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The Scalp-freeing Process Behind Denzel Curry’s ZUU

On the final leg of Listen Out festival, we kicked it with the Florida rapper and unpacked his latest body of work.

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It’s early afternoon at the Sydney leg of 2019’s Listen Out festival, which has brought together some of hip-hop’s most exciting new prospects. About 100 metres behind the main stage—where Sydney’s Triple One are rambunctiously setting the crowd alight—I slip past security to meet with Florida rapper Denzel Curry. Decked out in a vibrant black and red North Face jacket, Denzel stands beside his vehicle of choice for the day, a pearl white Rolls Royce. Ultimate.

Denzel is an artist whose progression has been captivating to watch. From his beginnings in the early 2010s as a member of the infamous Raider Klan, to his latest release ZUU, which plays out like an enthralling history book, tracing Curry’s roots back to his hometown of Carol City, Florida. (Notably, Rick Ross—who has a quintessential feature on the project, complete with two “HUHs” and “Maybach Musics”—is also from Carol City.) 

A few hours before his set that will close out the festival’s cross-country tour, he’s in good spirits, greeting musicians and crew members as they pass us by. It’s clear that Denzel has been making friends. An obvious connection is UK rapper Slowthai, who is due to start performing in a few minutes. Denzel is conscious not to miss him, but I assure him we’ll speed through the interview, leaving ample time for him to tear the stage up for the duo’s track ‘Psycho’.

With this in mind, I rapidly fire off a mix of questions about ZUU and other random things I’ve wanted to ask him after years of being a fanboy. Post-interview, we jump in a buggy and speed over to Slowthai’s performance, arriving just as the murderous violins of ‘Psycho’ start ringing loudly through the speakers, piercing the sky above an exuberant mass of guys in matching Hawaiian shirts.

It’s been a few months since you dropped your fourth studio album ZUU, how has the response and reception been?
Some people were like, “I fuck with it because it’s different than TA13OO” and other people were like, “This isn’t TA13OO, I don’t know where you’re going with this or your career”. I’m like, n***a, [whether] you gonna like it or you gonna hate it, but you are going to talk about it. 

You released TA13OO not even a full 12 months earlier, how did this project come together so soon after?
It just came about naturally. We were still working on tracks left over from TA13OO after it was released, so we just kept going. My manager had the idea of calling it ZUU and that was when we really started to piece together the album from freebies we had sitting around. Boom—that’s how ZUU was made.

And Perth production duo FnZ handled almost all of the beats for the project, right?
Yeah, they live in LA now though. We stay in the same building actually, like literally right above my apartment is their apartment. I could hear them working on stuff, they could hear me and that’s how it is.

Seeing as though the direction for ZUU seemed to really pay homage to your roots and history in South Florida, was it hard to communicate some of the things you wanted from your producers?
Nah, nah. I feel like we got similar towns, they’re from a town near the beach and I’m from the town near the beach. Mixing with them and just being with them for that long [helped], you could build chemistry with anybody so it doesn’t even matter.

I heard a lot of the last two projects involved a hefty amount of freestyling yeah?
Yeah, not the last two, but mainly the last one was a lot of freestyling.

Did you feel like you were thinking too much when you were writing?
Yeah, it felt like homework. I just started to free my scalp a little bit and when it came down to the regular shmegular shit, we would just work it out together; you know what I mean? It was like “Yo I’m gonna try some shit”. Then if we don’t like it, we can scrap it and that’s how we approached it. Shit, Little Wayne did it. Jay-Z did it. Young Thug did it. That’s how the whole freestyle tip went down.

SHAKE 88 was a direction you haven’t really explored before, did that stem from you freestyling?
Most of my fans don’t like [it], they were mad about that track, and I was like, “Bro. That shit hard I don’t give a fuck what anyone say, hardest shit ever because I actually did it.” You know what I’m saying? Like you can’t hate on the track. Like even Anthony Fantano liked it, you know? He said, you know, like that was one of his favourite tracks on it. 

The lead single ‘Ricky’ is packed with nods to different members of your family, how important were they in reference to the project?
I mean my family’s always been important man. Regardless of who it is, I’ve mentioned my brother [Mook] on a lot of my records. I’ve mentioned my mom on a lot of records too, but ‘Ricky’ was the first time I mentioned my father. 

One of my favourite features from the project came from Kiddo Marv, how did you guys connect for ‘WISH’?
Me and Kiddo Marv have known each other for years, since Raider Klan and shit. We recently just reconnected and worked from there. I told him about the idea, showed him what I had and he was like, “Yo, this shit is fire” and got on it. I wanted to make something that was in that era of the 1980s, zoned out, pay homage to my city type shit.

I want to take it back to Imperial and ask about the skit on ‘Sick and Tired’, it rings of this common sentiment of hometown drama?
Yeah, that’s just what I was living around at that time, You know? I saw my homie Julio, who I hadn’t seen in years. Two years after we graduated from school or whatever, I was driving from the mall and I seen him at a bus stop. I was like, “Ooh, yo Julio” and he was like “Oh shit, what’s up Curry?” I was like, “Bro, what you doing?” He was like, “Bro, I’m about to go back to the hood, what you doing?” I told him to hop in the car, so he hopped in and we jetted from there. It was me, Ronny J, and Julio. He was like, “Bro, you did so good with 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms talking about Tierra and all that shit.” Then all of them were shocked because they thought I was making those stories up and it was like, “Wait a minute, so whatever Denzel was talking about was true stories?” And he was like, “Yeah, bro. All them shits was real.”

Then we went home, smoked weed and us having that conversation about it, we ended up making ‘Sick and Tired’. I came up with the first verse and then S Dot Came up with the idea of me doing a hook around somebody peeking in my window, which was a nod to Goodie Mob, you know what I’m saying? And cause n****s was actually trying to break into my house around that time, my roommate had a gun in his room and I had a gun in my room.

Where did you record this latest album at?
I recorded ZUU in LA.

Was it hard for you to get back to that hometown mindset to make some of the tracks?
Nah, because I kept going to Miami and back, being homesick and shit.

I know you drew a lot when you were younger. Did having that as a creative outlet later assist with the creation of music?
Yeah it was helpful, because if you’ve seen the Nostalgia cover, I drew that cover. I think about all my covers before they manifest themselves, I want them to look dope, all of them. I just think This is how the music sounds, this is how the album’s going to sound, and this is how the cover should look.

Your live performance is a whole different experience and I feel that’s the same for Slowthai and JPEGMafia. How did you guys all meet?
I heard Peggy’s music through my manager and I reached out to him, then we eventually ended up meeting during ‘Vengeance’. With Slowthai it was the same situation, my management showed me his music and I fucked with the shit. We went to the studio and got drunk with him, the same night ‘Duppy Freestyle’ dropped by Drake going against Pusha T. Yeah we got drunk and Kwes Darko started playing beats, he played the ‘Psycho’ [beat] and I was like, “Hi, I’m ready.” Yeah, I just went to fuck off then that’s how ‘Psycho’ happened. Then we ended up doing these movie nights and shit, just vibing.

Speaking of ‘Psycho’, at the JPEGmafia show in Sydney, you and Slowthai made guest appearances with bare stage dives an-
Oh, you was there?

Yeah, talk to me about what happened afterwards with the acapella street performance.
Yeah man. I didn’t want to do the whole fan shit honestly, but you know at the same time, they are the ones who are helping me. The ones paying my bills, the ones who show love. So it was when a kid started playing ‘Psycho’, Slowthai looked at me, I looked at him. He was like, “Come on” and started rapping and it was like, fuck it. Then I started performing my verse in the middle of the street for them kids.

Could we see you, Thai, and Peggy doing something together or nah?
I mean I can’t really disclose any information. Lord willing, you know, but I can’t really disclose anything. 

Lastly, who’s your favourite playstation character?
Shit. I don’t know. I’ve never had one. Probably CJ from San Andreas maybe?

Really? Word.

Follow Denzel Curry here, and check out his latest album ZUU below.

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