Denzel Curry on Being Ahead of the Hip-Hop Curve: 'We Laid the Blueprint'

"We didn't know the impact we was gonna have on the whole game," Miami MC says of his trailblazing punk-inspired rap

MC Denzel Curry talks social-media snafus, his grade-school beginnings and how he helped pave the way for rap's SoundCloud revolution. Credit: Brian Guido for Rolling Stone

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Artists like XXXTenatacion, SmokePurpp and Lil Peep are making waves for a brand of lo-fi hip-hop that's garnering millions of listens on streaming sites like SoundCloud. Ask Denzel Curry to explain this recent phenomenon, however, and the Miami MC will tell you he's been planting its seeds for years. "We laid the blueprint for those guys. We made the sacrifice," offers Curry, a former member of SpaceGhostPurpp's Raider Klan who began attracting national attention following his breakout 2013 album, Nostalgic 64. "I just try to guide some of the newer guys coming out of Florida," he says. "But they gotta make they own decision like I made mine."

Curry speaks like a wizened veteran, but he's only 22. "We was just kids making that stuff," the rapper says looking back on the underground Miami rap scene circa 2012. At the time, the then-18-year-old, along with peers like SpaceGhostPurrp, Yung Simmie and Metro Zu, was a burgeoning staple of a rebellious rap scene with a decidedly punk spirit. "On the inside we were just having fun with it," he recalls. "We didn't know the impact we was gonna have on the whole game."

Nostalgic excelled thanks to its maximalist wordplay and equal parts psychedelic and trap-influenced beats. From the outside it seemed to appear out of nowhere, but Curry says it was the result of meticulous planning. He started rapping in sixth grade and after getting kicked out of art school he began piecing together his breakout project during classes at Miami Carol City Senior High School. "I wanted to be better than Kendrick [Lamar], I wanted to be better than Robb Banks, and I wanted to be better than Purrp," he says of his mindset at the time. "I seen all those guys were on the forefront and I always felt like I was in the shadows. That's what made me go hard."

Curry has been on the grind ever since: In 2015 he scored a tastemaking hit with the Caribbean-flavored "Ultimate"; and last year he landed big-name collaborators including Rick Ross and Joey Bada$$ for his second LP, Imperial. "People are starting to figure out who I am day by day," Curry says. Though he admits he's often his own worst enemy – particularly as it relates to social media. "When I go on heavy rants or I retweet too much, everybody unfollows me," he says with a laugh. "Then it's like, 'OK, they don't like that shit.' The more I pay attention, the more I'm in tune with my fans and myself. It's how I keep raising up."