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“I’ve already seen Carol City told through someone else’s point of view, which was Rick Ross,” states Floridian wordsmith Denzel Curry.

The 24-year-old rapper is chatting to Clash six months after the release of his fourth album, ‘ZUU’. Denzel has always paid homage to Carol City, the notorious neighbourhood in North Miami where he grew up.

“I felt like as an artist, I wasn’t like Ross or Gunplay, so I wanted to show how I saw life there on the daily,” he offers, adding: “you’re still going to get the same kinda stories; I just wanted to tell them in a very artistic way, showing Miami in a whole different light.”

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Since coming to the forefront of the underground rap scene via the Florida-based collective Raider Klan back in 2011, Curry has been releasing music at a steady rate. A series of mixtapes released throughout 2012 grabbed the attention of the rap world, and since then he’s dropped six projects, which have garnered him a legion of loyal fans.

When ‘ZUU’ was released back in May, a section of his fans tried comparing the project to ‘TA1300’, the 2018 album that really put Curry in the spotlight. However, he believes the majority of his fans are open to his progressing sound. “Sometimes fans don’t know what they want,” he points out. “Some tried comparing it to ‘TA1300’, but I think the majority understood that it doesn’t have to be the same thing over and over again, y’know?”

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Denzel’s favourite track from ‘ZUU’, ‘WISH’, has its own little fascinating story behind it, one that the Miami native is eager to tell.

“It’s a feel-good record,” he says excitedly of the song. “We sampled a record by the B. B. & Q. Band and we’d actually sampled it twice cos the first time we did it they didn’t like the song,” he reveals. “The second time, when they heard how we’d used the sample, they loved it, and they let us go ahead and use it.”

Not only does Denzel have a huge following in the States, but his fanbase touches all corners of the globe. One place that the Floridian rap god holds dear in his heart is the UK. He has performed to packed audiences here on his own headline tours, and also played festivals across the country. Along the way, he has become close friends with several of Britain’s best artists. In 2016, in support of his ‘Imperial’ album, Curry called on grime top boy AJ Tracey for a verse on the remix of ‘Knotty Head’, and more recently he’s gone toe-to-toe with new British rap prince Slowthai on their track ‘Psycho’. So just what is it about UK music that Denzel likes so much?

“I love the way they rap, and I love the way their beats sound,” he confirms. “I’ve been a fan of grime since I heard Escobar’s ‘Big Bars’. I used to watch Lord Of The Mics, just to see ’em battle each other, like Wiley and Kano.”

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Aside from his own sold-out headline tours that see Denzel span the globe, he has also had a support slot with an unlikely source: pop wonderkid Billie Eilish. Whilst it might seem strange for a hard-hitting rapper such as Denzel to open up for one of the world’s biggest pop stars, it all seemed to feel right to him. On the face of it, he was launching his music to a whole new set of ears, and in turn, playing huge arenas shows across the States. Playing in 10,000-capacity arenas might seem daunting to a lot of artists, but not for Denzel.

“Yeah, I felt like I belonged there 100%” he confidently states. “I’m only going to get better. That was just my introduction to these size venues, and I pulled it off.”

Having a solid legacy behind him is something he’s passionate about. With ‘ZUU’ now adding to a sturdy catalogue of music that he’s already released, making sure that he’s always producing his best work is Denzel’s forte.

“When I make music, I always think about great albums that influenced me,” he reveals. “Albums like Lupe’s ‘Food & Liquor’ and Nas ‘Illmatic’, or any of Outkast’s album’s, cos they’ve never released a bad one. I wanted my music to be easily accessible, like you can just go in at any point and listen to it, that’s what inspires me. I feel like I’ve always had something to prove.”

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It’s an attitude that has been infectious in the Sunshine State, with a whole host of rappers emerging and stamping their own mark onto the scene. The likes of Pouya, Ski Mask The Slumpgod, and the deceased XXXtentacion, have propelled the scene forward at an alarming rate.

“If you wanna talk about who’s really making noise from the state of Florida, you’re really looking at me, Ski, Pouya and Kodak Black,” he states with confidence. “I’m not even talking about the old heads; I’m talking about who’s really making moves right now. Kodak is locked up and the biggest star from Florida sadly passed away. X (XXXtentacion) was the biggest person in Florida at the time, and now he’s gone we’re trying to carry the mantle.”

One thing Denzel hasn’t felt was the pressure to bow to the dominant coastal scenes in order to get anywhere with his music.

“I’ve never felt like I’ve gotta be from New York or LA to become a rap legend,” he declares. “Back in the ’80s and ’90s, did rappers from those cities know that they were going to reach legendary status? No, they didn’t, they were just doing it for the love of the music, and that’s what I’m doing for South Florida right now.”

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Denzel has soared past other rappers that from his area that shaped his formative years, showcasing his own ability to grasp what he wants from the music game.

“There’s people who I grew up listening to that are still underground and they’re like legends to me personally,” he says, “but I’ve always been able to see the bigger picture, and push myself forward. At first I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be underground forever’, but as soon as I started seeing better opportunities I realised I can’t stay an underground rapper. But what I can do is cater to those fans who know me for my underground stuff, y’know?”

Aside from his recordings, Denzel is known for his high octane, adrenaline-fuelled performances. His live shows are almost guaranteed sell-outs, with fans thriving off the energy he produces. There was last year’s incredible ‘Zeltron vs Zombies’ event in Miami, in which Curry rap battled the Flatbush Zombies inside an actual wrestling ring with fans deciding on the winner.

This time round he’s doing a four-date tour (Atlanta, Miami, Oakland, and New York) alongside Pro Era kingpin Joey Bada$$. The wrestling-inspired five-round bout sees the pair square off in the ring battling each other lyrically, with many surprises along the way.

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It’s not the only association Curry has with wrestling: recently his music was used on the WWE’s NXT show, and he met legendary wrestler Triple H in Chicago.

“I would never have expected to have one of my own songs on the WWE, that shit is crazy to me!” he excitedly offers. “I got into wrestling when Eddie Guerrero was on the roster, so to have a song used by them is a dream come true.”

As our conversation draws to a close, the theme of leaving a legacy within his music returns. This is obviously something that Denzel is passionate about and he intends to make sure that when he goes, he’s remembered for what he’s done.

“If I died today, I would go down a legend, period” he insists. “I’m just trying to make that point even stronger.”

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Awards are often seen by many as something that can cement a rapper’s career, and with the Grammy nominations having just been announced, it’s a subject that the young wordsmith doesn’t really pay attention to.

“I don’t have a lot to say about the Grammys, man,” he sighs. “I feel like they’re still behind on certain things. However, I am glad that a project I was part of (the ‘Into The Spiderverse’ soundtrack) has been nominated, so they’ve at least got some point of reference of me. Honestly I feel like I should’ve been nominated for ‘Taboo’, but it’s whatever,” he concedes.

He does however, have one particular achievement in mind: “Soon as I get these Grammys and stuff like that,” he laughs, “Imma reach Jay Z status. That’s my goal!”

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'ZUU' is out now.

Words: Mike Wood
Photography:
Fashion:

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