By Jack M. Angelo, senior content producer
The current pool of young soundcloud rappers can be difficult to wade through. Less than five years ago, the underground aggressive distorted rap scene was powerful but sparse. In late 2013, of course, there were Bones and SpaceGhostPurrp, perhaps the Godfathers of the movement. Xavier Wulf and Pouya were just beginning, and the $UICIDEBOY$ had yet to link up. Of course this is an oversimplification of the scene at the time, but the point is that the movement was in its infancy.
Also around that time, however, an 18-year-old artist by the name of Denzel Curry released his first solo album, Nostalgic 64, featuring his signature rapid-fire flows and intricate rhyming patterns. Denzel had been rapping with his group the Raider Clan, put on by fellow Floridian SpaceGhostPurrp, who was then using the internet to push his music in a way not seen before in the industry. This is well before “SoundCloud Rapper” became a ubiquitous term.
Much has changed in those five years, but many of the underground artists making music in 2013 still remain firmly planted in the underground—if they have not faded into complete obscurity. Some remain due to their healthy cult followings, but an arguable lack of progression in their sound has led them to a somewhat stagnant state. This is not the case for Denzel Curry. Though absolutely a part of the South Florida wave that dominates much of hip-hop now, Denzel has successfully separated himself and made his own lane in the industry.
Curry’s next project, 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms in 2015 showed a different side to the artist, rapping from the perspective of different characters over darker and more experimental instrumentation. The project also included Curry’s biggest track, “Ultimate,” whose aggressive instrumental and vocal performance spawned one of the biggest memes of the year. This launched Denzel into a different sphere than his counterparts, becoming one of the best, and most overlooked, 2016 XXL Freshman in a year dominated by old-head hate toward acts like Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, and Kodak Black. Denzel followed up the enthusiasm for his aggressive banger tracks with an entire album essentially packed to the brim with them in Imperial, which spawned a few more fan favorites like “Gook” and “ULT,” named after his signature acronym, meaning to always strive to be the ultimate you.
After a short 2017 EP 13 to tie fans over and preview coming attractions, Denzel made his major label debut on Loma Vista records with Ta13oo, released in July of this year. This was Denzel’s first charting album, debuting at number 28 on Billboard. The project is split into three acts, Light, Grey, and Dark, each consisting of four or five songs that loosely relate to their section theme. The album’s sound grows darker and more tortured as it continues, making for a harrowing listen. The project featured Denzel’s best flows and rhyme schemes, while also demonstrating a refined ear for song writing and production, something Denzel’s music had been hinting at for the last five years. Ta13oo seems to serve as a culmination of Denzel’s incredible growth through his career, and sets him apart from others who began where he did but remained in the same place.
Curry is touring across the world supporting the project, and stopped in the DC area on October 11, 2018. The show was originally scheduled to be held at MilkBoy ArtHouse, a fairly new venue in College Park, Md. that holds approximately 500 people. When the show sold out faster than anticipated, the performance was moved to The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD, which holds approximately 2000 people. The Fillmore ended up with at least 1000 people, perhaps even closer to capacity, by the time the show began exactly at 8 p.m.
The opening act deserves its own introduction. Just as Denzel Curry helped usher in a new era of underground rap, the opener for the Ta13oo Tour, City Morgue, seems to be doing the same in 2018. Their mixing of rap and metal with vocals that are an aggressive hybrid of rapping, singing, and growling makes for a unique listening experience. This could mark the beginning of the rap-metal stylings that have been bubbling underground for a few years, with acts like City Morgue and scarlxrd drawing closer to the mainstream.
City Morgue is made up of two New York rappers, Zillakami and Sosmula, certainly two of the most interesting looking people in the rap game right now. Their music videos are some of the most ridiculous visuals put on Worldstar, including motorcycle fires, excessive amounts of pill-popping, and literal rocket launchers retrieved from under a mattress in a tiny New York City apartment. The two have incredible chemistry and make undeniably intense music. City Morgue released their first full-length project the night of the concert, City Morgue Vol 1: HELL OR HIGHWATER, and it serves as an indicative mission statement for the group’s signature sound. Their blend of rap and metal sounded new in the music landscape, but has had plenty of inspiration to draw from. City Morgue even played “Spit it Out,” a Slipknot song whose influence can be felt throughout the genre of hip-hop now.
Upon being asked if they were ready for City Morgue, the audience immediately formed what is likely the largest open circle pit that the Fillmore is geometrically capable of. When the first beat of the set dropped, the Fillmore condensed into a hundreds-deep mosh pit that re-formed for every song for the rest of the set. Zillakami and Sosmula also split the crowd in two at points to have them smash back together, with most of the crowd gladly obliging. City Morge brought the energy up to an incredible peak early in the show and kept the momentum throughout the rest of their 35-minute set.
Precisely at 9 p.m., the lights came back down and the music that begins Curry’s latest album filled the room. Curry then took the stage to his album’s mellow opener, and began the first act of his set, modeled after the first part of his album, Light. Mixing the album’s first third with a few songs from his earlier discography, the rest of the show followed the progression of Ta13oo’s acts, with Denzel leaving the stage for a moment to serve as a conclusion for each section and an introduction to the next, darker chapter.
Denzel’s energy and performance has clearly been well-crafted over these last few years, and he can match the energy of the best of them, as well as perfectly perform his intricate, breath-defying flows without misstep, flinging his recently dyed dreads around his head and screaming into the microphone to match the energy of his excitable fans in the crowd. One of the most notable parts of the performance came not from Denzel himself, but from visuals projected on a screen behind him throughout the show. These fully realized visuals serve as detailed backgrounds that often reflect the imagery found in the lyrics of the current song.
Denzel Curry is, as he explains in his song “Percs | PERCZ,” “a different race,” separating himself from his face-tattoo laden contemporaries. He is creating varied types of rap music, crafting the compete projects and songs that many of his “SoundCloud Rapper” brethren have failed to produce. If the venue change of the DC date of this tour proves anything, it is that Denzel Curry is more popular and ahead of his time than people might think.
These incredible photos from Denzel Curry’s performance at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD, on October 11, 2018, were taken by StayUp.News senior content producer and photographer Jack M. Angelo: