Denzel Curry Discusses “Imperial”

It’s been a hell of a year for Denzel Curry. Having burst through the ranks of rap talent to emerge with groundbreaking mixtapes King Remembered and King of the Mischievous South the Floridan poet-turned-rapper grabbed the attention of peers and contemporaries, perhaps most notably Rick Ross, who remixed the track “Knotty Head” from his new album Imperial.

Curry is a force to be reckoned with, he’s ambitious yet humble, driven yet patient and has been recognized as part of XXL’s “Class of 2016”.

During this year’s FYF festival ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Denzel Curry for an open discussion on his new album, the momentum behind his new project, how the murder of his brother shaped his approach to life and art, and the message he wants to take to his fans. 

Christopher Friedmann: We’re here at FYF – you’ve been living with your second album Imperial out with the public since March – which has been getting incredible praise in the press. Clearly you’ve been ambitious from an early age – but how does it feel on a day like today; one where it all appears to be coming together?

Denzel Curry: It just came together, but today is just a normal day for me, I just feel like everything came together and today is a normal day. Meeting all the fans and being at a festival where there’s a bunch of big names is always a blessing, because where I come from, in Florida, all just the little names and there’s not too much going on to what is happening now takes hard work, believe me! But I’ve been like that since I can remember, I don’t really give up easy, I like challenges. I love challenging myself.

CF: It’s been said that ‘hip hop is no country for old men’, but can you reference some of the artists that shaped your approach when you stepped away from writing poetry and into the rap battles in your Florida hometown?

DC: Shoot man! I remember, I used to like Nas’s early work – early days, I liked Lupe Fiasco when he first came out with “Kick Push”, and I remember eventually buying Food and Liquor, and I ended up purchasing the full album. 

When I got into seventh grade I remember listening to Big L, “Devils Song”, when I was younger I got into RA Rugged Man – which shaped what I do, because I was in high school and it was crazy because I’d never heard anyone rap like that, ever. I heard all this crazy stuff, and to hear someone in our generation do it was crazy – I was like “Whoah, what’s going on?I This is Crazy!” And I didn’t know how to accept it at first but when I saw what they could do it, and what they were actually doing, I was thinking “Man – they’re speaking about stuff that I would speak about”.

Eventually I got into Three 6 Mafia, and that’s what really shaped it, I mean REALLY shaped it, especially when I heard DJ Paul, and Juicy J. I’m talking about the fully fledged Lord Infamous, Koopsta Nicca and Gangster Boo – that’s what shaped it for me. Skinny Pimp, Tommy Wright, It just grew on me and I tried to find a way of blending both worlds of the lyrical aspect and the rapping style.

CF: You’ve recently been tagged by XXL in the ‘Freshman Class of 2016’. It’s fair to say that talent and hard work go into that accomplishment – but what obstacles do you perceive as a young artist – and how do you negotiate them?

DC: Being better than my last verse is always an obstacle as an artist. No matter who you are being better than your last project is the thing, because your first project could be the dopest one, and again when you try to make a second project your mindset is to make it like the first project which henceforth will created a watered down project, I’m not into that – I’m into experimenting. 

I want to make new stuff, and that’s how a lot of things came about – Ultimate was an experiment… and that was something that had to be better than the first thing I laid down. I was just working like that ever since, y’know. I got lucky with “Threats”, I got lucky with Nostalgic… but other stuff didn’t get as lucky, and Imperial happened and it was pandemonium. 

Everything I did on “Ultimate” was defined by the energy… everything I did was the same energy, I figured out how to write songs for real – that’s what kept me going. I just put my passion and emotion behind it, that’s how it came, (the obstacles are) the daily struggle, and challenges of getting better and better, myself.

CF: Your first release was a mixtape – King Remembered – which entered the world at a time when news of Trayvon Martin was on TV every night…

DC: …King Remember came out even before Trayvon Martin was murdered, I remember it. When Trayvon Martin got murdered it was right after King of the Mischievous South… and Strictly for My R.V.I.D.X.R.Z came out right after Trayvon’s death. It was close…

CF: Trayvon went to the same high school as you…

DC: He did, but when I got there he was already gone to another school, and it was when he was going to another school that’s when the whole George Zimmerman thing happened. But everybody in Carol City School knew Trayvon. I’m tight with two of his homeboys, I don’t really speak to ‘em as much – the last time I saw Nick, which is one of Trayvon’s real close friends, the last time I saw him was earlier this year. That was the last time I seen him, back in South Miami.

CF: So between that mixtape, the new album, and the political landscape that surrounds us now, how do you feel each of those things inform your worldview?

DC: I mean, I’ll just say it… I’ll just tell ‘em “It’s a battle between right and wrong” Y’know, I’m not a politician, I’m not a political rapper, I’m not a political leader, I’m not anything of the sort. When I speak on politics or anything I don’t consume myself with that, even when someone asked me “Who are you voting for?” I said “NOBODY” (smiles) Cos I don’t f**** with anyone, I don’t f**** with Hiliary, I don’t f**** with Trump. As far as I’m concerned, there’s two lesser evils, I don’t give a f*** about that s***. I just care about my people and I’m letting them know that this s*** happens every day, and you have to make it out to survive. That’s what I had to do.

My brother was killed by police. There is no justice, there is no reparation, nothing like that. There is no revolution, so that’s the day I figured out that the government does not give a f*** and I just say what’s real. I don’t say that I’m trying to be a political rapper at all. I’m not trying to be this or trying to be that, or anything of the sort because I’m very ignorant to what’s really happening right now. The moment I liberate myself and figure out what’s really going on, I die, or they’ll discredit my information. I’ll get black balled, and exiled. As soon as I work it out… I’ll die.

CF: It’s difficult, so let’s get back to the music, which is something we can control… You worked with Rick Ross on “Knotty Head” – how did that collaboration come about; who knocked on whose door first?

DC: Well, Ross wanted to meet me. So we met at Cafe Iguana, we met there. We talked over the phone a couple of days prior, and then we ended up meeting, and after the meeting I went overseas, I went to Europe. 

When I was in London “Knotty Head” came out, it was February 17th – the day after my birthday – and I sent it to him and I said “Listen to it” and he listened and was like “I want to mess with this!” and I said “I want you on the remix” so he came back with “Say no more, I’ll have the verse done by tonight and I”ll send it to you” and he did; he sent it to me the very next day!

Me and him, we’re always talking and he says “I’ve never met anyone with the same thirst for power as me” and I’m like “We’re both Aquarians, bro!” We’re a lot alike in a sense, but he’s a January Aquarius and I’m a February Aquarius. Aquarius, nonetheless! Some things are relatable, like certain characteristics between me and him.

CF: When working with such a formidable figure, artists are sometimes surprised by something small, or a detail in a mannerism that an icon will show when working – did Rick Ross the person differ to your expectations we may have of Rick Ross the legend?

DC: Nah man! He’s just Rick Ross! That boy’s real, you feel me? He’s cool, he’s just a cool dude, he’s awesome. Nothing more, nothing less – he is who is is and I respect him, and he respects me as a leader – that’s how we do it, y’know?

CF: You also worked with Joey Bada$$ on “Zenith”…

DC: Now, that boy is FAMILY! (Laughs) Joey Bada$$ is family!

CF: What does he bring to a track that made you send the invitation?

DC: Man, Joey Bada$$, he’s an Aquarius too! That’s another thing; we just clicked. The first time we met, I think it was 2012 and this was when Steeze was alive and we have a pictures of me, him CJ Fly and Yung Simmie, and over time we got to see each other more and more. 

We got to go on tour together and we were like brothers. He was cool, I could see that boy like my cousin. He’s been down ever since, minus the music, other than that I mess with him as a person. He doesn’t even need to… I don’t give a damn if we never make another song again, I just respect him! And I know he respects me and that’s family, brothers!

When I wanted him on a track it’s because we’d already built the relationship, already a chemistry between me and Joey, and we’re both like leaders within our own region. We respect each other, and we’re tying to build more, and technically I’m part of Beats Coast because I went on tour with Underachievers first, then I went on tour with Joey, and I’m always cool with Flatbush (Zombies), and there’s always love – that’s what it is.

CF: Your rhymes are filled with personal perspectives that have a great deal of weight behind them. How much editing goes into a lyric before it’s shared – can you explain a little of your writing process?

DM: I try to make sure that I say the right things. I make sure that I just don’t give ‘em “Rappedy, rappedy, rap-rap-rap…. Rappedy, rappedy, rap-rap-rap” I try and think “What are you saying”? I want to give them something, I want to give them a vision, I want to give them a message, I want to give them something that has substance. I want to give them something tangible, something that they’ll be able to take with them and teach to their kids. You don’t have much stuff like that these days, you had a lot of it back in the old days, but not so much today.

CF: Your videos – all of ‘em – are just class – can you name a shoot that was the most fun – or which finished video was closest to the vision you had going into the shoot?

DC: I think “Ultimate” When I first did the teaser video and I shot it with this dude named Rick and I told him “I want this to look like Terminator 2” because when I recorded the song, that’s all I was thinking about, Terminator 2; full, heavy metal… and that’s what sparked everything. And it was really fun to shoot.

CF: Since those first mixtapes you’ve been flat-out busy with live shows, and incredibly prolific in recording. Has there been one event or moment that resonates on a more human level?

DM: I remember being in St. Petersburgh, Florida. And it was this girl… her boyfriend came to a show, a couple of years ago, and then she came to the show and she told me what happened to her boyfriend. Her boyfriend got murdered and it was like very… it hit me, because she lost someone very close to her, and I felt it because I’d lost someone very close to me, I said before; I lost my brother, hands to taser… and she lost her boyfriend to a gun, point blank, hands over his head. It just resonated because there’s good and there’s evil and there’s ways to get over death.

That’s the most human interaction I’ve had because of music – that always sticks with me, I always remember that girl. Not only was that her boyfriend, that was one of my fans, I actually care about my fans and my supporters. A fan may turn on you in an instant but she was a supporter, and that was the most human I’ve felt. Once I get off that stage I’m back human, when I’m on that stage they consider me a diamond. I’m not any of that, I may feel like that but I’m not any of that.

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