Album

What Went Right With… ZUU by Denzel Curry?

A review of ZUU by Denzel Curry

Denzel Curry today releases his fourth studio album titled ZUU, an album filled with loud, bass-heavy, brash production akin to the heyday of the Miami music scene from the 1980s. With a Chevy Impala and a late-80s-slash-early-90s logo (some say it resembles Poison Clan’s logo) even the album cover is trying to recreate a certain type of aesthetic from a certain period in time. Regardless of sonic and visual influences however, this LP’s lasting impression is anything but “golden era”. ZUU is undoubtedly the point in Denzel’s career in which he finally goes mainstream; he’s now mentioned by overground critics, included in commercial radio playlists, and he’s obviously made some cash but unfortunately, he now chooses to rap about his newfound lifestyle which is the wrong thing to do. If Curry’s musical career was a film, this is his Rocky III moment, and if he keeps going in this direction, he’ll be lost in a world of bland, commercialised muzak, unable to reconnect with what made his music so enjoyable in the first place.

On the run-up to this album’s release, Curry’s new joints were met with scepticism by some fans who stated that this new sound was too “mainstream”. Denzel then countered with a tweet of his own…

…although he failed to acknowledge that distinctiveness, risks, and innovation comes from the underground whereas the mainstream is littered with overused sounds and styles. Sure, good music is good music and bad music is bad music but unique music is never part of the mainstream because labels and radio stations don’t want to gamble with music that’s unique. If Denzel was trying to disprove this convention, he’s failed. This album is once again proof that underground music is preferable to mainstream bullshit.

With lines like “I ain’t had no gold, I was broke, I had no green” (in “Automatic”) and the intro in “Speedboat” which begins “I went from stickin’ pennies in the jar to offshore bank accounts”, there’s no doubt that Denzel Curry is pleased that he’s gone from the street to the suburbs and that’s absolutely fine. My problem is that if someone transitions (or “makes it”) with credible music that came from the streets, once they’re surrounded by expensive goods, models, and invited to all the parties, they shouldn’t then begin to rap about this new life. That’s exactly what leads to every artist’s downfall.

That’s not to say that this album is a complete failure. “Birdz” featuring Rick Ross for example, contains the best production on this release; a distorted synth squeal over a bass-heavy beat. Then there’s the catchy hook in “Ricky” which displays an odd yet amusing family dynamic (“My daddy said ‘Trust no man but your brothers, and never leave your day ones in the gutter’. My daddy said ‘Treat young girls like your mother’, my mama said, ‘Trust no ho, use a rubber’”)…

In “Speedboat” there’s some catchy and meaningful bits (“My dawg didn’t make it to 21, so I gotta make it past 24”) but there’s also lame, cliched bits too (“Jesus, please deliver us from evil, please pray over all my people”)…

There’s buzzing bass that sounds like it should be making the trunk of a car vibrate in “Carolmart” but the “Trill ass nigga” line sounds corny outside of the early 2000s. And that seems to be the construct of this LP; the beats are potentially great but the lyrics and most of the wannabe-crossover choruses are terrible. The title track “Zuu” for instance, sports a mediocre singing hook and “Wish” contains an even cornier Hip-Pop chorus which is laid over middle-of-the-road production.

The song title “Shake 88” reminds me of the Sony Hi-Fi of the same name: claiming to be loud but turning out to be weak. The sound in this song is like Curry channelling 2 Live Crew but the track is in the end forgettable. “P.A.T.” featuring PlayThatBoiZay is decent enough but not something you end an album with. Amongst the cliched lines such as “We’ll rob you for your chain, and probably pistol whip your ho” there’s flashes of brilliance like We carry hollow tips ’cause it reflects whats in my soul” but there’s not enough of that Denzel on this album.

The standout tracks are “Ricky”, “Birdz”, and “P.A.T.” but three listenable songs out of twelve isn’t exactly setting the music scene alight. The interludes on this release are pretty much pointless and the album has no flow from beginning to end. Coming in at less than 30 minutes in length, this release is so short it’s like a $uicideboy$ album but being cursory was never part of Curry’s style.

Sure, his previous album Ta13oo also began with a few radio-friendly tracks but the album got better and better the further it got. This is the complete opposite; yes, there are listenable songs here and there but the album has an overwhelming feeling of being the radio-friendly-sellout period of Denzel Curry’s career. Remember “Percz” from his last album? There was the line “With yo’ boof-ass hits – ‘I’ma fuck yo’ bitch, I just popped two Xans’ – nigga, fuck that shit!” and yet now, he seems to be fine with regurgitating corny crap which he previously mocked. This is a release filled with “ass”, “money”, and “bitches”, which are the most cliched topics in all of Hip-Hop. I always thought Denzel was beyond this kind of trash but obviously not.

I remember back in the day when Ol’ Dirty Bastard along with his brother 12 O’Clock, Buddha Monk and a few others, called their clique “Brooklyn Zu” so even Denzel Curry’s album title is a derivation of the golden era which again proves that originality comes from the underground. When a slang word, a visual style, or a sound makes it to the mainstream, it’s automatically watered-down, lacklustre, and stale. This album is unfortunately another example of this.

That’s Not A Call From The ZUU.

Beats: 6/10

Rhymes: 5/10

Overall: 6/10


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14 replies »

  1. “ZUU is undoubtedly the point in Denzel’s career in which he finally goes mainstream; he’s now mentioned by overground critics, included in commercial radio playlists, and he’s obviously made some cash but unfortunately, he now chooses to rap about his newfound lifestyle which is the wrong thing to do. ”

    Petty to critic an underground artist for finding success only to coin him as “mainstream”.
    ZUU is not Ta13oo just as Ta13oo was not Imperial.
    This is a spontaneous, fun release from a consistent artist. I suggest you watch / read some interviews with Curry about the album and then revisit it.
    This project achieved it’s goal, it’s a nod to his Carol City roots and Hip Hop in general. It’s a fun album which isn’t experimental or multifaceted like his previous but keeps his vibe going.

    From one interview;

    “It’s basically a nod, an ode, a homage to where I’m from.” – DC

    “Oh, I freestyled the whole thing. Went from mind to mic.” – DC

    “Yeah. I didn’t make it overly complex. TA1300 was overly complex. Too many complex bars within it. I just wanted to keep it simple and plain.” – DC

    • Everything in that paragraph you quoted is true: he is now accepted by the mainstream. It would be one thing to take an underground sound to Joe Public and act as an ambassador for neglected styles but instead Denzel makes a mediocre LP that regardless of why it was created, comes off as a conventional, unoriginal, and ordinary release = the definition of mainstream.

      It’s not “petty” to outline why a product is lacklustre. Curry making an “ode” or a “homage” to where he’s from doesn’t mean he has to make a crap album, that wasn’t a requirement. He’s stated that he wanted it to be “simple” and “plain” which are synonyms for “ordinary” and “common” which in turn are ways of describing something as “mainstream”. So it’s perfectly legitimate to describe this album or this part of his career that way.

    • Everything in that paragraph is an opinion.
      That doesn’t mean that paragraph is truthful or factual and it doesn’t mean this joint is crap on a whole.
      I’m not into every track but I enjoyed a lot of them in their simplicity and they have a place in my rotation.

      ZUU is a departure or sorts, but there is nothing on the album to suggest it’s permanent. The majority of his flow and delivery is still there and if he did in fact freestyle the whole project, than that is an interesting aspect of the project and worth acknowledging.
      Hip hop is just simple fun sometimes and that’s what he’s done on this album in my opinion.

      “It would be one thing to take an underground sound to Joe Public and act as an ambassador for neglected styles”

      He arguably did that with Ta13oo?

      “he is now accepted by the mainstream.”

      Confirmation that’s exactly what he did with Ta13oo. Took underground outside the genres audience to the larger audience on that project.
      Why you would assign DC the responsibility to do that on every album is beyond me.

    • Please don’t tell me you’re one of those fans who don’t want a bad word said about their favourite artist! What would be the point in making art if all of it is classed the same and reacted to the same way? Do you agree with my review of TA13OO? You know that was an opinion too right? But I guess that was okay since it tallied with people’s constant adoration of Denzel Curry.

      Let me break this shit down for you:

      1. Saying this album is “crap” is an opinion but saying it’s “mainstream” is a fact. The definition of mainstream is: “ideas, attitudes, or activities that are shared by most people and regarded as normal or conventional”. Therefore…

      2. Raps about “Navigator Trucks”, “Bitches”, and “Chains” is the norm in Hip-Hop and adding R’N’B hooks to appeal to the radio/public etc. is also conventional – hence this album is MAINSTREAM. (Curry did rap about similar topics on Ta13oo but I overlooked it because the rapping, the songs, and the album was way above average, Zuu isn’t).

      3. Yes, Ta13oo was the album that got mainstream respect by staying “real” but it was an unexpected hit like the first few albums by many a great rapper. Once this first/second/third album is lauded by the mainstream, the rapper then “acts as an ambassador” since before that sleeper hit they were doing stuff only to please themselves and their genuine fanbase. Therefore…

      4. It matters what an artist brings to their new fans (the mainstream audience) after that initial success. If it’s hackneyed, watered-down stuff, then that’s the point people start calling them a “sellout”. Compare almost all rappers’ initial album (that was a surprise hit) to their follow-up. In almost every occasion the next one is objectively “crap” by comparison. It happened to Jay-Z, to Kendrick, and it’s happened to Curry. My point is; if one artist in all of music, for once stuck to their original shit and said “hey, this is what you’ve been missing in the underground” and actually converted the mainstream instead of pandering to them, it would be a breath of fresh air. But that rarely happens.

      5. I’ll point out that even you admitted to this LP being “crap” since you inferred that by writing “I’m not into every track”. So even you admit that ZUU is not as good as his previous efforts. Crap is just my way of saying “not as good” or “average”.

      6. That is the essence of critiquing something: what was the best and what was the worst? Sure, Curry could go back and make a decent album again but THIS album is his weakest so far hence the lower score/rating and all of the passages you’ve quoted.

  2. I don’t agree with everything you wrote but zuu is disapointing not trash just disappointing
    some fans need to get a grip.

  3. This review seems pretty negative; according to you, only three songs on this record are actually listenable. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it does make me wonder why this review is on this site instead of WhatWentWrongWith. Is there a reason for this? Because according to you, not much went right with this album.

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