The deep blue, neon-drenched portrait of a Florida evening strikes an evocative tone. Even those who have never been have likely forged their own mental image, borne from various depictions across pop culture. From Grand Theft AutoVice City to that infamous “Florida Man.” Not only that, it’s home of a vibrant and storied hip-hop scene with legends and newcomers representing alike. For Denzel Curry, who ultimately left his city and moved to Los Angeles, the allure of a homecoming could no longer be ignored.

With TA13OO having cemented Zel’s artistic vision as sharper than most, the rapper’s forward trajectory was left wide open. At times dark, defiant, and cerebral, TA13OO featured the exploration of several societal and psychological topics, many of which required closer listening to fully comprehend. Upon announcing ZUU in a spontaneous fashion, it became evident that this one would be a different beast altogether. From the minimalist artwork to the pair of leadoff singles in “Ricky” and “Speedboat,” it didn’t take long for the Floridian vibes to seep in once again.

Having had the chance to live with an advance copy of the project, I quickly came to realize that ZUU is indeed a love letter to the place that raised him. From the production to the cavalcade of exclusively local features, from Rick Ross to Sam Sneak, ZUU’s modus operandi differs widely from its predecessor. I had the pleasure of speaking with Denzel on the afternoon he announced the album. He spoke of finding inspiration in homesickness, reflecting wisely on those who came before him, a student of the game as well as teacher. Read our conversation below.

 

Image via HNHH

[This interview was conducted via FaceTime on Tuesday, May 21st. The day of the “Speedboat” launch and Zuu announcement]

HNHH: First off, congrats on the new album. I had a chance to hear the advance copy, and it’s another great one for your discography.

Denzel Curry: Thank you.

How are you feeling now that you have a chance to live with the project a little?

You know, now I’m just looking forward to making the next one a gem. I’ve been dropping gems for the longest. Now it’s time for that one to solidify my position or get me into a higher one, you feel me?

Definitely. Especially if you look at it with TA1300, which is highly conceptual, this one feels a little more spontaneous. Even the way you’re releasing it.

I just wanted to make something that was cohesive, that people can somewhat relate to. Something that’s not overly done. The concept kind of found us, instead of me trying to figure out what the concept is already. It’s basically a nod, an ode, a homage to where I’m from. 

“The concept found us.” Can you elaborate on that?

You know, after TA1300, I just kept recording. To keep that energy alive. Keep the momentum going. The majority of the tracks, I was talking about where I was from, where I grew up around. What I ended up seeing. I came up with like sixty names for one album, but one of them fit. But then Mark [Zel’s manager] came through and suggested calling it Zuu. Zuu is a reference to Carol City - we called it the zoo. It’s the concrete jungle. It’s always been like that. That’s why we chose to put the name Zuu on the house in Ricky.

When you were shaping together the project, did you end up guiding your producers into capturing a certain sound?

Nah, we just made that shit. Throughout the process, it was way easier than TA13OO, cause we were trusting each other’s intuition on how it should sound. We’ll try something, if we don’t like it, we delete it. That was the whole mentality and goal in finishing the tape. It was like alright, we’re going to shoot first, ask questions later. We didn’t go in with an opinion. If you go and formulate an opinion already, you ain’t gon’ get shit done. 

What was your writing process like this time around?

Oh, I freestyled the whole thing. Went from mind to mic. The pen and the pad is the middle-man if you already know what you’re going to say.

So when did you realize you had a new album on your hands?

Eventually, it turned into a tape. We were just going to put out a mixtape. Then the mixtape idea became like, let’s not it a mixtape let’s call it a project. And then the project was like, this is definitely an album, once it was finished and finalized. So the real final decision was deciding whether or not to make it an album or make it a mixtape. 

That’s cool. I’m always curious about this - what do you think draws a distinction between an album and a mixtape?

A mixtape doesn’t really have a - Zuu still has a theme around it. Mixtapes, they could be freestyles or original songs. That’s what I’d consider a mixtape. Rapping over somebody else's beats or your own beats, all mixed together on one tape. Then you have an album, it’s all original beats. It’s all songs. None of them are freestyles and whatnot - you think of the concept of a song and the concept of the tape altogether.

There’s one song I wanted to look at, “P.A.T.” You have a line: “I grew up in a city where most people have no goals, cold-blooded in a place that never snows.” A dope line, but not only that, it paints Florida as being somewhat bleak, but the album plays out like a very obvious love letter. Off the bat, I felt this cool sort of juxtaposition you touched on here. How do you find a balance in exploring both sides of where you came from? 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all bleak. Everything is built up like drug money, you get your killings, everything going to shit here and there. But at the same time, my city is beautiful. It has beautiful women, it has good food, it has the beaches. It has a lot of things we have access to, to get away from all that negativity. 

Absolutely.

Where I grew up, it wasn’t always negative. When I grew older, it became negative. It became super negative. I had to escape my own environment for my own survival. 

 

Image via HNHH

Did you return to Florida to record Zuu?

I actually recorded it in L.A! It’s just, I was feeling homesick. I felt so homesick, it came out naturally.

I wanted to ask about when you were growing up, discovering hip-hop music. Specifically the Florida scene. When did you become conscious of the fact that there was this whole subculture of hip-hop in your city?

I mean, shit, I wouldn’t have known it was in my city. I was only exposed to certain people that was doing the rap stuff. Trick, Trina, Ross of course. Gunplay. Ice Berg. Ball Greezy. Bizzle - God rest his soul. Uncle Luke, Uncle Al, JT Money, Poison Clan, 2 Live Crew. That was literally what was coming up in my city or what was already around. There wasn’t really too many new guys. When Mike DC told me about SpaceGhostPurpp, you got these guys Metro Zu coming out, and the whole CSPG - people like Lower Letter, that was like the whole subgenre before. We just kinda meshed things together. We just took that energy. Around that time, I discovered the subgenre. I didn’t know how big it was going to be. It just became that way. 

It must be fun to be working with Rick Ross again, developing a relationship with him. How did you guys first get in touch?

I forgot how me and Ross got in touch with each other. I don’t actually remember. I remember going to the club, it was Cafe Iguanas, and he was there. I think he invited us out, me and Ronny J, and Twelve’Len - my cousin was signed to Maybach Music at the time - and we were just there, you know? I remember going to London and then “Knotty Head” came out, and I sent him “Knotty Head” and he liked it. I said “would you want to get on the remix?” He said “Say no more, I’ma record it tonight.” He recorded it and sent it right back. Same with “Birds.” He did the same thing, but it took him a little longer. Five days, a week.

Speaking of the come up with Ronny J, can you take me back to the “ULT House” days? That place sounded like an essential part of the community. So many young artists who have come to be known today seem to have spent some time there, under your guidance in a way.

Some of it was due to my guidance. And some of it was due to Ronny J’s guidance as well. Not even guidance - we just allowed them to do their own thing in that house. As long as you don’t bring no fucked up energy in that house, we chillin’. When people come to that house you know what time it is. It was like one of those moments like: are these guys up to something? Are they cooking up drugs or whatever?  Well yeah, and no. Yes we were selling it, but it wasn’t drugs. It was music. We was just creating art. That was the art trap house.  

We were also throwing parties there. We took the idea of those parties and brought it somewhere else to get money out of it. Just come up with ideas on top of ideas to generate money while getting the community involved.

I watched your appearance on the Breakfast Club not long ago, and you said something that stood out to me. About, at least in a sense, the modern day artist. How a real artist can take some time off and drop something at their own pace. Their fans will come through and immediately be satisfied. While others constantly feel the need to drop, which can occasionally lead to oversaturation in the market. How do you find the right balance in today’s climate?

I don’t know man. I seen people oversaturate themselves, and it becomes repetitive over time. That’s why I don’t believe in oversaturating myself when it comes to my music. Yeah, this is the fastest I’ve ever made an album, but I’m not going to oversaturate myself, it’s only twelve tracks. Realistically, it’s not even twelve - more like ten, eight.

Absolutely. And your project has a lot of conceptual value. It might be a shorter album, but there’s still a lot to go through. Lyrically, it’s always interesting to read your bars. I think people will have a good time analyzing this one.

Yeah. I didn’t make it overly complex. TA1300 was overly complex. Too many complex bars within it. I just wanted to keep it simple and plain. Straight to the point. Just get down to business. Forget the dilly-dallying.

All things considered, are you excited about making the [album] announcement tonight? What’s going through your head right now?

I can’t wait till “Speedboat.” Till everybody listen to it, and the whole project, just get their whole take on it. How they feel about it. I already know how the reception’s going to be. My main point to the reception is this: you gon’ like it, you gon’ hate it, you gon’ talk about it. Long as you talk about it, it’s cool. But I’m not going to give you no wack shit on my end. If you think it’s wack, that’s your point of view. Me, this is my life at the moment. I feel really homesick, so I made this. 

Any predictions for the response in Florida? 

Oh, Florida finna go up, fo sho! When they see how I’m representing for this project, they gon’ be like “oh shiiiit. He came through. He from the crib-crib.” Usually I don’t rap like other Florida artists, as you can see. I don’t act like other Florida artists. But the whole majority of this project, I kept Florida artists on there. From PLAYTHATBOIZAY on “PAT,” to Kiddo Marv on “Wish.” From Sam Sneak being at the ending of “Shake 88,” to Twelve’len coming in to help out. The Bushy B interlude. Even Ice Berg talking shit. Ross! It’s all Dade County. It’s all Miami. Ya’ll seen what Broward’s doing already. So ya’ll need to see what Dade n***as is about. I wanted to make my version of The Chronic.

That’s a good goal to set! Look, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. Once again, congratulations on Zuu. Every time you release an album, I end up spending a lot of time with it. So thanks for another one! 

You’re welcome. Thank you!

ZUU ARRIVES TOMORROW, MAY 31ST.