It’s easy to break the hip-hop game into a dichotomy. Old and young. An ancient narrative, peddled by generations long before our own. No doubt, the old idiom “back in my day” is familiar to many; expected roles of teacher and student inherently fall into place. Yet today, the youth seem to have a larger voice than ever before. For the first time in history, platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and SoundCloud allow young people to connect, often anonymously, over shared interests. The benefits are numerous, especially for young creators seeking validation and encouragement. Yet with a platform driven around anonymity, pitfalls are bound to occur.

By now, it’s hard to avoid the term “clout,” and by association, those who chase it. In fact, many young rappers have taken to throwing around the term as an insult, as if they themselves have not been guilty of online debauchery; it’s not uncommon to see modern day rap-beefs transpire exclusively on Instagram, with not a punchline to be heard. Chains are purchased and shown off, further enticing would-be miscreants to snatch them. In clout we trust. Facial tattoos. Challenges. General foreclosure of one’s soul. All options must be considered.

Perhaps that’s what drove Florida rapper Denzel Curry to come forward with “Clout Cobain,” the latest single off his upcoming album Ta13oo.

Denzel Curry - "Clout Cobain"

“I don’t even know what’s real,” he laments, in the track’s opening verse. While the sentiment may feel shallow on its own, in the context of “Cobain,” it carries a tragic weight. Consider the accompanying visual, where a Juggalo-esque Curry points at a sea of an adoring fans, oblivious to what they’ve come to champion. “Oh, why you wanna take my soul?” raps Denzel. “I'm yelling out "hell no!" The idea of selling one’s soul to the industry is hardly new territory, yet to hear it come from a twenty-three year old rapper proves how self-aware Denzel really is.

In many ways, “Clout Cobain” plays out like a companion piece to previous Ta13oo single “Percs.” Ostensibly, a single about drugs feels like a glamorization; after all, we’ve come to accept many young artists as open drug abusers, even after the sudden overdose of Lil Peep. In fact, the entirety of the track seems to highlight qualities young hip-hop audiences are perceived to love.  “I should rap about some lean and my diamond cuts, get suburban white kids to want to hang with us,” spits Denzel, acknowledging, with an admittedly critical eye, the disconnect between creator and consumer. It all ties into “Clout Cobain,” where Denzel stands as a ringmaster amidst a sea of zoned-out zealots.

Still, it doesn’t feel like Denzel is looking for war. Few would be bold enough to come for him, as he stands tall as one of the game’s deadliest rappers. Even his live set puts people to shame, bringing all the energy of a Lil Pump or 6ix9ine show, with ninety-five percent less backing track. Nor does his proclamation feel spurred by envy; he’s already amassed a loyal fanbase, and remains respected by old and new listeners alike. For the most part, what might have played out like, well, an attempt at clout-chasing feels instead like the world-weary analysis of an observer, wise beyond his years.

Denzel Curry - "Percs"

True, “Percs” is scathing in its delivery. Yet recall the fact that Denzel’s Ta13oo is carefully structured with an attention often lost on the young generation. A three-act play of sorts, with expectations for a clear thematic anchor. The ambition is admirable, and so far, the music indicates Denzel’s strongest project to date. In a clever stroke, however, Denzel has made masterful use of current production aesthetics, without “selling his soul” in the process. To elaborate, his ear has stayed in touch with musical trends, yet his attention to detail is seldom seen among his contemporaries. As a result, the man has been able to craft a sonic aesthetic uniquely suited to his talents, and thus, has earned the attention of the youth - as fleeting as it may sometimes be. And they’ll stay loyal - trust built from Nostalgia 64 and Imperial will see to that. Even after “Percs” and “Clout Cobain” deconstruct their culture.

Denzel is not preaching from a pulpit. He’s right there in the trenches. This isn’t a young man peddling a misguided sense of elitism, spitting exclusively over sample-based beats and decrying up-and-comers. While he’s worked with lyricists like GoldLink and J.I.D, he’s also proven equally comfortable over the droning distortion of Ronny J. Few of his age-class can boast such versatility; never will Denzel sacrifice technically sound qualities like lyricism or flow, in order to be carried by a “hot beat.”  In that regard, it’s entirely possible that Denzel is the anchor between the aforementioned dichotomy, appealing to older and younger listeners.

Remember, Denzel is only twenty-three years old. That hasn’t kept him from leading by example.

Keep watch for TA13OO, dropping in three installments on July 25th-27th.