Album Review : Denzel Curry - ZUU (2019)
There’s a lot of bullshit in hip-hop. I mean, it’s the nature of the game right? To create a larger-than-life character based on yourself and blur the line between what’s real and what’s not. Well, Denzel Curry’s not like that. He doesn’t need a persona because he’s really, really good at writing music. Denzel Curry’s his real name, his lyrics explore struggles and moments he’s actually lived through and he doesn’t do stupid shit to keep his name in media. That’s why we sometimes forget about him. It’s easier and it feels better to judge rowdy attention seekers than to appreciate people who have their shit together.
But Denzel Curry can take back the spotlight whenever he feels like it. If there’s any takeaway from his new album ZUU, it’s that he’s already reached such a level of mastery. This might be the album of the year.
The first thing you’ll notice about ZUU is that it cannot be any more different than his breakout album Ta13oo, released in 2018. One look at the cover, featuring a vintage car and Curry wearing a throwback Marlins jersey say that it needs to say about the album: it’s a raw, focused a minimalistic exploration of his social and musical origins. It cuts to the chase. Musically and stylistically, ZUU wears its old school, G Funk influences on its sleeve in songs like WISH or CAROLMART. There’s a lot of allusions to his childhood and hometown of Carol City, too. Depictions of what it’s like to live in Florida. ZUU feels personal and introspective in its own way.
There are so many bangers on ZUU that I don’t know which one to start with, so I’ll go straight to my favorites. The grimy and energetic RICKY tells the story of Denzel’s upbringing and how it prepared him to succeed in the rough social landscape of Florida. It has a monster chorus with emotional appeal: “My daddy said trust no man, but your brothers/And never leave your day ones in the gutter/My daddy said treat young girls like your mother/My momma said: trust no hoes, wear a rubber”. In a couple lines, Denzel Curry captured the contrast between his good upbringing, loving parents and the realities of the ghetto around him.
It has universal appeal to anyone who feel like they’re fighting circumstances.
BIRDZ, the collaboration with Florida legend Rick Ross (another bow to his origins), is another monster hit. It would’ve been a hit in 1999 and it will be a hit today. The bombastic instrumental and once again the infectious chorus are going to drag the song to immortality. It’s about being fearless and being successful against the odds. ”If you ain’t God, well I don’t give a fuck” is both a crass and inspiring line at the same time. A song like BIRDZ really highlights Denzel Curry’s economy of words. His lyrics are not complicated, but each line carry its weight and have universal appeal. He both confronts and transcends clichés.
Among other memorable songs on ZUU is the closer P.A.T, which I believe has a 56K modem sampled in the instrumental. It’s a simpler, barer song that’s meant to be a throwback to his Raider Klan days (see a pattern here?) that really has Denzel’s trademark at-your-throat energy and fun, grimy edge to it. It’s slightly out of character in the post-Ta13oo era, but who gives a shit, right? I’m not a fan of the beat of the second single Speedboat (full disclosure: I’m not a fan of any piano beat), but I thought it was interesting he mentioned the death of XXXTentacion and the trappings of getting rich and famous at such a young age.
With ZUU, Denzel Curry managed to create an album as far as possible from the moody and introspective Ta13oo while remaining true to himself. It’s nowhere near as ambitious, but it’s even tighter and more focused. The dude is getting noticeably better with every release and to a middle-aged writer like me, seeing someone dedicating himself to passionately to their craft… I can’t help but to find that inspiring. Denzel Curry captured the essence of old school gangster rap on ZUU and gave it a soul, not unlike 2Pac did in the nineties. It’s really, really impressive work. Curry and Vince Staples are the best young rappers we have working today. Perhaps the best rappers period.