Since shifting slightly away from the dizzying World of Soundcloud rap, Denzel Curry has proved himself to be a notable force in modern hip-hop. His latest full-length album reinforces the fact that Curry is an artist who will live far beyond a mere distribution platform. ZUU is far from perfect, but it is one of the most enjoyable rap records of the year so far.
The heated, high-tempered attitude that Curry carried on 2018’s TA13OO has been replaced by a less hostile outlook. It’s a fun ride. There are bangers galore here, and it’s begging to be played through loud speakers on a sweltering Summer’s Day. Whilst it’s a slight change of pace for Curry, the end result is perhaps his most accessible work to date. ZUU is short, sweet and solid, with highlights spread across the whole tracklist. The instrumental palette isn’t the most diverse, but it matters little when the album is this condensed and well paced.
ZUU falls short through its lyrical cliches. Whilst “RICKY” is absolutely one of the best tracks here, I’m almost certain Curry could have described the insistence to follow his Mother’s advice in a more profound manner than ‘trust no ho, use a rubber’. There’s an inelegance about certain lines that prevents ZUU from being as good as it could, and should, be. No-one can doubt Curry’s sincerity, nor his willingness to delve into the tricky issues currently surrounding hip-hop culture, but his vanity can sometimes get in the way.
Despite ZUU‘s shortcomings, I have no doubt that Curry has cemented his place in the current hip-hop landscape, and with this newfound accessibility, he’ll likely capture and an even larger audience. I hope we get to experience more exciting records as he develops further. And, finally, a cursory shoutout to “YOO”, which is one of the greatest skits I’ve ever heard. More of this please.7 10
Favourite tracks // RICKY
From the outset, ZUU is a tour de force in the bait and switch: for every blunt or cliched element across its 30-minute runtime there’s an immediate follow-up that borders on genius. I’d argue that Denzel Curry even crosses that border every so often. I’ve dabbled in his work before, but nothing prior to ZUU caught me in quite the same way; by the end of TA13OO I had largely dismissed Curry as merely another name in an overcrowded trap scene. ZUU has emphatically changed my mind. The hooks are moreish and distinctive, the flows have rough edges that carry the silliest bars through to the payoffs, and the ethereal, echoing atmosphere keeps everything ticking over. Things undergo a dramatic shift following the “YOO” intermission (honestly, it’s a rare achievement to have a skit that is both hilarious and nothing but good for the album), and a fresh energy is freed from the more restrained approach that brought us to this point. The beats get more aggressive and the hooks get more playful, offering a looser side to his personality. Both sides inform the other, and it’s certainly as much a study of the artist as it is of his experiences in his hometown – Carol City, Florida. When he addresses home he’s at his most open and insightful, covering a range of bases with a consistent focus on the character of the neighbourhood and its people. Not only that, but his wordplay and flows are also at their most inventive during these moments. Production-wise, ZUU has a well-realised and fresh blend of old school hip-hop, trap and elements of alternative hip-hop interchanging components throughout. Track by track, Curry doesn’t run out of ideas and they’re played in a relentlessly engaging fashion. I can’t wait to see where he goes next.8 10
Favourite tracks // AUTOMATIC
I was a little sceptical of ZUU in its opening moments. As the title track opens the album, I was hard pressed to find anything that set it apart from a lot of mainstream hip-hop around today. The deeper into the tracklist though, the more this album grows on me.
“BIRDZ” is likely a lot to do with my initial change in opinion, with an instrumental I can continue to return to and a well-placed feature from Rick Ross it’s a definite highlight here. By the last ten minutes, each track is well worth a listen, with “CAROLMART” remaining hooky despite being lowkey compared to many of its counterparts while “P.A.T.” takes the opposite approach, closing the album out with a rasping instrumental and a forceful vocal.
Though the vocal style throughout takes a well-trodden path, each track on the record flows well. Lyrically, there’s a lot to be desired, with lines sometimes feeling a tad on-the-nose, but it’s forgivable given the everything else ticking boxes. Skits and interludes make themselves worthwhile and “YOO” does enough to smirk at even after multiple plays, so it needs a mention of its own.
The downer here really is its length, at just half an hour, and with a healthy chunk of highlights packed at the back end of the tracklist, it feels like ZUU is just warming up by the time it checks out. With the shorter, more frequent LP becoming more of a trend, especially for hip-hop in recent years, it’s unsurprising but a shame nevertheless. ZUU has me interested in Denzel Curry’s next move. Four albums in and it doesn’t seem as though he’s running out of material, I look forward to more from him.7 10
Favourite tracks // BIRDZ