Photo courtesy Denzel Curry
Rap wunderkind Denzel Curry has been making waves out of Carol City for a minute now, blending punk and dancehall into his South Florida-bred sound. The "Zone 3" rapper turned heads in 2013 with the release of his debut LP Nostalgic 64 shortly after parting ways with Raider Klan. Last year's double EP follow-up 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms kept the momentum going, building hype towards the March release of his second album, Imperial, which landed the 21-year-old a seat in XXL's 2016 Freshman Class and a tour with Pro Era. Later this summer, he'll play Made In America and FYF Fest before hitting the road for his fall headlining "Black Metal Terrorist" tour with Boogie.
Despite his success, Curry remains humble when discussing his come up and the influences that led him to where he is today, which he shared with us on a recent visit to the Noisey Radio studio in LA. The rapper also got into his relationship with Spaceghostpurrp, his time in art school, the diversity of South Florida, and his creative ambitions beyond music. Listen to our conversation on the latest episode of Noisey Radio on Beats 1, and read on below for the extended interview below.
NOISEY: For those who don’t know you, talk about growing up in Carol City and the beginnings of Raider Klan and meeting everyone.
Denzel Curry: I basically grew up there my whole life. I met Spaceghostpurrp over the phone when he was in New York with A$AP Rocky and I was like, "Can I be in Raider Klan?" He was like "For sure," I told him I wouldn’t let him down, and then I started getting the work on [my first mixtape] King Remembered, and he liked the tape, so that’s how me and his fan base were able to collide a little bit. Then I started putting out more tapes like King of the Mischievous South. Then eventually I was working on Nostalgic 64. “Threats” popped and I was still in Raider Klan and there was a lot of back and forth going on between us and Raider Klan at the time, so I decided to separate myself and that’s when Ethelwulf and all them boys separated themselves first. That shit was crazy, but I kept it cool and cordial.
I started finishing Nostalgic while trying to graduate at the same time. I graduated from high school, got my diploma, and my life just started when I completed Nostalgic 64. I had doubts, like what if the shit doesn’t work? But I stuck with my team and all the homies who helped me out on the production tip and we ended up being catapulted to this point. In 2014, my brother died. He used to do the backyard fighting thing with dogs. If you watched Dog Fight on Netflix, he was Tree on Dog Fight. I was going through a phase of my life where I was going crazy and in a depression and didn’t really want to work on anything, but I knew I had to work on something to try and cope with it, so then 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms came out, and then I created “Ultimate” after I got out of the depression. When I fully got out of that, I was able to really write and enjoy music again. I felt like everything I was doing at that time was kind of forcing it, kind of being held back, so I was like yo, I’m about to do this shit, not tell my management and I’m just going to do this shit for the fans, and I put out "Ultimate" as just a teaser at 4 AM, and it just exploded over the internet the next day. Now "Ultimate" is everywhere, it’s very viral, it’s so crazy and a blessing. Ever since then I found out who I was. I changed my whole style, and that was derived from when I met Andre 3000. When I met him for the first time, he told me not to get bored. I really just took it and ran with it. That’s how I became ULT Denzel Curry. My dreadlocks were singles and I ended up locking my hair into 11 dreads, after that I started working on different flows.
Then I went through another depression because I broke up with my girlfriend of two years. I was just like, damn. I didn’t really want to go through that shit again, so I worked through that shit because if I was going to be crazy, I was going to be constructive. So that’s how Imperial happened. I’m here now, and the whole ULT movement was derived from the "Ultimate" song. ULT is just a short abbreviation for "ultimate," and you can call it "ultimately liberating together," "utilizing limitless talent." Everything is ULT, everything is on another level and I just want to keep evolving on that other level.
You started rapping when you were 16. What gave you the confidence and the interest to start taking it seriously in high school?
I always loved music and really I’ve been rapping since I was like 12. I started trying to record shit when I was 14 and trying to come up with tapes when I was 15, coming up with different concepts. I was listening to stuff like Big Krit, Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, Smoke DZA, Kid Cudi, and Lupe Fiasco. I was influenced by most of that shit. "Lasers" came out and then Cudi said he was quitting, and then B.O.B. did fucking “Airplanes,” and I was like, what the fuck is going on with this rap shit? Then I remember being kicked out of art school and my parents splitting up, and I just thought about giving up all this rap shit, giving up everything because I hated life. I know everybody gets to a point where they’re just fed up with life and a lot of people were doubting me at the same time, so of course I’m going to feel some type of way. Then I heard Spaceghostpurrp’s Blackland Radio 66.6 and I was like, wait you can make shit like this and people won't give a fuck? And they’ll fuck with this shit? Ever since then I started being myself. I was channeling my dark self at that time, and birthed who I was at that time.
Talk about your track “Tear Da Club Up Freestyle.”
Diary of the Originator is where I got the idea from to do the cover. I was like, I’m going to do the globe shit too but I’m going to put Florida on that shit and call it King Remembered Underground Tape 1991-1995. 1991 derives from Purrp’s period, and 1995 is the year I was born, so that derives from my period and that’s what it was. The track "Tear Da Club Up," I like Thee 6 Mafia and I felt like I could rip the shit too, so I wanted to really sound old and vintage. I only had a $100 mic at the crib, so I was just recording on Audacity and I was studying lo-fi shit to hear how it sounded back in the day so I could mimic it and put it into the new age, and that’s how it came out. That track is so gangsta because I was just ripping the fuck out of that shit, and originally that verse was supposed to be on a song with me, Young Kane, and Yung Simmie, because me and Simmie were running together before he got with Raider Klan too, and that’s how it all went down.
For those who don’t know Spaceghost, explain his influence on Florida and music in general.
Even though he did some fuck shit later on in his career, at that time Purrp influenced damn near the whole underground. Everybody knew who he was. Blackland Radio 66.6 birthed a lot of niggas, [ASAP Rocky's] Live. Love. ASAP birthed a lot of niggas, and you see all these guys running around with the swag like the As turn to Vs. All that shit was derived from Purrp and Rocky. They really put the underground to the forefront and had all these motherfuckers coming up. Purrp could’ve been MetroBoomin level or Kanye West level by now, because the artistry was very vintage but it was also very new. It was new to us, but old to the OGs.
It was a new age. There was this whole cyber wave of underground shit coming out, like the old underground shit where tapes you had to find on the street—we had an underground community on the internet. Without Spaceghostpurrp, you wouldn't have people like Seshollowaterboys, you wouldn’t have people like me, you wouldn’t have people like ASAP if it weren’t for him. Even though he does do fuck shit because he’s bipolar, you can’t even really blame him at the end of the day. You can not like the nigga, but that shit came from his age.
That’s nice that you take that approach, because a lot of artists are like, "I can’t be associated with him, I fucking hate him," but you kind of seem to understand that he’s going through some stuff, mentally.
I understand it even with the rap beef. People ask me what happened between me and Purrp. Honestly, I just got tired of him trying me because I’m not a bitch at the end of the day, I’m a man. I let it slide for like three years, and then I said what I had to say. Not intentionally trying to beef with him, but I just said it because it’s facts. Don’t try people you know, that’s my thing and that’s why I squashed it. I’m not friends with him, but it was the man thing to do because what’s the whole point of a beef when you’re already elevating to another level you get what I’m saying? But I still give him his props because he didn’t have to put me in Raider Klan, but he did and that’s what it is.
Do you think that’s why he left Florida for Atlanta, just to start over?
I don’t know what that nigga does, all I know is when he’s in town and when he’s not. He’ll start talking shit when he’s out of town, but when he’s in town, he’s not going to talk shit.
Let’s go to Nostalgic then. Now you’re off Raider Klan, then working on Nostalgic 64. Talk about what that release did for your career.
Honestly it was one of the most confusing time periods of my life, because I was like Nostalgic is hard and in Florida everyone was like Nostalgic’s gangsta. I started going on tour, everybody keeps telling me how Nostalgic is one of the best tapes they’ve ever heard. I was like damn this shit really had an impact like that? So that’s what made me go into Imperial like ok, what did I do right on Nostalgic? What did I do wrong on 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms, and what can I do to make a better project in the future? "Threats" was a banger. It ended up on MTV, I was talking to Waka Flocka—I didn’t know I was going to do most of the shit I’m doing now because of that one song. Threats catapulted me, but "Dark & Violent" got the attention. It sounded different as fuck. I had an art direction for Nostalgic, it was like a time capsule. The whole project was written in Carol City.
Describe the vibe of Carol City for people who don’t know or haven’t been there.
Uptown, it’s chill, but that shit can get hot real quick because you got sections that don’t even like each other. But the funny thing about it is we all have to go to the same school, Carol City High. I was from Zone Three, and most places in the hood, you can’t go to certain places. If you’re from a certain neighborhood, you can’t go to another specific neighborhood. It’s not even like that to me, but other neighborhoods get involved which causes it to be that way. My homie told me it’s not us who had pressure with another hood, it’s having pressure with that one person from that other hood, then the whole hood jumps in ,and our whole hood jumps in, and that means we can’t fuck with nobody. I still go over there though and some people come over here.
Growing up in Carol City, it was always a creative place for me to be because it was mad influential, especially going to Carol City High. I remember banging on the tables, playing "Grindin’" on the table we would always be in the lunch period just going the fuck off, killing shit. The whole energy was so good though, because there were so many places in Carol City that were never utilized until Raider Klan videos started happening, and we just started going to places in Carol City we knew were good.
I’m curious on your thoughts about the Noisey Miami episode.
I think it did it justice. It was just showing another side to Miami. It doesn’t have to be serious all the time, but at the same time I told them what it was. They said what they had to say. I can’t judge another man’s perception of the city. I don’t have any bad thoughts about the episode at all. I think certain people shouldn’t have been in the episode, but I’m not going to name any names. At the same time, I think if you’re not from that city, I don’t think you should talk about the city.
You said you gave it to them straight, what did you tell them when the cameras were there?
I gave it to them straight when it came down to the attitude of how you had to be when you were growing up in South Florida. The code was, I don’t fuck with you and you don’t fuck with me, and that’s a lyric that goes back to Trick Daddy.
Did you listen to Trick Daddy when you were coming up in school?
Of course, you had to listen to Trick if you didn’t know at least one to five Trick songs coming out the crib then you ain’t from the crib. If you don’t know who Uncle Al is you’re not from the crib, if you don’t know Ross, Trick Daddy, Triple C’s, Ball Greezy, Ice Berg even Young Fe, if you don’t know most of these guys coming out then you’re not from the house.
Are you still friends with Lofty and those guys?
Yeah the Metro Zu guys I love those guys to death those are my guys. Even when I had to take a step back from chillin with Slick for a time period, I still love him he took me in like family. That’s why I still vouch for those guys until this day. Postranaught is my DJ we went on tour together that’s like my brother Posh God stayed in my crib he’s like family to me so those guys I will always have respect for because they always told me to be myself and to do what I wanted to do.
Name some of the guys in Metro Zu for the people that don’t know.
Metro Zu is four people. It’s Lofty305, Ruben Slikk, Postranaught and Free Base aka Posh God and that’s all the homies in Metro Zu.
Let’s get into "Ultimate" now. You described how the reaction to the song really surprised you. Talk about writing it and putting it out.
I wrote "Ultimate" before I heard the beat, and it was just a flow experiment. I was writing it using different flows because when you come up in Miami you got mad Jamaicans, Haitians, Bahamians, Latinos, all that, so the Carribean influence was heavy on "Ultimate." When you hear it, it just sounds punk even though it’s not. It’s actually Caribbean as fuck.
It did really sound like a reinvention of your sound. Were you purposely trying to crunch it out to give it more of a punk sound?
I come from the lo-fi era, so I know the ins and outs of lo-fi and that’s why it sounds punk. But if you listen to some old Jamaican tracks, they use lo-fi as well, like the old dance hall tracks. So it all derives from a Caribbean aspect of it because I’m Bahamian and Native American, so I’m pretty much mixed. always wanted to do that flow and that’s what it was when I created "Ultimate." Then we created the cover that night. It was me, Astro, Gismo, Ronny J, we were all sitting in one room tired as fuck, we had just recorded it.
The "6 Billion Dollar" track was kind of your first song that was punk, it was fast and crazy. It was the first of that sound.
That was influenced by Suicidal Tendencies, because if you listen to their first album, their stuff is like a minute. If you listen to Trash Talk, that shit is like a minute too. So I just wanted it to be a minute, because you can pack a punch in a minute. If you go to the shows, it goes crazy, especially because of the production. There’s substance in the lyrics. It makes it crazier, so that’s what it was when I was creating "6 Billion Dollar Nigga." When I made that track, it was like I was training. Training in Ultimate form. This is the Ultimate Denzel Curry time period right now.
What has it been like for you now that the XXL cover has been announced?
It’s been getting crazier. A lot of people are starting to really figure out who I am, and I’m not low-key anymore. I remember coming out the airport two days ago, I was in the bathroom and one guy was staring at me. He was like, are you Denzel Curry? Then I was walking out the airport and this dude was like, "Oh my god you’re Denzel Curry, my phone died I would take a picture with you but keep up the good work and music!" A day before, this kid came up to me, he told me he loved my music and asked for a picture. So it’s crazy, it’s starting to get wilder and wilder. It’s getting to a point where I can’t walk anywhere by myself now, I need to have people around me.
How has that affected you? Are you happy with it, or is it kind of annoying?
It gets annoying when you’re trying to handle stuff you want to handle, like running errands, because I’m a regular human being. I have to take care of priorities like everybody else, and responsibilities. It gets kind of distracting when people ask me for this or that, I don’t mind talking to people all day, but I got to handle what I got to handle.
I feel like on that list—and this may be why the fan base is growing rapidly—you’re kind of taking more of a socially conscious stance in comparison to Uzi Vert, Kodak, Lil Dicky and shit. Do you feel that too?
I just say from my perspective. This is my world, I get to talk about whatever, but the stuff I choose to talk about, people need to know. I’m not saying I’m a conscious rapper. I don’t think I’m a conscious rapper. If I say that, then somebody will try to browbeat me. I can just tell you what I see based off of observation. I’m just a human being seeing what’s going on and projecting it how I see it, and if that’s not how you see it then you don’t have to be in my world.
Talk about your track with Aaron Rose. How did you guys link for this?
Me and that dude went on tour together when we were both on tour with Joey he’s cool that’s like my bro I linked up with him when I was in New York, we were in the studio going through beats and that beat came up and we were like yo let’s do this! He was like this beat sounds fire! Then I was like bad thing is we don’t have the stems and he was like aww but we did it anyway and it came out fire. He’s just cool the dude can actually rap most of the guys in Pro-Era can actually rap everyone just isn’t on the forefront but everyone in that group can rap, Pro-Era is mad talented.
Talk about your track "This Life"?
"This Life" is my favorite track off of the whole Imperial because it really has sentimental value to me. This song I was really going through it and I just woke up one morning and it came to me. Ronny was sleeping on the couch and I was like let’s make some shit, we rolled up some weed then he started laying down a melody so I started writing to it. What I was talking about were questions I would ask my ex if she were still with me like how would you feel, this is how I feel about you so how do you feel about me.
Then what’s next for you?
Creations more experiments more musical aspects and trying to do something more than just music man. I do my own merchandise but I want to do cartoons, I want to get into films, I want to get into a lot of things and overall just be somebody that everybody will look up to like this guy done it all. I’m going to get to a point where I learn everything and get it down to a T and that’s what’s going to make me the ultimate. Overall just evolving that’s where my future lies, evolving into something else.
Catch Denzel Curry's "Black Metal Terrorist" tour with Boogie:
09.17.16 – Chicago, IL – Riot Fest
09.18.16 – Lansing, MI – The Loft
09.20.16 – Toronto, ON – Adelaide
09.21.16 – Montreal, QC – Belmont
09.22.16 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
09.23.16 – New Haven, CT – Toad’s Place
09.24.16 - Pawtucket, RI – The Met
09.25.16 - Boston, MA -Middle East
09.27.16 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
09.28.16 – Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theatre
09.29.16 – Knoxville, TN – The Concourse at The International
09.30.16 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
10.01.16 – Birmingham, – AL Syndicate
10.02.16 – New Orleans, LA – House of Blues-Parish
10.04.16 – Memphis, TN – Hi Tone
10.05.16 – Oxford, MS – Proud Larry’s
10.07.16 – Jacksonville, FL – 1904
10.08.16 – Tampa, FL – Orpheum
10.09.16 – Miami, FL – III Points
11.04.16 – Austin, TX – Sound on Sound Festival
11.06.16 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine
11.07.16 – El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls
11.08.16 – Phoenix, AZ – Club Red
11.10.16 – Las Vegas, NV – Hard Rock Cafe
11.12.16 – Santa Cruz, CA – Catalyst Atrium
11.13.16 – Oakland, CA – New Parish
11.15.16 – Seattle, WA – Neumos
11.16.16 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
11.18.16 – Salt Lake City, UT – In The Venue
11.19.16 – Denver, CO – Cervantes
11.20.16 – Lawrence, KS – Granada
11.22.16 – Nashville, TN – Exit.In