Review: Denzel Curry, ‘TA13OO’

Denzel Curry stresses plenty of diversity on an album that is the defining moment of his career.

To a casual rap audience, exposure to Curry is limited only to the 2016 viral hit (“Ultimate”), however his name deserves to ring more bells. His brand of hardcore trap is what’s cultivated a loyal fanbase that labels him as one of the best rappers out of the “SoundCloud” generation. Despite the bold claims, Denzel Curry has remained on the edge of notoriety that has prevented him from unlocking the next level. Equipped with two albums, including the critically-acclaimed ImperialTA13OO is Curry’s chance to branch out to a wider audience and finally break out as a hip hop star.

On TA13OO, Curry successfully steps out of his comfort zone to cleverly blend melodic rap with hardcore stamina. Split into three acts across 13 tracks – Light, Grey and Dark –the three acts assemble into a firm insight into Curry’s conscience, resulting into structural brilliance.

TA13OO begins with the most summery songs of Curry’s career, featuring radiant production that masks the unsettling lyrics. Although dubbed as the ‘Light’ disc, the hook of the opener “Ta13oo” juxtaposes the label to suggest his life has never seen any true sense of light (“Welcome to the darker side of Taboo”). In fact, the peak of Curry’s ‘light’ is flexing money. “Cash Maniac”, driven by the pop synths and Nyyjerya’s hook, is a refreshing left turn from Curry’s bass-heavy aesthetic, making it a highlight from Act 1. The energetic “Sumo” reaffirms the sentiments of “Cash Maniac” as ignorantly as possible, rounding off the most musically diverse Act of the album.

Throughout the album, Denzel Curry dispatches his lyrics with the sharpest of pens. Coupled with his diverse flows, each verse on TA13OO serves a purpose that carries the depressing content. The heavy emphasis on topics like suicide – a recurring theme on a handful of tracks – is chilling when stripped of the production, but is a necessary element to connect with Denzel on a personal level.

Although the longest act, the ‘Grey’ act lacks replay value, but is successful in portraying Curry’s area of uncertainty and paranoia (“That n***a nice, that n***a mean, switch it up.”) On “Sirens”, Curry perfects the melodic hooks from Act 1 to create a politically-charged track that doesn’t sacrifice lyricism in the process. Curry, alongside J.I.D., raps the best verses of the album on “Sirens”, to ensure the song ticks all the boxes. It further stresses the themes of the ‘Grey’ Act; frustration and helplessness, that is backed up by the consistent tempo of the five-song streak.

“Clout Cobain” follows “Sirens” as another serving from TA13OO that meshes melodic singing with substance that ensures replay value. Driven by Curry’s frustration with the controlling nature of the music industry, “Clout Cobain” feeds exactly into the expectations of record labels – a catchy song that will ultimately chart – but maintains artist integrity by scrutinising the controlling nature of the music industry, ignorance of fans and his own mental health (further illustrated by the music video). Under the infectious hook is an important message that can be easily overlooked. Structurally, the song is a perfect ending to Act 2, as by the end of the song Curry has become consumed by the music industry and submits to his dark side.

If all fans demanded was hardcore Denzel, Act 3 is where it is offered. The anti-percocets anthem “Percs” is the standout track, featuring Curry ridiculing rappers’ content, rebelling against their carbon copy tendencies over the booming production. “Vengeance” follows the same avenue, crafting another energetic headbanger tied together by a faultless collaboration of Curry, JPEGMAFIA and Zillakami.

The album closer, “Black Metal Terrorist”, intensifies the ongoing radical roars by reaching its ultimate peak. For an album that began so gentle, “Black Metal Terrorist” ensures it hits maximum darkness to round off TA13OO in the most taboo way possible.

Cover art is often underestimated, when in fact it can elevate the quality of the music. The individual covers for the three acts does exactly this; painting a picture of the deteriorating state of Curry, eventually morphing into the evil entity he was warning about in Act 1.

TA13OO is a chilling insight into the disturbing mind of Denzel Curry. Besides an effective dip during Act 2, TA13OO is the album that Denzel Curry needed. With so many layers to unfold and understand (practically in the vein of a Kendrick Lamar album), not much remains to be desired. The newfound element of melody mixed with the signature hardcore trap sound fuels Curry’s spiralling narrative to new heights that have barely been showcased by Curry’s peers this year. Compositionally and structurally, TA13OO is at the forefront of expertly crafted hip hop albums of 2018.

Rating: 8 / 10

Best tracks: “Percs”, “Black Metal Terrorist”, “Vengeance”, “Sirens”, “Clout Cobain”, “Cash Maniac”