Out in Melbourne for Laneway Festival ‘19, Denzel Curry brings his Floridian-via-SoundCloud game to 170 Russell. Heavy on the new tunes, heavy on the vibe, heavy on the everything: Curry ain’t here to copulate with arachnids. Packed were the bowels of 170 Russell, with the neuvo-emo rap faithful; a excitable crowd of kids and misfits who just want to “let the pain out,” as Curry later put it.
If any genre espoused the virtue of “bring me your tired, your huddled masses” in the past five years, it would be the emotionally rampant hip hop that has come tearing out of SoundCloud. Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, Kodak Black: all found a way to the heart through the pain of physical abuse, substance abuse, struggles with mental health, and the dissociation of adolescence. Seeking solace through art, Gen Z found these rappers – most under 25 – to be their guides, and Curry is one of the arena’s leading therapists. The possibility it’s a self-destructive kind of therapy is entirely possible.
Curry’s set at 170 was dedicated to the new turn he pulled on 2018’s Ta13oo. A departure from the moody rap on past efforts Imperial and 32 Zel, Ta13oo is melodic and production-rich underneath Curry’s impassioned, confident flows.
Curry’s preference for this new approach is clear; he went so far as to (roughly) follow the tracklisting of Ta13oo‘s three phases. BLACK BALLOONS was a highlight not just for its effortless bounce, but also for the appearance of Zambia/Australia’s own Sampa The Great, contributing verses with a voracious delivery.
Ultimate, the 2015 track that put Curry on the map, was massive – a controlled detonation with all feet off the floor. Just prior, Curry paid tribute to a friend who died a month before the release of Ta13oo. “Put up your Xs,” he implored. XXXTentacion, real name Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, faced a laundry list of charges over his 20 years of life, most notably for assault/aggravated battery. Remaining domestic abuse charges were dropped after he was shot and killed in Florida in June, 2018. The dedication Onfroy garners from his fan base is fervent and undying, the return on Onfroy’s investment into lyrical themes of suicide, self-harm, and numbness. X was Curry’s friend, so he covered two of his songs, namely Look At Me. Crowd goes wild.
Aside from my personal qualms with Curry’s diversion into a tribute to his dead, problematic friend, the smoothness with which the set rolled on was undeniable. Curry is of a different class, and was never meant to wallow away online in search results and streaming. At one point the beat dropped away and Curry spat on – a metronome all of his own, rapid-fire and accurate. In an interview last year, Curry said he wanted to be better than Kendrick. A bold claim. But after last night? Who knows.
Ta13oo is out now via Lorna Vista/Caroline.