Denzel Curry

In his most intimate album yet, the iconoclastic rapper faces his demons and comes out better than ever.

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When Denzel Curry logs on to our Zoom call on the day of his album release, he’s beaming — and not just because his new record, the sprawling, introspective rap opus Melt My Eyez See Your Future, is indisputably one of the greatest albums of his career. “I’m feeling really good right now, man,” he grins, his hair styled into anime-style spikes. “I just got off the phone with one of my favourite artists of all time: Goldie.”

I tell him that I’d just read a Pitchfork article where Curry cited the drum and bass innovator as one of his biggest inspirations, and his smile widens. “And he didn’t even know that article came out! He just wanted to reach out to reach out,” he says. “It felt great.”

He goes on to tell me what he’s been up to on the premiere of his most intimate album to date, and meeting his heroes aside, I’m surprised by the endearing normalcy of it all. The Florida-born rapper built his rep on injecting rap with pure, frenetic rage — between the explosive punk-infused hit Ultimate and the manic, tortured album TA13OO, his career has been propelled by an all-consuming intensity that turned every track into a banger and every crowd into a mosh pit. But now, things have changed.

“I’m chilling, for the most part,” he says. “Just came from the doctor’s office, he said everything’s looking good. I went to the Muay Thai gym and told them I’d probably try to compete next year. Chilling with my brother, watching the new Atlanta.”

Melt My Eyez reflects this side of Curry — it’s an album rooted in growth and meditation that seems to match his slowed-down lifestyle. The screaming bars and bass-boosted production that marked Curry’s earlier works have been replaced by self-assured introspection laid down over echoing vocals and skittering, minimalist drums. That fire is still there, though: over the album’s 14 tracks, Curry spits out a tsunami of methodical lyrics about white supremacy, mental illness and personal growth, and the power and precision fuelling his craft are as palpable as ever. Its the practice thats changed.

“It was really a conscious decision to not be as aggressive,” Curry says. “Because they already have that. They have two to three albums of me being aggressive. I don’t need to be aggressive on this album. Let me be calm. You’ve never heard me like this. And I’m pretty sure you’re gonna appreciate this down the line.”

Melt My Eyez has been in the works for years, but until now, Curry had never felt like the time was right to bring it into existence. He knew that he wanted this album, a personal magnum opus with a title that he’d scrawled out on a notepad years in advance, to be something entirely different — something that required a kind of self-reflection and vulnerability that he only recently got in touch with.

“I planned this the same year that I was working on TA13OO. But I just never got the chance to really live life for real because it was always like, I’m over here, I’m over here, I’m over here … just coasting, kind of, and not willing to go outside my boundaries or even soul search. It was kind of fake woke-ish, you know what I’m saying?”

Curry grew up in Carol City, FL, where his childhood was marred by trauma; he’s spoken about losing friends and family to gun violence and, in 2018, opened up about being molested as a child. After years spent living with that pain, he’s now in therapy.

“In 2019, I wanted to kill myself,” he says. “I had only a few options … Go to therapy and get back in touch with God.” He says it’s that process, in large part, that got him in the headspace to jump into the project he’d been waiting to create.

“I got to see a lot of the stuff that I was actually doing [through therapy]. Working through it was a process.

“Was making music therapeutic? Yeah. Writing it was just like, ‘Yo, like, I’m really digging deep and really putting it all out there’ … I was able to express myself, but it was hard to listen back to it because it was what I was living. It was what I’ve been through, you know? It brings unwanted memories.

“I think that’s probably why I don’t like listening to my own music or looking at my own work,” he says.

He’s speaking with the same hyper-intelligent, methodical intensity that he brings to his music; his words are careful and precise, like he’s thought about them many times before.

“Because I know what I was going through at the time. I was living it. Because there was a point in time — like when I was working on Imperial — I was a dick. Like, I was just mad about everything. And then you have TA13OO, where I was working on it but I felt like I wasn’t getting the respect I deserved. And then, even when I came out with the album, I was still unhappy.”

Now, he’s reflected at length about his need for validation — it’s a theme that spans Melt My Eyez, particularly in the cerebral, repentant track Angelz.

“I was trying to impress people that did not give a damn. For instance, it’s like this: When, say, for instance, you look at a pretty woman, right? And, obviously, you think she’s pretty, but it’s not brought to your attention unless somebody else says she’s pretty. And then you’ll be like, ‘I bet I could get her’ or whatever the case may be. You go in there and you do your thing and you get her. And guess what, you get her. But you didn’t get her because you genuinely like her. You’re getting her because you’re trying to validate to your friends that you can get the girl, which isn’t right. You should like somebody for who they are. That’s, like, objectifying.”

As an alternative, genre-innovating rapper from the South, Curry has spent a lifetime mired in the quicksand of other people’s preconceptions. Despite being a musical polymath whose chameleonic, acrobatic style has often outclassed many of his peers in both ambition and ability, his career has been subject to countless backhanded compliments and incorrect assumptions — either he’s “good for a Southern rapper” or he’s too good to be associated with the South at all (a 2019 FADER interview noted that Apple Music described Curry as having “an East Coast MC’s furious mentality”). After years of chasing validation, struggling to fit into the box that was seemingly assigned to him at birth, Melt My Eyez is his act of defiance.

And he knows that some people might not be ready for it. “They feel like … the only emotion you could connect to is pain,” he says, referring to the world at large. “When, really, there’s a lot of emotions that you connect to — joy, happiness, you know, sadness. Introspection. There’s a lot of things, you know?

“Like, people want me to remake TA13OO 20,000 times, but I can’t. The reason why? Because I’m not into part twos. That’s one. And two, I’m not in that headspace where I was sad and depressed. And it’s like, you would much rather me be sad and depressed because it’s gonna give you an aggressive banger than me actually fucking with myself and trying to fix my flaws and give you something beautiful? I’m not gonna backtrack. That’s not what I’m about.”

At the end of our talk, he looks towards the future. “I feel like when I get older, and I’m like over making albums and shit … The younger generation, who did like my shit, they’re gonna grow up and listen to this and they gon’ be like, ‘Yo, this man was fire!’ I count on them … I feel like they’re going to be the ones to give me my roses. As of right now, just got a lot of shit to prove.”

Curry has spent his life protecting parts of himself behind alter egos, tough emotions and impenetrable walls. But, with Melt My Eyez See Your Future, he’s finally ready to show us exactly who he is. “The side that everyone didn’t see enough of … is right in front of you now,” he says. The world is lucky to meet him.