Denzel Curry was an annoying kid, according to the Florida-born rapper himself. “When I was a kid, I was so hyper and all over the place,” Curry says over Zoom, holding his phone up while sitting in the front seat of a parked car. Traces of that hyperactivity betray themselves in his mannerisms: the animated way he talks about his passions, bouncing slightly in his seat, his head bumping to the memory of a beat. “When I got older, [people] were like, ‘man, you’re annoying’ and I’m like, ‘n****, tell me something I don’t know,” he laughs. “I liked to draw and was into martial arts. I liked all the stuff that the other kids weren’t into. So, I was automatically deemed not cool,” he says of his childhood. “I was a weirdo. In a sense, I still am.”
That weirdness is what makes Curry both an outlier and a success in the rap industry—and he knows it. His enduring passions of drawing and martial arts, along with samurai and spaghetti Western films, anime, and Star Wars, all find their way into his music or visual aesthetic. In the music video for “Walkin,” the first single of Curry’s latest album Melt My Eyez See Your Future, Curry pays homage to both sci-fi and Western tropes along with the visual styles of directors Akira Kurasawa and Sergio Leone. Throughout the rest of the album, Curry sprinkles references to John Wayne, Star Wars, and Kurasawa’s Sanjuro.
The album, which amalgamates neo-soul, R&B, and trap, is a departure from the aggressive sonics that Curry has become known for, from his formative years as a member of Floridian hip-hop group Raider Klan to his studio albums like Imperial (2016) and TA1300 (2018). “I was put in a box of just being this angry person,” Curry says on the impressions of his previous work.
And if there’s one thing Curry won’t allow of himself, it’s fitting into a box. He sees each project as an act of defiance against what is expected of him. “Everything that I’ve done up to this point was to separate myself from something that I was previously doing,” he says, explaining how his debut album, 2013’s Outkast-influenced Nostalgic 64, was a way to set himself apart from his peers in Raider Klan.
Melt My Eyez is perhaps his greatest middle finger of all to those who think they know him, and yet strangely, it is his most intimate album to date. In moving away from aggressive delivery, Curry has moved closer to himself, his vulnerability. Melt My Eyez touches on Curry’s most personal topics, from mental health to racial injustice. In the album’s opener, “Melt Session 1”, produced by Robert Glasper, Curry raps “Dealt with thoughts of suicide / women I’ve objectified.” Songs like “The Last” and “John Wayne” refer to police brutality; Trayvon Martin was a classmate of his, and Curry’s own brother was killed by the police in 2014.
Sonically, the album pulls together formative genres of Curry’s life. Drum and bass sounds were influenced by his love of Goldie’s Timeless, while R&B and jazz elements came from the music his parents played around the house. He also references his love for trip-hop pioneers Portishead and traditional hip-hop sounds as part of the album’s auditory makeup.
Through the album, Curry continues to experiment with the genres he played with in previous work, but in more mature ways. “TA1300 was a realized idea,” he says of his 2018 album. “But it still had rough edges to it that I needed to chip away at. I wanted to attack different genres that I always loved, but I needed to articulate my emotions better. And I wasn’t doing that at the time.”
He cites therapy and martial arts as the main catalysts to his emotional growth. “It’s been a hard process, to be honest,” Curry says on his therapy journey. “Because you don’t want to tell some random motherfucker your problems. Everything you’ve been through, every little detail you remember that you wish you don’t remember. And that was the hardest thing for me to open up about. It just kind of bled into the music, you know. But I’d much rather it bled into the music than into my relationships.”
The first step to achieving Curry’s newfound vulnerability was shedding the alter egos that the rapper typically immersed himself in on previous albums: Aquarian Killa, Raven Miyagi, Denny Cascade, Zeltron. “When I was using alter egos, that was just to disguise who I truly am,” he says before going on to quote boxer Tyson Fury. “He said any man that has to use an alter ego is really afraid of being his true self. So, I had to eliminate that in order for people to really get me. I’m not hiding and disguising my own traumas or vulnerability through any of these alter egos.”
And yet as personal as the album is, it also shares space with a teeming list of collaborators and producers, from Thundercat (“The Smell of Death”) and frequent collaborator Kenny Beats (“Troubles”) to Noah Goldstein and Dot Da Genius (“The Ills”) who both have worked with Kanye West. “I got them both in the studio to work on a song together for my album,” Curry says of the latter producers. “That was like a huge statement for me because it was just like, damn, I grew up listening to you.”
It’s clear that Melt My Eyez is a momentous achievement for Curry, personally and professionally. The rapper even recently tweeted that it’s his best project and has made clear his ambitions to keep evolving into something better each time, both within and outside the boundaries of music. “Where I’m at currently in my life, I just want to be able to just make different things and be able to create. And then once I’m done, I am done. I’m not touching rap anymore,” he says. “When I come up with the next thing, it may be different from Melt My Eyez See Your Future but it will be a higher idea that I have to execute very well.”
What might that higher idea look like? It could easily be a film or comic book as much as it could be another album. Curry has been working on a four-volume comic book since quarantine, but he won’t share the plot yet, for fear of idea-stealers. If he were to make a film, though, it would be a samurai-influenced film with a touch of 40 Year Old Virgin comedy, he says.
Whatever is next for Curry, he has learned to approach it without hubris. “God blessed me with a whole bunch of talents and I just don’t take that for granted. Because when I did, I could see how easily people can be corrupted just by bullshit,” he says. “So I got to be a n**** with a green lightsaber once in a while.”