Making Noise

Denzel Curry’s “13” and the rise of South Florida’s underground

aedenzelcurrycourtesywikimediacommons

Denzel Curry's "13" dropped this week.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Late last month, Miami rapper Denzel Curry released “13,” a follow-up EP to his 2016 album “Imperial,” and a prelude to his upcoming album, rumored to be titled “Taboo.” The short project is packed with some of Curry’s most high-energy, explosive deliveries yet — but don’t tell that to Curry. “I didn’t want people to be like, ‘This is Denzel’s best work? What the f--k?’ This is not my best work,” the rapper said to XXL Magazine after a few of the songs were released as “demo” singles in the weeks prior to its proper release.

Nonetheless, the EP received praise from fans and critics alike, and offers some of his hardest, most impressive tracks yet. Production from regular Curry collaborators and well-established hard hitters Ronny J and Finatik N Zac further underscore Curry’s innovative style. Curry can be considered a forefather of the current wave of rebellious, blown-out rap taking over popular culture. Curry was a member of XXL’s Freshman Class just last year, but “13” further affirms Curry’s place in the game and bodes well for the future of the artist and his genre.

Standout songs like “Hate Government” and “Equalizer” feature loud 808s and piercing percussion — hallmarks of Curry’s gritty, trap-inspired sound. This style was certainly prominent on “Imperial,” but “13” is even darker and more distorted. Curry’s deliveries are fierce and aggressive throughout the project, especially on the hook of “Equalizer,” as Curry chants, “Equalizer, synthesizer / Ultimately I will brutalize ya / I got the s--t that could take out New York / I do not f--k with the population.”

The EP quickly moves from track to track, transitioned only by the lasting decay of an 808 or an overdriven guitar. This fast pacing makes for an energetic ride when accompanied by Curry’s relentless flows, but with only five short songs, the project leaves the listener thirsting for more. This incompleteness seems intentional, though, as Curry has made it clear that “13” is nothing more than the calm before the storm coming with his next album.

“13” sits comfortably among Curry’s South Florida contemporaries — rappers like XXXTentacion, Lil Pump and Smokepurpp — who all share this lo-fi, blown-out sound that has taken over hip-hop’s underground and internet scenes. “13” is more polished and professional than much of these other artists’ discographies, but it’s certainly cut from the same cloth. All of these artists embody a DIY attitude which pushes back against hip-hop’s traditions and the industry’s norms. As heard on “13,” the trend favors over-distorted, head-banging instrumentals over anything remotely radio-friendly. Curry’s style places little focus on elaborate lyrics, and it instead measures a rapper by the energy, atmosphere and flow they bring to the table.

This punk-inspired flavor of hip-hop has been made possible by streaming sites like SoundCloud, where young artists like Curry, Lil Pump and XXX are able to reach millions with their music — all without any industry resources or knowledge of music distribution. Artists like Lil Ugly Mane (who is featured on the last track on “13”) were certainly helping to inspire this sound long before today’s stars were around. But, never before has it been seen outside of the underground and on such a massive stage. On SoundCloud alone, both XXX and Lil Pump have songs boasting tens of millions of listens. In this way, the internet is finally bridging the divide between the underground and the mainstream, with these artists at the forefront.

It will be interesting to see if this sort of “punk-rap” can take the truly mainstream place occupied by trap music today, as the two share much in common, both in subject matter and sound. The core difference here is that Curry and his peers’ style is decidedly more over-the-top. The production is far more over-distorted and rough around the edges, and the lyrics even edgier and more explicit. It’s hard to imagine hearing XXXTentacion scream, “F--ked up, f--ked up, f--ked up, f--ked up!” (the actual chorus in XXXTentacion’s feature on Ski Mask the Slump God’s “Take a Step Back”) in any sort of corporate mainstream setting. But nonetheless, the track has over 32 million plays on SoundCloud, and it helped earn XXXTentacion his spot on this year’s XXL Freshman list.

Like it or not, it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the noise blaring from South Florida’s rap scene, and due to the open source nature of today’s music streaming landscape, it will be difficult to stop it.

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