Underground rapper Denzel Curry continues to display his Miami origins across his first project of 2020, “UNLOCKED.” Featuring production from underground producer Kenny Beats across the EP, Curry brings his trademark hyper-aggressive bars and clever wordplay to Beats’ invigorating beats that continue to define his distinct voice in hip-hop.
Curry’s rise in rap began in 2015 with his hit song “Ultimate” becoming the background song to viral water bottle flipping videos. The heavy bass drop and powerful vocal delivery not only made the song perfect for events of epic proportions, like the water bottle flips, but also allowed Curry’s voice to shine in a saturated hip-hop environment.
After being named one of XXL’s Ten Rising Freshman in 2016 and featuring in a freestyle project with now superstar rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Lil Yachty and Kodak Black, Curry’s impressive wordplay and showmanship stood out among his peers. Through his impressive string of releases across recent years including “TA13OO” in 2018 and “ZUU” in 2019, Curry has solidified himself as one of the loudest voices in hip-hop out of South Florida.
While Curry appeared on Kenny Beats’ YouTube series “The Cave” in August 2019, the budding friendship between the two musicians was clear. The series sees Beats produce a beat in a few minutes and the rapper spits a freestyle, while showcasing their respective personalities. The chemistry between the two artists in the video shines in the tracks on “UNLOCKED” with each beat perfectly complementing Curry’s bars.
Although the EP runs just shy of 18 minutes, the energy in each track pervades the runtime. “Track 01” opens up with an old-timey radio interlude, with its final 20 seconds of the intro cut introduces a “hysterical” Denzel Curry and an industrial, glitch-hop inspired backing beat that establishes the mood of the album.
“Lay_Up.m4a” is one of the highlights of the track listing, with the song being one of the few instances of a full-fledged song with two verses and a central refrain. The first verse calls particular attention to the struggle of being Black in the U.S. with Curry’s bars, “I wanted to be Corleone but mixed with Cornelius / Embezzling millions / Have the crackers be shocked by my brilliance / By my appearance, it’s apparent that I am a (N—-r).” These lyrics are spread out across the album and showcase the dichotomy of Curry’s wordplay and political awareness.
Curry’s wordplay and references on “UNLOCKED” showcase his uncanny ability to find the perfect metaphor for every lyrical endeavor. Just across the second track “Take_it_Back_v2,”
Curry namedrops abolitionist Frederick Douglass, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and Georgia rapper Bubba Sparxxx. This wide array of references colors the track listing of “UNLOCKED” and creates an engaging soundscape across the EP, connecting the messaging of the album to wider themes across world history.
This wordplay can sometimes work against Curry. As almost every other bar features some sort of referential lyric, some of these references can occasionally fall flat, pulling the listener away from the entire experience. Lyrics like “Bars harder than the morning wood / Tryna pee up” on “So.Incredible.pkg” create a sore spot on the record that, unfortunately, appears too often across the bulk of the album.
Even though some of the bars do fall flat, the majority of the wordplay continues Curry’s rise as one of hip-hop’s premier lyricists, especially as almost every track runs less than three minutes, so the weak spots never linger in the listener’s mind. These short tracks allow each song to flow into one another seamlessly without allowing one singular sound to dominante the track listing.
Up-and-coming producer Kenny Beats’ production across the EP also stuns, with a fantastic combination of industrial and robotic sounds that know when to take the backseat to Curry. Beats’ place as a favorite producer among some of hip-hop’s more underground acts, like Rico Nasty, Vince Staples and Curry, have allowed him to tailor the sonic landscapes of their projects to each artist’s particular whims, from the industrial with Curry to west-coast sounds with Staples.
The EP was released alongside an animated short film featuring music videos for every track on the album, claymation and animated forms of both Beats and Curry. This visual accompaniment to the album increases the production value and world building each artist attempts to achieve across his discography.
Curry continues to showcase why he is seen as one of hip-hop’s most powerful underground voices, backed by production from Kenny Beats. Although “UNLOCKED” isn’t as artistically ambitious as his 2018 album “TA13OO,” the EP serves as the perfect bridge between artistic epochs for Curry in preparation for upcoming, more ambitious releases.