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…
Mainstream Underground Music is Music—
ZXLTRXN (@denzelcurry) May 24, 2019
…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.