Ahead of the American rappers’ first show in the Middle East, we caught up with the rising star.
Whatever misconceptions you have about rap artists, think again. Denzel Curry is only 28 years old, but has had to grow up fast. He has a calm and collected demeanour, which you wouldn’t expect from someone who raps about his first-hand experiences with racial inequality and police brutality.
Ahead of his concert at Bla Bla Dubai on 12 October, the rapper caught up with FACT from his home in Los Angeles. The charismatic rapper is relaxed and animated despite the 8:45am call. A humbleness permeates our conversation and he appears almost vulnerable, dressed in a plain white T-shirt and chunky dreadlocks.
Known for his innovative approach to hip-hop and his socially conscious lyricism, Denzel’s career began with the South Florida rap collective Raider Klan, where he gained recognition for his distinctive flow and gritty lyricism. However, it was his solo work that catapulted him into the spotlight. His breakthrough project, Nostalgic 64 (2013), showcased a unique fusion of trap, hardcore rap, punk rock and electronic music that set him apart from his peers.
“To be honest, you could say it’s this and it’s that. But it is my life. My life is different from most rappers. We may be in the same profession, but we have a different life and a different lifestyle.”
Denzel’s life has been filled with challenges. A graduate of Miami Carol City High School in Florida, he crossed paths with Trayvon Martin, who had also been a student at the school before tragically losing his life to gun violence in February 2012. In February 2014, Denzel’s brother, Treon “Tree” Johnson, died due to complications after being tasered by the police. In June 2018, his friend and fellow rapper XXXTentacion was fatally shot.
Now, he channels his pain into his art. Tracks like Clout Cobain and Ultimate have not only garnered critical acclaim but also resonated with audiences who appreciate his fearless storytelling.
He explains: “Experience, life, the things that I’ve been through. Just putting it all together and mixing it up with all the things that I like — that’s how I make my music.” He has never shied away from addressing complex and controversial subjects, and performed at Black Lives Matter’s Black Power Live concert, after the death of George Floyd.
“All of my work is introspective. If you listen to Nostalgic, it’s talking about my environment and everything. That’s very introspective for me because I’m talking about things that happened to me in high school. The last song on Imperial was written to a friend who was in prison. I was writing from his perspective. I want people to know everything I went through, That I am sure of who I am and what I’ve been through, and then we could move forward from that.”
In a decade-long career, Denzel has worked with Kid Cudi, Slowthai and T-Pain, but does he have a dream collaboration? “The day I work with André 3000 is probably the day I’m going to be like, all right, I’m done with music. If I had never met him, Ultimate probably would’ve never been made. I recently heard through the grapevine that he’s doing something, but that could also be a rumour. It comes down to André. Wherever I meet or see him again, I’ll hopefully hold that conversation.”
Denzel Curry has moved from making mixtapes to five studio albums. He reflects: “Usually, you get time to put out an album and stuff like that. People don’t really appreciate albums, like how they used to anymore. Everything is TikTok based. If you can’t play it in these couple of seconds, then it’s not a hit… It’s not about the talented, it’s more about who’s popular at the moment. Like if you’re popular and you wanna be with the in crowd. It’s like if the cool kids at the school ran the hip-hop community, you know what I’m saying? It’s like, oh yeah, we’re popular, we’re trendsetters because somebody puts you there. It is not like it’s the talent, but you know, you’ve got to look cool for people to follow you, I guess.”
So, how does he measure success? “When I got a platinum plaque for the first time. That was a proud moment because I did it as an indie artist. I didn’t do it as a major artist. So that money and everything actually comes to me.”
Denzel seems unfazed about the sudden superstardom that has seen him touring the globe from Australia to Lithuania. He is excited about his upcoming concert in Dubai, which marks his Middle Eastern debut.
He laughs: “I’ve never been there a day in my life. I’m just the type of person to show up and do my thing. And if it goes up, it goes up. If it don’t, well at least I know. I expect energy in return. That’s all I want. I’m just now getting there, so it is, of course it’s going to be intimate. You’ve got to do those shows before you can start doing bigger ones. You have to get the word out there.”
As he looks towards the future and the remainder of 2023, Denzel Curry has just dropped a new single Blood On My Nikez, which marks the start of a new era: “I’ll be dropping tracks here and there, and seeing how people react and seeing how people gravitate towards them. I’m just going to experiment in real-time and see what goes off and what doesn’t. It is what it is.”
Denzel Curry: a voice of a generation.
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