Denzel Curry wants to master just about everything he can. To do so, the 23 year-old former Raider Klan emcee, newly moved to Los Angeles from his native Florida, is currently in the process of switching up his style. His last LP, Imperial, found the rapper confrontational, abrasive — a style he believes he’s outgrown. “I want to master every style of music, I want to master every way of performing, I want to master every artsy music video style, and just be the greatest of all-time.”
So, the rapper reinvented himself. For someone known as an energetic, artistically daring associate of the SoundCloud Rap set, the changes are welcome. On TA1300 — which rolled out in three parts, beginning on July 23rd — Curry steps away from the rapid-fire, hail-of-bullets delivery that he relentlessly honed on Imperial. Instead, TA13OO is divided into three sections, each functioning as its own mood piece, and while it does still have explosive, menacing moments, it’s the steps towards singing and melodic that are the most surprising, and often the most successful. “I had to learn to use less of my abrasive side, and learn to use more of my cool and calm side. With that I learned how to become who I am because back then, when I was working on Imperial, I was so abrasive, so aggressive, so mean, so cold because of what I was going through during that time,” he says.
The end result is a fascinating, breathing document of a young emcee’s search for himself. Rolling Stone caught up with Curry to discuss life in LA, emotional growth, and his Carol City roots.
Are you still in Florida these days?
Hell nah, I ain’t in Florida no more, man. Florida’s fucked up for me right now. I’m just out in LA chillin’.
Is LA your home base right now?
Yeah, that’s home base. My heart’s in Florida but I’m living out here for the time being.
Why’s Florida fucked up for you right now?
I could talk about it, but I’m not gonna talk about it because that’s my city. I don’t want my city to be offended by my comments.
What’s your favorite part about being out in LA?
Just hanging out with my girl and just trying to get my body and spiritual life in order.
I think some of your fans would be surprised by how much singing you do on TA13OO. Where did that style come from?
The reason why I sing on most of the songs on this record is because you have to realize that melody is what wins. Melody wins every time. Melody is always gonna win. That’s why I started singing more on this record. When I was just straight up rapping, I feel like everyone wasn’t paying attention as much, but the moment I started singing, case in point, “Clout Cobain,” it affected more people.
That’s true, but on “ULT” from Imperial you rap, and that features one of your hookiest choruses to date.
Because I was sort of singing it.
You had a lot of fans when Imperial came out, but there are certainly far more people anticipating this new record. Did that ever factor into your creative process? Were you feeling pressure about how TA13OO would be received?
I’ve been pressured my whole life into doing something great. With this one, it’s nothing but a re-run. I’ve done records before. I’m a little nervous about how people will perceive this record, but when I really sit down and think to myself I know that I can’t please everyone. The people that listen and are pleased by it are the ones I’ve won over. That’ll make my fan base grow.
That pressure you’ve had your whole life—is that pressure you’ve put on yourself?
Yeah, there’s such a thing as good stress and bad stress. Bad stress is when somebody else stresses you out, and good stress is when you stress yourself out over something you want to accomplish, which makes you want to perfect it. The perspective scheme is perfection.
When did you begin working on this new album?
I started working on it in the beginning of 2017. Whenever I made a track, whether mad, sad, angry, or happy — I didn’t have any crib to stay in Cali. It was always a hotel or an Airbnb and I got sick of that shit, and over time I learned a lot about the creative process. Not everything is set in stone, you don’t have to do everything a certain way. It’s like a free for all, it has to flow out of you. When I read Gucci Mane’s autobiography, that’s what changed it, my dynamic of working.
What’d you learn from it?
Let’s be honest. Gucci Mane makes really good songs. He’s not the best lyricist in the world, but he makes really good songs. He makes really dope shit, right? He’s very successful for what he does. Reading his book, I learned that his determination and dedication for what he was doing made him who he is. His battle to stay relevant made him who he is, because he’s still relevant to this day.
Maybe more relevant now than ever before.
Yeah, and he did it through the transformation of his body and his mental state. Everyone questioned him, his motives, and what he was doing. He brought his personality out through his music. He was having fun on his tracks. There’s something pure about him in his ability to express himself. That’s what I consider a great artist: Someone who’s able to express themselves and transform without being tied down by limitations. What I got from reading the biography, I thought about who I was as a person and a rapper. When I started really thinking about everything I was doing—cutting my hair, getting a nose ring—I was transforming who I was, not being tied down to what people perceived me as.
How does Carol City and your childhood in Florida still enter your music now that you’re recording in LA?
When I win a Grammy, I’m gonna bring it back to Dade. That’s how I feel about it. That’s the role Carol City plays for me. When I win this Grammy, I’m gonna come back home and let y’all know I won this shit. And I’m gonna keep on winning more just for my hometown so that they can have the spotlight. I wanna influence the next generation so they’re like, ‘Damn, this n***a Curry did that shit.’