INTERVIEW: Hours before his homecoming performance in Miami against J.I.D for Red Bull's Zeltron Worldwide, Denzel Curry details his new performance series, recognition, and the importance of unifying the hip-hop community.
Before the XXXTENTACIONs (RIP), Smokepurpps, and Lil Pumps of the world emerged there was the Raider Klan -- one of the most pivotal hip-hop collective in the last decade. The South Florida movement became defined by the DIY approach and punk-rock spirit with odes to Memphis and Houston. Cloud rap became the stepping stone for what would later be known as SoundCloud rap. As Raider Klan disbanded, it was the young buck of the group, Denzel Curry, who continued to fulfill his potential. With the abrasiveness of metal and punk rock combined and his high-level technical abilities launched a small, dedicated following which, over the years, has expanded to a global scale.
Denzel stands on his own two feet these days. The success of TA13OO and it’s follow-up Zuu marked his official grand entrance into the game, although he’s been in it for years. His recent success, however, has helped him push his own creative boundaries. For example, the recent release of UNLOCKED with Kenny Beats provided more than just a project, arriving alongside an accompanying short film with anime-style animations.
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Denzel’s affinity for wrestling, dancehall soundclashes, and appreciationfor grime’s Lord Of The Mic series all come together for Red Bull Zeltron Worldwide series where he goes head-to-head against another high-caliber rapper of his choosing. With Flatbush Zombies as the inaugural challengers, followed by Joey Bada$$, Denzel Curry returned back to his hometown of Miami for the latest installment against J.I.D, who he describes as “one of the best lyricists of all time, honestly.” The significance behind Zeltron Worldwide, however, goes deeper than pushing his own creative boundaries. It’s about creating a space for rappers -- one where bars preside over bullshit and hopefully beyond his own battles, an event that can unify rappers at a time where it feels like we’re losing members of the community at a rapid pace.
“I’m creating a place where we might -- there’s a community of us. We may not like each other but let’s take it to our advantage, man,” Denzel explained about the bigger picture of Zeltron Worldwide. “I just feel like we need to be unified and together on some real sh*t because it’s only us as artists, we share each other’s struggles, you know?”
Hours before his homecoming performance in Miami against J.I.D for Red Bull's Zeltron Worldwide, he jumped on a quick call with HNHH to discuss the series, his complicated relationship with Miami these days, and why he feels like he’s gone from underrated to underappreciated.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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Bringing Zeltron back to your hometown, in Miami, what’s your relationship with the city like these days in comparison to when you dropped Zuu? I know you were recording in L.A. around then.
I don’t know, I haven’t performed here in a long time, so I don’t know what my relationship is with the city at this point. Last time I came here and performed at Rolling Loud, that sh*t was sh*tty. Not my performance but the crowd was wack as f*ck.
Do you find performances are different since you moved away from Miami?
Yeah. I don’t know how to describe it. I was gone for such a long time. When I do stuff in the city, it’s fine.
That’s dope. I know you’re performing with JID tonight, I was wondering what the importance of bringing J.I.D to Miami was as opposed to having him at the Atlanta show?
It’s cool. Originally I wanted J.I.D to defend his home turf. I wanted him to defend Atlanta. We was on tour at the time and Joey Bada$$ was willing to be a participant in the Zeltron Worldwide, so we ended up battling -- me and Joey -- and I was gonna catch J.I.D on the rebound. He was like, “I promise I got you on the next round.” I was like “alright cool” and it ended up happening.
That’s dope. As you guys step into the ring, what aspect of JID’s artistry do you find yourself appreciating more when you’re in a ring with him as opposed to being in the studio or something?
First of all, we’re both from the South. Secondly, we’re both technical. Third, we can both get with each other on every level, you know? Only difference is our age. He’s older than me. J.I.D is one of the best lyricists of all time, honestly.
For yourself, you’re kind of like a young OG in your own right, you’ve been at it for a while. In my opinion, you’ve had a larger influence on this generation of music than a lot of people give you credit for --
I don’t get no credit. They’ll bypass my sh*t in an instant. If you want the real Denzel talkin’, this is him. So, nobody give me f*ckin credit. Every time I put out some sh*t, I bust my ass for it. For years dropping nothing but quality and mothafuckas keep going and saying, “oh you’re so underrated.” Like now it’s getting from underrated to underappreciated. Now, It’s getting to the point where it’s like, ‘bruh, I don’t want to do this sh*t no more if It’s just going to fall on deaf ears.’ I don’t get the credit I deserve, for real. I rather do creative shit like more of this Zeltron stuff than just being a rapper.
Definitely. Going into these events, I remember watching your RapGenius with Flatbush Zombies and you mentioned it’s important for you to unify the game so at a point right now where it feels like we’re losing a lot of members of the community, can you tell me why it’s significant for you to have these opportunities to create a unique experience for your fans and for the rap game as a whole?
I’m creating a place where we might -- there’s a community of us. We may not like each other but let’s take it to our advantage, man. It’s like, white people are just throwing money at us [laughs] you know what I’m sayin’? And we f*ck ourselves up by trying each other and doing stupid sh*t just for the Gram, flexin’, whatever the case may be. I’m just like, ‘they’re throwing money at us, they’re giving away money to us,’ and we -- how we use it? We’re going to jail, we’re doing all types of dumb sh*t. I just feel like we need to be unified and together on some real sh*t because it’s only us as artists, we share each other’s struggles, you know?
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Is that the type of conversation you have with the artists you invite to do these events with you?
Yeah, I talk to a lot of artists about it. There’s a lack of realness. If I tell somebody like, “Hey bro, I wanna battle you” and we do this sh*t for fun. It’s a friendly competition. It’s fun, it’s not judgemental. We don’t let nobody be like, “oh the winner is this or that” or let politics get into play, we just do it because we like to. I just want to end conflict. Say, for instance, Rich the Kid and Lil Uzi Vert have had problems with each other, right? If this was a factor in that, if this was playing a role in that, right? They’ll both be getting money and they won’t have to deal with each other. And they get to showcase who’s better than who, for real, for real. Instead of like, pulling up, and all this shit over some words. If you gon’ go over it over words, you can battle over words. If a n***a ain’t said, ‘go suck yuh mudda’ or some shit like that, then, n***a, let that shit go, bruh. And if it is, put your money where mic is, you know what I’m sayin’?
Nah, for sure. Do you feel like as a fan of the game, that aspect of battle rap has been missing, like it’s been misconstrued with like personal sh*t?
Yes cause me and Daylyt, we’re homies. We talk about this sh*t all the time. He loves the Zeltron stuff and what we do with the Zeltron sh*t. He wanted to come, he was like, “I like how you bring the battle aspect but on your terms." Where it’s like music against music because that’s how soundclashes go, you know? Like my manager is Jamaican and I’m very familiar with soundclashes just by living down here in South Florida, so you gotta make that sh*t be known. And I’m a big fan of Lord Of The Mics and stuff. So all that stuff serves as inspiration. Battle culture is good. Like, even Skepta used to clash, you know?
I know you’ve done joints with AJ Tracey in the past. Having that connection with the UK, what're the chances of you taking the Zeltron Worldwide to the UK and doing clashes on their turf or having artists back on your turf?
You know, me and JME just talked about that. We need to get that sh*t crackin’ ‘cause he likes what I’m doing with it. He likes how it’s going down. They seen the first one, me vs. the Flatbush Zombies and they were like, “yo, damn, we be doing this sh*t too.” You know, they like the originators of that, you know what I’m saying? And he was just like, ‘Damn, if we came over there and battled them like how A$AP Mob did or Taylor Gang’ -- it would actually, like, it’ll be worth it.