Photo by Walid Jabri

Denzel Curry brings Miami spirit to town

We spoke to the South Florida rapper about moving up in the world.

Denzel Curry may just be the only respectable “Florida Man” making news headlines. At the time of our interview, the Carol City-born rapper was on his first arena tour, an opening slot warming up the crowds for teen pop sensation Billie Eilish.

Eilish’s fans, although young, are known for their intense loyalty. A swarm of them just outside Denzel’s tour bus didn’t seem to phase him. “They’re just cool little girls. We can’t be scared of 13-year-old kids!”

Curry, however, was intimidated initially by the prospect of such large-scale shows. “I had to realize they’re coming to see Billie but some of her fans are coming to see me as well.”

Though the pairing may seem odd on paper, Curry explains that Eilish hand-picked him for the job. “She was coming to my early shows back in 2016, when [my second album] Imperial was out. She said Imperial is what made her a fan. The influence carried over into her career. I’m literally one of her favourite rappers.”

Denzel Curry first made his mark on the culture in 2013 with a single called “Ultimate” that went viral due, in part, to being featured in a number of meme videos.

“That’s a song that everybody knows,” he states. “But I know myself — I’m not going to make another ‘Ultimate.’ I’m going to make something that’s different. Ski Mask the Slump God tried to say he would never make another song bigger than ‘Catch Me Outside’ and I’d never make a song bigger than ‘Ultimate.’ I was like, ‘That’s a bald-faced fucking lie,’ because I know I’ll make a bigger song.”

Denzel Curry on the cover of Cult MTL Aug. 2019. Photo by Julian Cousins

Curry is on the road in support of his latest release ZUU, an unapologetic encapsulation of his hometown’s energy. Featuring Sunshine State favourites such as Rick Ross, DJ Sam Sneak and the eternally underground Ice Billion Berg, the album takes listeners on a high-octane deep dive into Florida’s grittier corners.

A testament to the aforementioned energy: the entire album was freestyled.

“I already knew what I was going to say plus I’m about having fun. It wasn’t even supposed to be a deep thinking thing or shit like that. I’m not a political rapper. You’re supposed to have fun to this shit. It’s supposed to show you where I’m from, that’s the whole point of the album.”

Florida’s rap scene has had its moments of shine — from the 2 Live Crew-led “Miami Bass” era of the late 1980s to the likes of Trick Daddy and Rick Ross embodying the gangsta spirit throughout the 2000s — but none have looked quite as bright as the one we are currently witnessing.

Curry attributes this to a newfound sense of unity. “We all decided to work together. We didn’t separate the whole county. If you’re from South Florida, you’re from South Florida. Usually, it was a Dade versus Broward thing. But now it doesn’t matter where you’re from — we’re together.”

Many hail Curry as one of the leading voices of this movement. His influence is arguably heard throughout early recordings of the late, controversial XXXTentacion, with energy serving as the key factor of the music’s success. Unlike many of his fellow fresh-faced Floridian peers, Curry has nothing but the utmost respect for his OGs.

“They were inventing the whole Miami Spirit. The slang, the lingo, and then they each just brought something different to the table,” he says. “We grew up on Trick Daddy and what he did. ‘Shut Up’ and stuff like that, he brought the gritty, nasty Miami to the mainstream, that was him. [Uncle] Luke is legendary, too, Spring Break vibes all day.”

This is the start of a new era for Denzel Curry. Since speaking with him in June, the Miami Gardens rapper has completed his first arena tour and chopped off his signature dreads. If the latter moment is a metaphor for letting go of one’s past, Curry’s recent relocation makes it plain: he left home and moved to Los Angeles.

“Miami has too many distractions, and not enough shit going on for me there. I’m not going to wait a year for an artist to slide down there when they feel like it. I’m just going to go where all of the artists are.”

Curry’s demanding tour schedule won’t allow him time to see either place he calls home until early September, though he is far from a wanderer. With each show, the spirit of Miami is kept alive, impacting a new city every night. ■

Denzel Curry plays Osheaga’s Bell Alt TV River Stage on Friday, Aug. 2, 3:50 p.m.