South Florida flows
by Zach Moldof
I first met Denzel Curry on Facebook. He hit me up asking about how to get clothes from Mishka, and get on the Mishka blog. At the time, it wasn’t uncommon, and I responded the same way that I responded to countless people at the time: be patient, keep doing what you’re doing, and wait for us to call you. It was a mantra that went largely unwarranted by a number of people, most of whom you’ll never hear about. But unlike his contemporaries, Denzel didn’t become a pest and focus on getting me to see how great he is, instead he just kept making music and let the attention and recognition sort itself out. Now, as he has released his first album, Nostalgic 64, that recognition is slowly taking shape to fashion Denzel as South Florida’s darling of rap.
When I talked to Denzel last week, I wasn’t really surprised to find a rather articulate eighteen-year-old (he’s been rapping since he was twelve) expressing sentiments that distinguish him from his Carol City peers as much as his “Threatz” video has helped to distinguish him from his peers in music. The art he creates is the residue of lived experiences, and for Denzel, those experiences come with grave sincerity. Literally. Growing up in South Florida, and more specifically Carol City, has afforded Denzel a proximity to violence and the realities of institutionalized disenfranchisement that yields brilliant art at the expense of humanity. It’s a rather typified exchange in the arts, and as is often the case, this exchange is far more complex for Denzel than such a typified reduction might convey. Because, as Denzel conveyed to me, he isn’t “bout that life,” as much as his music might suggest it to some listeners, and he’ll be the first one to correct anyone who tries to typify him as such a one-dimensional character. For instance, he had to explain to his manager why releasing a video for his song “Zone 3” right now wouldn’t be wise. Currents feuds between “Zone 3” where Denzel resides, and another Zone mean that Denzel’s non-partisan anthem for his neighborhood could easily be interpreted as him including himself in the feud.
There is a palpable and prominent darkness to Denzel’s music, but Nostalgic 64 defies that summation of his music in the most productive way possible: through balance. In addition to the predictable and logical stylizations of his music—which you can hear in “Threatz” or “Zone 3″—songs like “Parents,” “Widescreen,” and “A Day in the Life of Denzel Curry Pt. 2” reflect an artistic sensibility, and a critical mind, which moves beyond merely aligning, or defying. Through the creation of songs that express grounded realistic hope, an intensely vivid imagination, and real-life solutions to the ungodly dilemmas born of social inequality, Denzel is articulating the timeless mark of artistic genius; he is and isn’t at the same time; the very actions that afford him an identity simultaneously exist beyond the realms of that identity and negate it. Denzel is “bout that life” in so far as his continued existence depends on him being able to navigate a world that may require behaviors born of being “bout that life.” If someone tried to harm Denzel, he wouldn’t be an easy target, but he himself is working to build peace, reverence, and respect. Denzel’s identity is not one that can be circumscribed by the existential limits of the often unaccomodating locale of Carol City. As he aspires for something that exists beyond the one-dimensional articulations of notions like “Kill or Be Killed” and “An Eye for an Eye,” Denzel creates an alternate reality. He won’t be a victim, but he also won’t victimize. He won’t be feared, but he will be respected, and it will be known that he is powerful enough to defeat someone who could come to strike him down.
While Denzel’s life must be guarded at the corporeal level, his spirit is far less inhibited, and his music allows us all to experience his specific brand of enlightenment. In a time when Florida is continually characterized only by the negative and outrageous headlines that are fit for sensationalized news programming, Denzel is offering another depiction. He’s saying something like, “Yeah, shit’s fucked up down here. But we’re not all fucked up, and we work really hard to find ways to be better than our surroundings, so just give us a shot. You might learn something about surviving the extremes we all live in today.”
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