Romance feels splendid. Platonic love is divine. The warmth bubbling up when you look at your person is a top-five emotive experience. Twenty-year-old Curtis Roach understands all of this. His newest EP, the four-track Luv Bug, is an ode to the glory of love and all its shades. Luv Bug feels like springtime; feels delicate and deals in pastel tones. One moment, Curtis is drinking Rosé with his boo, the next he’s taking on the world with his “partner in crime” on “Nothin’.” Across four songs, the Detroit native delivers a light bouquet of tenderness. Luv Bug is good fun for the romantic in all of us.
“It scared me at first,” Curtis tells me of Luv Bug. “When I first was finalizing the project, I was listening to it and thinking: ‘Is everybody gonna think I’m on some corny, simp shit?’ You get those moments where you’re in your head about the project. When you hear Drake, Common, and all these [artists] who open up… [You understand] boys go through these emotions, too! You feel way better when you express yourself in that way.”
On this unassuming Valentine’s Day, as the world gets harsher still, a project like Luv Bug feels important. Curtis Roach’s themes remind us—and most importantly, remind men—of the need to be forthright with our feelings. There’s no reason to act hard. If you’re in love, there’s no shame or weakness in basking in said love. Luv Bug encourages us to let our walls down. Luv Bug creates space for us to get vulnerable safely. Luv Bug reminds us to enjoy each other, for we only have our minds and bodies for so long.
“I just really like love songs,” Curtis explains. “Those are the best songs everybody can relate to. Platonic love, romantic love, family love, all that… It’s something we all experience at some point in our life, and it’s the strongest feeling. Love is the strongest energy. It’s one of the top things. It’s like the sun; you can’t ignore it.” Amen.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you first fall in love with music?
Curtis Roach: From birth, to be honest. My mom has videos when I was in diapers, walking around and practicing dance moves from Michael Jackson and all the cool pop songs on the radio. At first, I would be listening to stuff my mom and dad listened to in the car. My dad was super heavy with West Coast hip-hop, and my mom was into neo-soul. A lot of Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and A Tribe Called Quest. I started getting into my hip-hop knowledge when I was six or seven. I would be memorizing lyrics from Dr. Dre and Tupac. I would find Ludacris songs intriguing and all the videos Missy Elliott was putting out. From then [on], I was a music nerd, but I never saw myself doing it.
[Music] was a low key thing I didn’t want to talk to people about because I didn’t think people would take me seriously. I was writing poetry in middle school, and that turned into rap when I got into high school. I started recording myself around 15. When I heard my voice on a song, I was like, “Oh! I wanna do this forever.” That’s when I started going to open mics, trying stuff out, and from there, it was no looking back.
How would you describe your early style?
I was trying to be as lyrically barred out as possible. I was a young rapper kid, always trying to do something that wasn’t on the radio. It wasn’t like I was against anything on the radio, but at the time, it was like: “Man, I could do a song that’s better than that.” I was going for the Q-Tip thing, for a second. I was heavy on A Tribe Called Quest in high school. I wanted to be the new generation Abstract. It felt like, for a while, I was not myself all the way. I knew when I was approaching Lellow and Luv Bug; I wanted to challenge myself to the fullest and exercise all my other abilities. I [proved] I could rap with my earlier stuff, and that’s cool, but when it comes down to choruses and having strong melodies, I wanted to tap into that side.
When did you feel like you found your voice as an artist?
My senior year of high school. I knew from then on; I was not ‘bout to do the whole 9-to-5 type thing. When I made Highly Caffeinated [in 2017], and I put my everything into it, that’s when I was like, “Yo, I think I’m onto something.” It took me letting go of all the other pressures—my parents and school—and being my own person.
For your new EP, Luv Bug, you went the romantic route. Why so?
It’s me being inspired by my own life. I’m in a nice relationship, and on top of that, I like love songs. Those are the best songs everybody can relate to. Platonic love, romantic love, family love, all that... I wanted to work on the stuff I didn’t feel like I was 100 percent there with. With love songs, it’s super easy to work on a good chorus, good melody. It was [me] trying to exercise my songwriting.
Why do you feel like we can all relate to the love song?
That’s just life, yo! I remember being young, haven’t been in a relationship, singing my heart out to Alicia Keys songs like I just got my heartbroken! It’s something we all experience at some point in our life, and it’s the strongest feeling. Love is the strongest energy. It’s one of the top things. It’s like the sun; you can’t ignore it.
Since you were working on love songs, how did that impact your writing and recording process?
Before, when I was trying to focus on my rap skills, I was worrying too much about whether something was ‘bout to be a bar or not. I had so many words I was trying to fit into one verse—it got kinda exhausting. This time around, I was loosening up. I would take time to let the song breathe and allow myself to try and sing a little bit. It was trusting myself. I don’t look at myself as a singer, but from Lellow to this point, it’s like, “Okay, I can hold a note.” It was trusting my vision and trying to execute it. And allowing myself to chill out. I just let the music marinate with the listener.
Your focus on love is fascinating to me because I think it opens up room for guys to be comfortable expressing their romantic feelings in earnest. Was that your goal with Luv Bug?
Yeah! That was one of the goals. It scared me at first. When I first was finalizing the project, I was listening to it and thinking: “Is everybody gonna think I’m on some corny, simp shit?” You get to those moments where you’re in your head about the project. When you hear Drake, Common, and all these [artists] who open up… [You understand] boys go through these emotions, too! You feel way better when you express yourself in that way. I felt open when I was writing these songs. With “Nothin’,” some of the lyrics, I’m talking about somebody I care about. For me to put that out there, it’s scary, but it can inspire somebody who wants to show that side. You can grow from that.
People pretend they’re hard, but I bet we’re all romantics at heart. What do you think?
Oh, yes, for sure. Everybody! Even the hardest… Ice Cube is in a, what, 30-year marriage? He’s gon’ be with his sweetheart at the end of the day, and that’s okay. You can’t be hard all the time. It gets to a point where it’s like, we can’t be mad at everything. I like being in my love bag. It feels so free and warm, welcoming.