By: Sam Fleming
Denzel Curry has been on the rise for the last few years, but his latest release, Imperial, has propelled him into underground stardom. Curry has been releasing a steady stream of hardcore and cloud-rap since 2011, however with Imperial he finally finds his true voice and puts together some of the darkest, most hard-hitting hip-hop of the year.
He comes out the gate strong. Listening to the trio of “ULT,” “Gook” and “Sick and Tired” it feels like you have been hit over the head with a metal bat. Everything he raps is hard and the way that he snarls over the beats is at times exhausting. He is involved in every second of the music, but the mood of the project shifts throughout.
Moving past the first trio of songs, the album takes a turn towards more traditional bangers. The beats, while still heavily trap influenced, become more reserved, and the project shifts to a more contemplative mood. With a feature from Rick Ross, the track “Knotty Head” could fit onto any major label hip-hop release if it weren’t for Curry’s voice. His voice is uniquely dark and he knows exactly how to build the song up around it until he can explode, screaming, into a hook. He often raps with real anger, chanting, “Why these crackers thinking that a nigga serve narcotics? Just because I’m living doesn’t mean a nigga got it,” on the hook of “Narcotics.” His voice is filled with conviction and intensity, which unfortunately, is only fully concentrated on the first half of the album.
Starting with “Story With No Title,” Curry’s vocals begin to follow the more traditional course that the beats had begun to take. He starts to rhyme about a more innocent time in his life, reflecting on both the bad and good. Spitting bars like, “Came up in this game now my idols is my rivals. Childhood friends end up pulling guns on you.” Although the second half of the album is still catchy, it feels a bit melodramatic. It isn’t as engaging as the first because it doesn’t feel quite as unique.
Curry manages to bring the project back to full intensity on the last track,“If Tomorrow’s Not Here.” This song is the perfect ending to the project. He raps about the future, filled with hope, about the day when he can get his friends out of jail. Although this track isn’t a banger, its simplicity works to its advantage. The vibe and lyrics of the song feel genuine in a way that many of the songs before it did not.
Imperial highlights Curry’s ability to tackle many different subgenres of hip-hop. He proves his talent and versatility, while undoubtedly making some of the most compelling hip-hop of 2016 so far.