Denzel Curry is a man of many tricks. The 24-year-old rapper from Carol City, Florida has developed from his SoundCloud beginnings and is currently scratching the surface of world-renowned stardom. Since 2013, the year Denzel released Nostalgic 64, his critically acclaimed debut album, the heat around his name has only grown hotter.
As the buzz surrounding his work and profile has increased, however, so too have expectations. Hip-hop is a never-ending competition of show and prove, and with the release of his fourth album, ZUU, the XXL Freshman alumnus must surpass the acclaim and sales for last year’s well-received release TA13OO.
Artists take shorter breaks between projects now—the modernized release pace differs from that of the 1990s and early 2000s—but fans expectations for the delivery of something special hasn’t changed. If Denzel Curry’s goal is to reach a fever pitch summer, ZUU must raise the current temperature of rap.
May is ending, June is a calendar flip away, who will make it to August?
In usual 1-Listen album review fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
The 31st is my birthday so make this special, Denzel. A voice said something quickly at the beginning; I'm not sure what. The production build-up feels dark, but this singing is cotton candy sweet. I'm loving the vocals. The production is as heavy as Rick Ross when he was still the literal biggest boss in rap. “Carol City raise me.” I like how South Florida rappers are so homebound; they never let you forget. Rarely does the intro feel like a banger, but Denzel came out the gate with a monster truck.
I like the seamless transition. The bass is rattling. Oh yeah, we have a towel-spinner with “RICKY.” Swift flows with a punchy beat, a nice right hook after the hard-hitting intro. I love when rappers tell us what their parents taught them; hearing him talk about his mom and dad gives this song a layer of relatability. I'm LOVING this last verse. Denzel is a rapper who records with the energy of a live performance; this is the energy of a man on stage. I now need to see him live.
3. “WISH” ft. Kiddo Marv
The first two records were under two-minutes; short but satisfying. “WISH” appears to be longer, and I'm already loving how he’s filling the intro with this soothing sample. His melody is cooler than Italian ice and smoother than Alfonso Ribeiro on the dance floor. Even though it isn’t a boisterous record, the energy doesn't drop on “WISH.” It feels good. Kiddo Marv with the Lil Uzi Vert bar. Not a bad verse, but I'd rather hear his voice on a heavier beat. I imagine his vocal tone over some hard-hitting bangers. The quality is high three songs in.
4. “BIRDZ ft. Rick Ross
It's dope to see these two back together. Oh, this behemoth of a beat is a blistering robot meltdown. The Poptart/toaster bar was great. I don’t love the production, but I’m intrigued by how Ross will walk on this spazzing siren. The grunt! “Cocaine raps in the Cadillacs.” Nice, nice. His flow is Pharrell; it doesn’t age. R.I.P for Nip, I caught a little chill. Denzel came back with another strong performance. I’m keeping this one. The beat is growing on me. Electric.
Tay Keith tag! Let’s go! Not the hardest knocker, but I love the keys. Denzel is talking the talk. I read he freestyled this whole album, and the rapping feels fluid enough for that to be true. Not a bad thing, he’s in a nice zone. “Used to be on LSD now my life is all a trip,” okay, okay. This is the best record so far. I was wrong about this beat, Keith gave him a roof burner. I'm surprised “AUTOMATIC” wasn’t the single selection; it has so much personality. Keeper.
A cinematic build up. The voice at the beginning was unrecognizable, but he set a nice scene for the record to kick in. Denzel came in skating on skis. These keys paired with honest introspection? Well done. A nice switch up, a gospel touch. “I don’t want to use my desert eagle.” “My dog didn’t make it to 21 so I gotta make it past 24.” Again, Denzel is in a zone! Every bar is focused and energized. Well-constructed. A good song. More enjoyable keys.
7. “BUSHY B INTERLUDE”
What is this sample? Does it sound something from the '70s? I don’t know, but the interlude is groovy. A nice bounce, a warm aesthetic; ZUU was made for the summer months.
A phone call. A skit. Two guys. Talking. One guy is only saying “YOO.” I chuckled. I wouldn’t keep it, but I laughed.
9. “CAROLMART” ft. Ice Billion Burge
Ha, I’m loving this one already. Putting on for home. "CAROLMART" is a trunk-rattling dinosaur. The Florida influence came bursting through the speakers. It sounds like something Trick Daddy would have made 10 years ago. Oh yeah, this is a BANGER. The beat could flip over a two-story house with the bass alone. So Florida, so Southern. Even the flow Denzel is using couldn’t be better. I need all of Florida to jump on the remix just as the industry did for The Game's “One Blood Remix.”
10. “SHAKE 88” ft. Sam Sneak
Oh man, I'm having 2 Live Crew flashbacks. Is Denzel about to drop a twerk anthem? Yes, yes, he did. Where are the City Girls and Lil Yachty? This is knocking. The pitch edit on the woman’s part is great. I need a video of Too $hort throwing dollar bills in Club Liv to this one. A nice twist to the “Ha” flow. Oh, this will be ringing off at concerts. Denzel has made a summer project for the road. Sam Sneak came in like Mannie Fresh on the old Cash Money records.
11. “BLACKLAND 66.6”
Two guys are talking. I think they turned on the radio. Yeah, it’s an old school radio. Ha, this commercial. It’s a good skit. I like this one more than “YOO.”
12. “P.A.T.” ft. Playthatboizay
This bass is menacing. It sounds like it’s about to explode! The explosion knocked my glasses off my face. This one could shake the entire planet. Jesus, who created this Frankenstein? This is Will Smith in ID4 fighting aliens during an invasion music. My ears weren’t ready for Denzel to sneak in this bomb. He had to rage at the end. “Don’t make me start a riot.”
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Denzel Curry's ZUU:
This summer, Denzel Curry is bringing Carol City to the world. Excluding the album's two skits, there isn't a single moment on ZUU where the energy simmers down—this is an album that refuses to stop moving.
Denzel has long mastered the art of arresting the listener. The energy he brings on ZUU is naturally infectious, and further benefits when paired with scorching production.
The most memorable albums are those that soundtrack our lives. By making ZUU hot as the Florida sun, Denzel created the perfect musical accompaniment for the forthcoming summer season. Similar to Megan Thee Stallion's Fever "mixtape," the music sounds tailored for the warmest time of the year. Denzel wants his fans outdoors, living life to the sounds of his most jubilant release.
ZUU is proof that Denzel Curry has plenty more up his sleeve. No burnout in sight.
By Yoh aka YUUOH aka Yoh31.