Almost exactly 22 years ago at the legendary 1995 Source Awards, when tensions between east and west coast rap outfits were at an all time high, a young Andre 3000 made a statement that announced Southern hip-hop as a force to be reckoned with. “It’s like this, the south got somethin’ to say,” he proclaimed as Outkast left the stage after accepting their award for Best New Artist. Over two decades later, the southern region of the U.S. is home to some of the hottest artists and record labels in hip-hop, including mainstream powerhouses like Migos and Travis Scott, bright youngsters like J.I.D and Ski Mask the Slump God, and extravagant creatives like Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino.
In the middle of the current rap landscape down south is Florida MC Denzel Curry. Only 23 years of age, Curry has been establishing a dedicated following since his early days as a teenager in SpaceGhostPurrp’s Raider Klan crew. Now on his third full length release, Denzel is making it known that he is not to be taken lightly, not by his contemporaries, his critics, or the rap game at large.
Curry’s last LP, 2016’s Imperial, possessed a raw, unpolished electricity that seldom relinquished its grip on the listener. The balance of hardcore trap and potent cloud rap made for his most exciting release yet and it was evident he was starting to realize the potential he first showcased on his early projects. On his new album, TA13OO, Curry once again presents himself as a dynamic rapping talent with menacing flows, simultaneously showing an improved ear for production, melody and overall quality of sound.
Denzel’s evolution is at the forefront of this album. His music has always had a combative edge, but on TA13OO he shows that he is capable of supplementing his raw energy with an enhanced attention to detail. The most notable improvement comes by the way of his singing, which makes for many melodic choruses throughout the record. The title track – “TABOO” serves as the intro, a dark and spacey tune on which Denzel sings almost exclusively. It also introduces the album’s loosely assembled concept, which is supposed to be broken up into three separate acts: light, gray and dark.
The glimmer of the intro track bleeds over into the infectious “BLACK BALOONS” and the Nyyjerya assisted “CASH MANIAC.” Both are among the catchiest songs in Curry’s discography, the former being especially groovy. These tracks being at the front of the album end up being a welcome, although misleading, change of pace from Denzel’s usually aggressive demeanor. As one might expect, this “light” vibe is quickly guttered for a stretch of maniacal trap bangers. When Curry lets loose, he sounds like a junkyard dog ready to shred you down to the bone. “Rider, rider, rider, rider – never gave a fuck about a dollar!” he yells on “SUMO.”
TA13OO‘s focus on melody shines even on its more ordinary cuts. The run from “SUMO” to “MAD I GOT IT” pretty much sticks to themes of bragging, loyalty and attaining success, but the hooks are incredibly sticky, making it easy to spin these songs over and over again. Denzel also brings a lot of personality to his verses, switching up his cadence and using a variety of vocal inflections, even when his subject matter is not incredibly deep. For the majority of the record, however, Denzel’s bars are loaded with substance, reaching a conscious and melodic peak on the Soundcloud rap satire “CLOUT COBAIN” and the hard-hitting “PERCS,” which both attack industry groomed, drug-addled rappers.
The tone of the record continually grows darker through the tracklisting. “SIRENS” – which features a nimble and tight feature from J.I.D and beautiful vocal contributions from Billie Eilish – sees Curry riding over a minimalistic, eerie piano beat (DJ Dahi) to deliver a series of introspective and politically-charged bars. “VENGEANCE” is another vicious banger with killer guest appearances, this time Jpegmafia and ZillaKami, that nods to UGK, Freddie Gibbs and early A$AP Rocky.
Time and time again, Curry is showing why he should be regarded among the best rappers in this new generation. Even though he’s spitting over a few different styles of production, TA13OO is a pure trap record. It’s fresh and forward-thinking, yet firmly rooted in the trendiness of modern rap. This record’s combination of contemporary and darkness may deter some hip-hop fans from fully enjoying it, but its boldness and attention to detail cannot be denied. There are a number of young artists in the trap-rap lane establishing interesting artistic personas and making great songs, but there have been relatively few great albums in the specific genre during its dominance this decade. TA13OO has the potential to be remembered as an important record distinct to this style, a noteworthy marker in the 2010s for both Southern hip-hop and trap.