Weight of the World
For years, Denzel Curry has been battling demons and the critics. He hopes to exorcise both with his new album, Melt My Eyez See Your Future.
Interview: C Vernon Coleman II
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Yesterday’s Denzel Curry is not today’s Denzel Curry. It’s been nearly 10 years since the 27-year-old Miami rhymer broke into the rap industry with his debut album, Nostalgic 64, in 2013. Since then, Denzel has released three mixtapes, two EPs and five albums including 2016’s Imperial, 2018’s TA1300 and 2019’s ZUU, plus 2020’s collabo project Unlocked with Kenny Beats. He’s proven to be one of the SoundCloud era’s most talented MCs by building a legion of fans and respect with his dark content but earning more critical acclaim than commercial success.
Life’s script hasn’t been picture-perfect for Denzel. The first act of his rap career featured him parting ways with SpaceGhostPurrp and exiting Raider Klan the year Denzel released his debut album, Nostalgic 64. Then, there was the doubt. Doubt from the critics that caused him to confess in November of 2020 that he hated rapping. Coincidentally, this was a month before he scored his first platinum plaque for the 2018 single “Clout Cobain.”
All of this is the backdrop for his refreshing new LP, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, an LP unlike any of Denzel’s previous offerings. In the works for three years, the project was created viscerally amid a pandemic, and while the established artist was working deeply to better his mind, body, and soul through therapy and martial arts. He was inspired by the energy of the Soulquarian movement heading into each session. The result, which dropped this past March, is a diverse soundtrack—featuring J.I.D, 6lack, Rico Nasty, T-Pain and more—of honest introspection highlighted by the duality of the spearheading single “Walkin,” produced by Kal Banx. The rage has been quelled via 1990’s-era beat breaks, samples and instrumentation from Boi-1da, Thundercat, Kenny Beats and Dot Da Genius, among others. Less rah and more rhythms. More The Roots than Denny Cascade. Growth and development. Denzel will showcase it all on the Melt My Eyez USA 2022 Tour this spring.
In late February, XXL linked up with Denzel Curry via Zoom and discussed enduring a decade in rap, nurturing his mental health, regaining the fire for rapping, creating his colorful new album and being the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive.”
XXL: It’s been over a decade since you released your first mixtape and next year it will be 10 years since you released your first album. How does it feel to be a veteran in the hip-hop game now?
Denzel Curry: I really don’t feel like a veteran even though I been doing this for over 10 years. I just thought of it as me doing 10 years worth of work so I could get somewhat noticed. And I still got work to do. Ultimately, I just feel good about it. That I’m able to do something I love every day.
How have you seen hip-hop change over the last 10 years, and do you like the direction it’s going?
Well, here’s the thing. I watched hip-hop go from everybody was doing super ’90s stuff, back in 2013. Everybody was back in the ’90s, it felt like the ’90s all over again. Then everybody wanted to be trap. Then everybody wanted to be sad. I’m watching all that stuff evolve over time. The way that hip-hop is going right now, it feels like a hybrid. But you gotta remember, hip-hop is always gonna change. That’s something I even had to realize doing it.
A couple of years ago on Twitter, you said you hated rapping and seemed to have lost your joy for it. What changed for you and brought that fire back?
It was just the doubt that really brought the fire back for me. The reason why I said I hated rapping is because I felt like I wasn’t being heard. I was always being pushed to the side for the new artist or someone that they say is quote-un-quote better than me.
I just felt like I couldn’t win. But once I figured out, I’m doing this for me and to make me feel good and whoever feel it, that’s what I should go with if they mess with it. That’s what brought the fire back.
You got your first platinum plaque in 2020 for the record “Clout Cobain.” What did that do for you? Was that the validation you were looking for?
Yes, it showed that I wasn’t doing this for no reason. I just wanna be able to work towards that goal again. More platinum plaques and more gold plaques. Doing it the way I see fit. Not having to follow a formula. That’s what keeps me going, man.
With your new album, you seem to be entering a new chapter in your career. What brought that about?
I just wanted to make an album that was super colorful. Nostalgic 64 was very colorful. Then my life kinda got dark because my brother passed away and I didn’t have a chance to grieve. I was just going through so many things. Dealing with my brother’s death, dealing with Raider Klan, me and SpaceGhostPurrp going through it. And everybody doubting me around that time. That’s why my projects started to become dark. Past dramas that I never dealt with before and questions I never got asked before. That type of stuff. So, when it comes down to this project, it’s me really flourishing and coming into my own. Really sitting down and dissecting my emotions piece by piece with a therapist, with martial arts, with all the stuff that was going on when I was writing this album.
Melt My Eyez See Your Future is an interesting title. Can you explain the meaning behind it?
At first, when I did it, I thought it was something that sounded cool. The reason why I chose a long-ass title like that is ’cause you hear something like that with a long-ass title it gotta be a good-ass album. It gotta have a good story like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, To Pimp a Butterfly, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
I didn’t find a meaning until I started working on the album. At first it was just about weirdness and being aware. But as I kept diving into the album, I’m giving pieces of myself as I’m going along creating it. It was basically melting the perception of what you thought Denzel Curry was in the first place. Getting to see something different than what you expected to see.
There’s a real balance on the album. Was that a conscious effort on your part?
The Soulquarian stuff was just the influence. When I was creating this, whatever I was feeling that day—good, bad, angry, sad, happy—that’s what you were going to get. Even the happier songs, like “Troubles” for instance. That song sounds happy. But if you really dissect it, it’s not a really happy song. On the chorus, I say, “I got some troubles that these drugs can’t fix.” I’m pretty sure that other people got problems that drugs cannot fix either.
The conscious decision to have a variety of emotions on these songs, they all came purely out of what I was feeling that day. If I felt something during the week, I was gonna go to the studio and capture it and record it. That’s how I was living.
On “Walkin,” you say, “Went through a lot of shit in the last year, then I said, ‘Fuck it, I’ma handle my business.’” What helped you out of that rut?
Therapy. I made “Walkin” in 2021. We went through a lot of shit in 2020, but I was still handling baggage from 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016 that I had to dissect for myself. In order for me to be on the good foot and get on track, I had to dissect everything from way back that I didn’t even have a chance to sit down and think about.
You also filmed the video for “Walkin” in Peru. What was that experience like for you? Filming a video in a different country?
It was a humbling experience. I never been to South America before. Just being there, even though it looked like that, for an American, it’s humbling to us. ’Cause we’re somewhat privileged over here. Damn near spoiled. People over there, they work hard. It’s a whole different game. Even when I got back to Lima, we went to the desert and stuff, people seemed genuinely happy, you know? It seems like everything is good.
Word of advice, stay away from the ceviche. It took out both of my managers, my cameraman, and the guy from the label all at once. That experience in Peru, it was funny. It was very adventurous.
Being in the jungle, the Amazon, it was like something that you see in Indiana Jones. We had to rope climb to certain places to get certain shots. It was more of an adventure than the actual video. It was just an experience.
The martial arts style of Muay Thai has been a passion of yours for the past few years. How did you first get into that and how do you feel it has helped you in both mental and physical ways?
I got into Muay Thai when I was 22 because I stopped smoking weed and it helped me curb my ego. Muay Thai with the combination of therapy, both of them were showing me to curb my ego in two different ways. Therapy will hold a mirror up so I can see me and all my shitty actions. And telling me one day you’re going to end up paying for it. As opposed to Muay Thai, which is telling me the exact same thing my therapist was telling me, but if you make one shitty move in Muay Thai, you get your ass whooped.
There were times I felt like I broke my ribs, because I was sparring too hard. I got dropped with a liver shot for the first time. That shit killed me. I got hit so hard it felt like I got stabbed. Ultimately, it made me a better person. It made me a better martial artist as well. But, I can’t even do it ’cause I got the ACL surgery.
Did that come from Muay Thai?
No. It didn’t come from none of the stuff that was Muay Thai, kickboxing-related. It was me, playing like a jackass-related.
You have recently gotten into acting, and made appearances on programs like The Choe Show and Dave. Is acting something you would like to explore further?
I definitely want to explore acting a little bit more because I came off natural. I remember Joey Bada$$ called me and he was just saying, “Bro, I seen you on Dave.” He’s on Power and all that shit. I love when Joey Bada$$ acts. He was letting me know that I can act. A lot of people.
I get insecure with that, ’cause there’s already a Denzel that’s killing it. So, I know if I act that
I have to kill it. Be Denzel Washington level. That guy’s a beast. I can’t be the Denzel that lacks. I have to be just as good as Denzel.
You recently referred to your latest hairstyle as your crown of wisdom. In what ways do you feel like you are wiser now?
For the past two years of just growing, I understand responsibility. Taking accountability for my actions as a person. Also, just being able to take the good with the bad. Knowing how to adapt to every situation. Just being able to be somewhat different. Cutting off things that’s no longer good for me. I had to grow, and I feel like me growing my hair back, I wanted to interlock all that wisdom that I learned for the past few years in it. It’s like Bob Marley said: “This is my identity.” So, I want people to recognize me as a whole.
Anything you want to add?
Melt My Eyez See Your Future, be sure to tune in as soon as it drop. Just look out for me. Look out for any of the next projects that’s ’bout to come out. I’m ’bout to shake the whole game up. I don’t care what anybody got to say, bro. I’m the best rapper alive. Point blank, period.
Read the cover story with Playboi Carti and check out the other interviews in the magazine with Fivio Foreign, Latto, DaBaby, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J, Joey Bada$$, Hit-Boy, RZA, Big K.R.I.T., Saba, Morray, Nardo Wick, Kali, Sleepy Hallow, SSGKobe, ATL Jacob, Pink Sweat$, Saucy Santana, Jason Lee, Angie Randisi and Colby Turner in the new issue of XXL magazine, which is on newsstands now and in XXL’s online shop.