The XXL "Freshman Class" Gives Denzel Curry His Second Wind

Miami native Denzel Curry's set at this year's III Points festival will be a homecoming of sorts, but as a teenager growing up in Carol City — just a few years ago — he was a long way from the spotlight.

"My parents didn't want me to go to Carol City High, but when I got kicked out of art school, I had to go back to my home school and, surely enough, I got my upbringing there," the 21-year-old rapper says.

But now, after waves of hype, Curry has been tapped for XXL's career-propelling 2016 "Freshman Class," and his newest album, Imperial, features appearances by Joey Bada$$ and another Carol City native, Rick Ross.

With new eyes upon him from all over the world, Curry is excited yet hesitant about his growing success, conceding fear in "how much responsibility I'm going to have because my face is now going to be known around the world even more. The blessing is I'm still making people happy. The curse is being watched at all times."

Despite his concern about becoming a target, he has used his music to highlight some of the issues that plague Carol City and Miami at large and, in turn, other inner-city communities across the nation. His 2015 album, 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms, opens with "32 Ave (Intro)," in which Curry weaves in audio of local TV news reports of questionable incidents between Miami police officers and citizens, such as the Taser death of graffiti artist Israel "Reefa" Hernandez.

"N64," off the 2013 LP Nostalgic 64, features audio of a news report about a student walkout at Curry's alma mater, Carol City High School, in protest of the murder of Trayvon Martin, who attended the school for some time and who Curry has said was a fan of his.

Despite echoing the names of the all too many victims who have become Black Lives Matter hashtags, Curry does not view himself as a political rapper, but rather as a reflection of the world around him. "I'm just real. I just say what's on my mind. I'm not a political rapper. I don't see myself as a politician. I just say what I say because that's what I'm going through right now, you know?"

His use of news reports and other audio also lends a more cinematic quality to his music, which he aims to make a more visceral listen. "I want people to actually feel like they're there instead of just hearing a rap music track. I want them to actually visualize it and act like they're physically there."

For kids who are dreamers like himself — and not unlike 17-year-old Trayvon was before he was killed — Curry has some advice. "Whatever your dream is, you follow it. You go for it by any means, man. Even if you're in your darkest state, utilize that to your advantage and you will find the light. That's what happened with me."

And though Curry has been grinding for years before finally making it to the XXL "Freshman Class," he continues to dream beyond his successes. Asked about his plans for the future, he lists, "Winning Grammys, making crazier albums, and then quitting because I mastered rap already." He wants to write too — fiction, screenplays, "stuff like that."

Perhaps in tribute to those who were robbed of living out their dreams, Denzel Curry is living many in one lifetime.

Denzel Curry at III Points. 6:45 p.m. Sunday, October 9, on the Main Frame Stage at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-573-0371; manawynwood.com. Tickets cost $99 to $299 via iiipoints.com.

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