Despite it being nearly 1 o'clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday, the house is dark as night. Outside the front door sits a pile of shoes, their barefoot owners lying, passed out, on a black leather couch inside. Denzel Curry, one of the few awake, sits shirtless, ready to fire up his Xbox 360. It's been nearly two years since the release of Nostalgic 64, the debut album that boosted him to the top of Florida's rap radar. This past June 9, the Carol City native dropped the double EP 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms.
"The reason why I did a double EP is because they are dedicated to both my underground fans and the people who know Nostalgic 64," Curry says. "My friend said Planet Shrooms sounds really cool, but it's not going to appeal to the people who like the radio. So I created 32 Zel. If I was going to create radio songs per se, they would sound like that. I put my own spin on it."
The work features two distinct sides, inspired by the deaths of two people close to him: his brother Treon Johnson and friend Tiara. Johnson — one of the stars of Billy Corben's backyard-brawling documentary Dawg Fight — was killed after being tasered and arrested by Hialeah Police in March 2014. "It still plays in my mind, but I know I got to go harder for him because I know he's watching me now," Curry told New Times in an interview last year. "He's like a guardian."
32 Zel comes close to Curry's sound on Nostalgic 64 but boasts harder-hitting production and a more assertive flow. On Planet Shrooms, he embraces his psychedelic side, trading trap-esque beats for explorative, cloudy, and, at times, soulful soundscapes. "It all dates back to Nostalgic because that was the first time I tried psychedelics, the first time I did acid," Curry says. "When I tried ’shrooms for the first time, I went to Art Walk in Wynwood. It was the most beautiful shit I'd ever seen. The second time I did ’shrooms, I went to a wake, which was Tiara's wake. That sparked the idea for Planet Shrooms."
32 Zel refers to the past — Curry's old persona and former neighborhood at 32nd Avenue. Harking back to tracks from his debut album, Curry has clearly been inspired by his upbringing in Carol City, a hotbed for rappers, including Flo Rida, Gunplay, Rick Ross, and Spaceghostpurrp. This project, like most of Curry's past efforts, features some relatively unknown rappers, such as J.K. the Reaper, Twelve'Len, and Nell. The common thread weaving them together is Carol City.
Curry with his dog Chopper.
Photo by Alec Schwartzman
"You know how when you go to New York and there are a lot of people coming out of Brooklyn?" Curry says. "Carol City is basically that. Look how many people came out of here."
Curry embraces the Southern rap aesthetic with this release, channelling equal parts Three 6 Mafia, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and Andre 3000 without seeming derivative.
"I met Andre 3000 last year," he says. "He basically told me: 'Don't let the fans tie you down to shit, and don't get bored.' I didn't think it was that simple, but ever since then, I changed my hair, started working out a lot, changed my whole name."
Curry has channeled all of his past identities into one focused, ultimate entity representing the culmination of his artistic progress. He has undergone a transformation, his longer hair reminiscent of the Super Saiyan stage of a Dragon Ball Z character.
"That's Ultimate Denzel Curry," he says. "The track 'Ultimate' is a premonition of who I would become later on. I had so many personalities over the years. I was Aquarius'Killa, I was Raven Miyagi, I was Denny Cascade, I was 32 Zel. Fuck all that shit — blend them into one, you get Ultimate Denzel Curry."
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"Ultimate," clearly the standout track from this release, shows promise for Curry's future. The song's sparse, eerie introduction lulls listeners into the dark back alleys of his mind before giving way to bombastic, trunk-rattling bass. Curry's verses mirror the aggressive nature of the beat. His flow maintains an odd sense of control despite the palpable, raw energy waiting to burst from the seams.
Though 32 Zel / Planet Shrooms doesn't measure up to Nostalgic 64 as a complete project, the record features some of the best tracks Curry has produced. Moments as strong as "Ultimate," "Chief Forever," and "Envy Me" ensure that his next release is something to anticipate. He plans to issue a mixtape, King of the Mischievous South Volume II, this October.