Denzel Curry’s new album ZUU is an exercise in world-building. A tribute to Curry’s hometown of Carol City, Miami Gardens, it blends autobiography with an array of localized reference points. Some of these references are hyperspecific in scope and some are more widescreen. There’s SpaceGhostPurrp’s 2011 mixtape Blackland Radio 66.6, the recently demolished flea market in Carol City, the culture of amateur bare-knuckle boxing that pervades black neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County, and the preceding generation of South Florida rap stars: Trina, Trick Daddy, Rick Ross, and Plies.
And then there’s ZUU’s steroidal 808s and air siren synths, inspired equally by 2 Live Crew and XXXTentacion, which elevate Curry’s Miami-centric raps into a full-blown summertime function. It’s a bit ironic that Finatik N Zac, or FnZ, the production duo that worked with Curry to bring ZUU to life, doesn’t hail from Miami, but rather from the noted rap mecca of Perth, Australia.
Michael “Finatik” Mule and Isaac “Zac” Deboni are a part of hip-hop’s middle class of producers. They are evidence that while producers may lack the upward mobility of rappers, they tend to have more stability. Since 2009, they have landed dozens of placements with a broad range of artists, from Wiz Khalifa to Big K.R.I.T. to Kevin Gates to Jaden Smith. For a time, they were best known for having produced songs on each of A$AP Rocky’s three studio albums, including such tracks as “Long Live A$AP” and “L$D.” While FnZ earned Rocky’s trust long ago, that partnership pales in comparison to the rapport they have developed with Curry in the last three or four years. They contributed to seven tracks on Imperial, produced nine on TA1300, and eight on ZUU. In other words, they are in the midst of their career’s most exciting chapter to date.
Finatik and Zac have operated as a duo almost since the beginning. Finatik got into DJing as a teen, placed second in a national Australian scratch battle competition, grew tired of scratching, bought an MPC and started making beats. Zac followed a similar trajectory, minus the DJing. They connected through a mutual friend and started carving out time outside of their work schedules to make beats together. “When we first started, [Finatik] was doing more of the drums and I was doing more of the keys,” Zac said. “And now as time's gone on, we’ve both learned from each other, and now we both kind of do everything. We just both kind of mess around.”
In 2011, FnZ signed to record producer Jim Jonsin’s production company and left Perth for Miami, where they would spend the next five years. They first connected with Curry in late 2015, during an auspicious first session at Jonsin’s mansion that yielded the luminescent Curry classic "Knotty Head.” “They was playing the ‘Knotty Head’ beat, and I was already writing to it, I was just like, ‘oh, this is hard,’” Curry tells us over the phone. “And I just started writing, and the first words that came to my mind were, “Hair is nappy, knotty, fuck karate, I got me a shotty…”
Despite the incredible success of that initial session, FnZ’s role on Imperial was primarily that of an editor, brought into punch up each track. “We went in and touched up all the songs on the album and just made sure everything sounded polished,” Finatik said. “Because we'd been doing it for so long, we really knew how to take something that wasn't necessarily all the way there yet, how to fine-tune and make it more colorful and make it sound bigger.”
Their partnership with Curry properly came into focus after the three of them moved to Los Angeles and hunkered down on TA1300, an album that took over a year to complete. By comparison, they started working on ZUU this February, less than four months before the album came out. “The process for ZUU was the complete opposite to the process of TA1300,” Finatik said. “They’re two polar opposites. On TA1300, we took a really meticulous approach. ZUU was going straight off feel. There was not a lot of overthinking at all.” Those differences are easy to hear; where TA1300 traces a conceptual fade from light to dark and often finds Curry plumbing his emotional depths, ZUU is shorter and more explosive, eschewing introspection to emphasize raw tactile impact.
FnZ, Curry, and their engineer formed the nuclear studio team during the ZUU sessions. Twelve’len and Tate Kobang would pop in occasionally to help out. Curry laid down most of the album’s vocals by freestyling anytime inspiration struck. “Anyone that knows him knows that he can freestyle for 10 hours straight,” Finatik said. While the majority of the production on ZUU came together by way of an open, ongoing dialogue, between, Finatik, Zac, and Curry, FnZ created the beat for the absolutely massive “BIRDZ” the night before. “We just put this this really random sort of field recording that we had,” Zac said, “and then just completely freaked it and put some drums on it.”
Other songs were inspired directly by the South Florida rap canon. Curry’s instruction to FnZ to blend the vibes between XXXTentacion’s “I’m Sippin Tea In Yo Hood” and SpaceGhostPurrp’s “Possessed” resulted in ZUU closer “P.A.T.” They made strip club anthem “SHAKE 88” when FnZ brought in a sketch built around a sample of MC Cool Rock & MC Chaszy Chess’s 1988 Miami bass record “Boot The Booty.” “We threw it on the speakers and played it really, really fucking loud, so we knew we would get the point across,” Finatik said. “And right away everyone, including anyone else who was is in the room, their eyes kind of lit up, and Denzel’s just sitting there like, ‘holy shit, that’s really hot,’ and he knew it was time to go in.”
In an effort to make up for their past shortcomings in the branding department, FnZ recently crafted a producer tag (“FNZ, well damn!”) that can be heard all over ZUU. While creating a memorable producer tag is effective networking and good business, this new tag comes at a time when FnZ need it arguably less than ever, as their alliance with Curry, one of the most esteemed young rappers in the country, appears more ironclad than ever. They have the same manager. They even live in the same building. “They stay directly upstairs from my apartment,” Curry said. “My apartment is literally the second floor, their apartment is the third floor. So I could just walk upstairs and they'll be working on shit, they can come downstairs and we’ll be working on shit.”
Right now, FnZ and Curry are plotting a return to the more methodical approach of TA1300 – possibly something with live instruments. Other than his cover of “Bulls on Parade,” Curry has never done much with instruments, but as he explained, he and FnZ share a desire to take new chances. “They're willing to take it to any avenue, and I’m willing to take it to any avenue.”