leg of the album’s faux-Raider Clan production brings his Raider Klan days to the mind, but the way that he examines his psyche snaps the listener back to the present.
But as the record wraps up, the strange limpness of its last leg becomes apparent. TA1300 feels top-heavy; its most memorable tracks are its most lush and gushing, “Light,” if you will. As it grows more ominous and perplexing, it becomes a more familiar affair with creeping trappings that remind the listener of earlier work. An evolving flow helps to mask some of the routine feeling that arises, and that’s a markedly good feature, but for those more wonted with his discography, it may become problematic. The clandestine energy that grows from Denzel’s voice as the album goes along seems to make it grow fiercer, more erratic. Yet that funky energy that flows like a river through it remains untouched, bringing a snarky energy that permeates its’ very backbone. It’s not psychedelic in the Parliament Funkadelic kind-of-way, but it’s brash, unforgiving nature makes it kick-ass in a way that makes its weak points much more digestible than similar mistakes by his contemporaries. The Sunshine State is home to the next wave of rap’s elite, and, if TA1300 is any indicator, Denzel Curry is well on his way to becoming one.