I thought I’d switch it up a little bit on these ARM frequencies and throw my reviewing hands, eyes, and ears onto one of the latest Lofi hip hop mix – Beats to Relax/Study to  tapes, only to then quickly realise it would’ve represented a mighty and pretty insurmountable task in and of itself, so the option faded away almost as rapidly as it initially came to fruition in my consciousness. While I’m profoundly fascinated and thrilled by said current musical phenomenon, partly encapsulated in the output tape above, I’m not sure any of its prime cultural artefacts – regardless of whether fully recorded or live-streamed – would truly fit the formula of a written critical artistic assessment of sorts, given how all over the place, diverse, disparate, and stuck together all of its intrinsic parts are (which, just to be clear, are greater than the sum of them all). So, although this is yet another extremely positively saturated music release period, with recent iridescent drops responding to the names of The Internet, R+R=NOW, as well as a whole bunch of new post-Ameer BROCKHAMPTON cuts unveiled one week at a time via their latest Beats 1’s featured radio show Things We Lost in the Fire, yours truly had to inevitably resort to SoundCloud rap sensation and Florida native prodigy Denzel Curry‘s highly anticipated and buzzed third LP TA13OO.
Denzel Curry has been turning and spinning my head for a while now, having recently delved deeper into his back catalogue after overdosing acoustically on his monumentally furious and immediate second studio album Imperial, unarguably one of the best and fiercest rap projects of the decade. Thus, after journeying on an artistic listening experience that led me to a navigation of his debut Nostalgic 64 as well as a couple intriguing EPs (2015’s 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms and last year’s 13), my experiential momentum with the 23-year-old cloud rapper/trapper gained even more meaning on the 13th July, as the MC announced the release of his full-length follow-up to Imperial, trickily entitled TA13OO, alongside unveiling its lead single “Clout Cobain“. Following the debut of previous TA13OO tracks “Sumo” and “Percs” in April and May this year, the project’s main preview track came accompanied by the revelation that the whole album would in fact be rolled out across three main acts; the 1st Act, dubbed Light, is composed of four songs and dropped on the 25th July, quickly followed in succession by Gray (2nd Act, five tracks) on the 26th, and with 3rd Act Dark wrapping up the release ceremonies with the final four cuts on the album, landing on Friday 27th. Speaking of which, this is how Denzel’s camp is promoting the project across the various channels:
“Each previously-released single represents one of the album’s acts, as “Sumo” represents Light, “Clout Cobain” represents Gray, and “Percs” represents Dark, which come together cohesively to form TA13OO. Across the three sections of TA13OO, Denzel explores topics including molestation, the presidential election, fame, hatred, paranoia, revenge, love, the current state of music and personal tales of his own near death experiences. Sonically, the album ranges just as widely as its subject matter, sounds of paranoia, fear of loss, brooding melancholy and mood swings straight from hell all find their way onto TA13OO, making this Denzel’s most groundbreaking musical performance to date.”
Needless to say, quite the refreshing approach here, defying both industry-standard Friday releases and controversial subject taboos (the pun is pretty intended), which to be fair did see more and more of the mainstream limelight recently, thanks to the whole hip-hop/rap scene self-referentially devoting more time, thought, and resources to topics like substance abuse, nihilism, violence of all sorts, as well as mental health, the latter clearly spearheaded by the groundwork lied down by none other than Kanye West in recent memory. Clocking in at just about 43 minutes, with 13 tracks of fully new material, the album came out on Beverly Hills-based Loma Vista Recordings and, much like the aforementioned promo description, ranges widely in intensity, both sonically and conceptually. Luckily, the journey takes off in the best possible way, both sounds-wise and from a sentiment standpoint, with an array of flourishing, sunset-y, and at times very catchy tracks making up the accordingly themed Light act. The eponymous album opener is an incredibly pleasant, mellow, and romantic introduction to the record, with capacious and inspired bars taking up the central portion of the cut, flipping up the conventional verse-chorus-verse formula creating a successful slow-burner, in sharp contrast to his previous album Imperial’s epic opener “ULT“.
“Black Balloons” at number two on the tracklist already spoils the listener with some of the best moments this project has to offer, with a wholeheartedly gracious heat-of-the-summer number with tons, tons of retro palm tree-vibes and synths tucked on top. Discussing subjects as varied as “Sky is the limit, I could die in a minute / Got my mind in a skillet, suicide not the mission / See the vibe very timid, I’m timid and very sad / Translated my thoughts and feelings I pivot into the pad” as well as “And I just wanna be the rightest I could be / Show my son to think / so he could fly high as could be / Always show examples how they kill ni**as like me / Thinking as straight as me, but call me crazy“, the track finds Denzel and wingman GoldLink as sweetened and complaisant as never before. For sure a serious contender for jam of the summer season this year, for those flirting with the genre. Next up, as part of Act 1, is “Cash Maniac“, carrying forward the progression down the keys and synth-laden path, leveraging a delicious chorus sung by fellow Carol City artist Nyyjerya and injecting a little heavier trap-meets-funk groove and rhythm compared to the first two tracks, albeit keeping the overall BPMs in the slower average region.
The acid and visceral “Sumo” transitions the record into its middle Grey portion with enough grit and good intentions, although probably not enough to be worthy of a single-status promotion, before landing on a interstitial limbo surface that causes the album to lose a little bit of its sharply bright focus and melody it so well carried hitherto. While the short, pounding, and hypnotic “Super Saiyan Superman” might even make some sense as it is, with the exception of the deep, informative, and socially-conscious “Sirens” (“State of mind, brain is minimized, put me on the news, only criticize / Revolution will never be televised / For the enemy, they never empathize / And I never voted, never sugar coat it / With my finger itchin’ and my gun loaded“), all other cuts composing the Grey portion sound just like a more-of-the-same, quite safe, and easy territory for Denzel, both from a compositional and a delivery point of view. Sure, while “Switch It Up” and lead single “Clout Cobain” in particular are great at mastering sticky hooks and catchy sung refrains, unfortunately the overall impression from this batch of same-y tracks is that they all come across a little too slow, spacious, indulgent, and pretty repetitive. There isn’t a great deal to say about their lyrical impact either, and generally, while there is nothing wrong in slowing down the dynamic of a project and toying with laid-back moods for a while, they would’ve probably worked better and been more bearable as a single song somehow merging them three together, rather than fleshing these out across almost 11 combined minutes of running time.
Curry tries pretty hard to turn the run of play on its head for the final, gloomy, and unapologetic Black act, however he only achieves mixed results. Dark opening number “The Blackest Balloon” has nothing that would recall its Light cousin’s musical substance and impact, other than the similarity in the track title, as it carries the listener through pretty banal vocal melodies and an extremely stripped back beat production with occasional irritating sound effects coupled with very underwhelming ornaments. Fortunately, “Percs” is quite the hammering and stomping mood saviour and clearly spearheads TA13OO’s final act, even though it is filled with trendy and noteworthy features elsewhere (JPEGMAFIA and ZillaKami). Besides its sonic and delivery ferocity, lyrically “Percs” also aims at many of the overarching album topics, including especially the current state of rap and its self-destroying addiction to opioids: “With these dumbass ni**as, and they don’t say shit / Sound like “Durr, durr, durr”, you like “Oh, that’s lit” / With yo’ boof ass hits, “I’ma fuck yo’ bitch / I just popped two Xans,” Ni**a, fuck that shit!“. Penultimate song “Vengeance” sports the duo of collaborators listed above and shows signs of enhanced songwriting significance and compositional quality, otherwise not to be found so easily in the latter part of this LP. JPEGMAFIA’s verse and the song’s main refrain are probably the best moments on this very track, successfully marrying deep distortion with surgical rap flows, transitioning into a weird, flat, yet purposeful slow ballad-y outro towards 3:20, sampling a certain Mickey De Grand IV, according to genius.com.
TA13OO finishes with “Black Metal Terrorist”, a song that carried much excitement and anticipation among fans ever since the tracklist was first revealed, given its hype-building and namedropping dating back to Curry’s Imperial time. Truth be told, the cut turns out a little half-baked, partly because of its thin length and production arrays, but mainly because it shows clear and illuminating sparks of brilliant executing aggression, but somehow fails to deliver on the good promises. Flirting with the more experimental side of Denzel, the song results too all over the place and fails to express a distinct and unique identity, again a take away mainly to be ascribable to its short duration as well as the failed opportunity to legitimise specific parts or aesthetics due to its constant section twists. In many ways the album closer is actually a fair and decent representation of the project as a whole, showcasing flawless and pristine moments of high quality and lyrical self-consciousness alongside underwhelming and at times tacky beats that end up sounding a lot like fillers. It’s funny how there is a certain notion in the creative world that predicates the idea that some of the best art and music ever created stems from very obscure and dark places, both inside and outside the creator, yet here, Denzel just proved – either deliberately or not – that often times it’s the lighter side that produces the best material. Let’s embrace said proclamation based on recent evidence and let the bright side prevail, surely something not too difficult to achieve during summertime. There you have another taboo debunked.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2018, Loma Vista Recordings