Denzel Curry “Melt My Eyez, See Your Future” Review

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In the hyper-accelerated world of hip-hop, ten years might as well be an entire lifetime. In that timespan, dynasties can rise and fall, careers can thrive and plateau and, tragically, many hip-hop peers can succumb to either the trappings of the lifestyle or the ill intentions of others. 

For South Florida staple, former Raider Klan member and Soundcloud rap pioneer Denzel Curry, reaching this milestone has forced him to be a bystander to all of the above. 

After releasing his debut mixtape, King Remembered: Underground Tape 1991-1995, the MC known as Zeltron 6 Billion has seldom if ever taken his focus away from his craft. 

Weathering both personal strife and artistic growth, Denzel has stayed the course and even dealt with the burdensome baggage of being eternally referred to as underrated. But where other rappers would become embittered, Curry has always strived to prove why he’s worthy of public adoration. 

denzel curry 2022

Image provided by the artist. Photo credit: Adrian Villagomez

Normally, when a rapper proclaims that his new album is intended for “everybody,” it can send alarm bells ringing in the minds of those who’ve come to cherish this artist. As all too often, there is a hasty correlation drawn between mass appeal and “selling out.”

In the case of Denzel Curry, both his versatility and his chameleonic ability to evolve or shapeshift across every project means that rather than adhering to any commercial sound, what Denzel really means is that he’s showing the world everything that he has to offer.

Said to be “made up of everything that I couldn’t give you on TA13OO or Imperial because I was going through depression and anger issues,” his fifth album, Melt My Eyez, See Your Futureis a record of both endings and beginnings.

Alongside the sense that he’s drawing a line under some of the cumbersome baggage of the past that was only inhibiting his progression, the album simultaneously feels like the most complete picture of Denzel that we’ve encountered to date. 

Liberally pulling himself in every direction in order to cast light on every aspect of his mind, body, and soul, everything from his flow to his enunciation is more purposeful than ever. Make no mistake, Denzel wants you to catch every last syllable of this deeply personal voyage. 

Right from the atmospheric outset of this record, Denzel discards any masks or smokescreens in favor of purging his sins from within. Beginning with an intoxicating dose of righteous anger and introspection, Denzel quickly lets the listener into the shadowy corridors of his mind as he speaks of “battling stress the size of Goliath.”

While the intricacy and artfulness of his bars are still present, what comes across most acutely is a sense that any decision to sugarcoat or hold back has been eschewed for complete honesty on his part. 

Touching on how he’s “dealt with thoughts of suicide, women I’ve objectified,” before bringing up childhood molestation, “Melt Session #1” comes complete with the sense that Denzel is laying out all of his foibles and pain in order to begin the album cleansed. With its mixture of turbulence and serenity mirrored in the Robert Glasper assisted instrumentation, Denzel’s new willingness to let his affinity for jazz manifest pays dividends throughout the record, most notably on “Mental” with Saul Williams and over the arpeggiated pianos of “Angelz” which features none other than renowned jazz drummer Karriem Higgins (Kanye West, Kaytranada, Common, others). 

As the opening peeters out in a hail of choral sounds, these soaring vocals take on another hue on the strident “Walkin.”

Possessing one of the most potent beat switches of the year thus far, the track sees Denzel operating with the confidence of a man that can deliver a profundity such as “the selfish are constantly profiting off the helpless” without any need to linger or be self-congratulatory.

On “Worst Comes To Worst,” the existential crises continue to rage on, while in the case of “John Wayne,” Denzel deftly examines the bravado and self-preservation that a life of hardship and injustice necessitates over thunderous production from none other than alt-hip-hop agitator and multi-time collaborator JPEG Mafia. 

Although this record could prove to be legacy-defining, the impermanence of the human form lingers heavily on his mind on tracks such as “The Last” where he speaks of “too many homeless, too many people laying down too many roses.” Paired with a warped, Thundercat-embellished groove, the short but memorable “The Smell Of Death” sees Zeltron examining how even in our moments of contentment, the specter of our eventual demise is always hanging somewhere in the air. 

Although almost every passing moment of this record feels ripe for further analysis, what really separates– and potentially elevates– this album above Denzel’s other work is the sheer scale of its ambition in terms of sound. 

In some ways, it builds off of the freeform world that he and Kenny Beats conjured up on 2020’s Unlocked. But even when he’s taking a sojourn to unfamiliar lands or hooking up with new producers such as Cardo or Kal Banx, he seems as gleefully comfortable as he did when he used to trade in blistering hails of rhyme. 

Between its hook and a feature from the platinum-adorned T-Pain, “Troubles” could technically be seen as his most commercial record. Yet even when he’s made something which slightly errs towards chart fare, it is still unmistakably him. Between the gradually mounting intensity of his vocals and the philosophical nature of its subject matter, Denzel keeps one of his most digestible tracks in his wheelhouse through his refusal to compromise on the little touches that define his artistry. 

Much as he does on “Troubles,” features are used cautiously in order to retain their efficacy, and even when he loads up on them with “Ain’t No Way,” the end-product is thrilling to behold. 

An abrupt right turn into trap country courtesy of LO and Powers Pleasant, the ferocity of Rico Nasty’s guest verse makes them musical companions in ways that weren’t completely clear until they were finally aligned on a major track. Meanwhile, Spillage Village’s 6lack and JID’s appearances feel as though they’re just to further remind Denzel of the caliber of performance he’s aiming for. Sure enough, his reflective, punchline-filled verse doesn’t disappoint, with Denzel flexing his impeccable, notoriously off-the-dome lyrical abilities with bars such as “run the jewels ’cause I kill a mic on any LP, Trained up my body and soul, you can’t derail me.”

denzel curry 2022

Image provided by the artist. Photo credit: Adrian Villagomez

Marking a considerable shift in mood and urgency, “Ain’t No Way” isn’t his only trip back towards the more hard-hitting sonics that he made his name. While the explosive “X Wing” and “Sanjur” see him dip into sounds that he’s more attuned to, he never rests on his laurels. On the former, he adopts the most melodic flow of his entire career while “Sanjuro” sees him pay homage to the late MF Doom (“Bitch I’m a king, RIP to King Geedorah”) before delivering a duo of verses that the late supervillain would be proud of. 

Intent to end the record on a near-cinematic note, “Zatoitchi” serves as the epitome of his newfound, anything-goes approach. The kind of track that can only come from an unwavering, singular vision, Zeltron aligns drum and bass, ambient textures, and the frantic vocals of Slowthai as though it were the most natural thing in the world. All the while, divulging more scripture from the tao of Denzel Curry.  

Bringing proceedings to a close on a bittersweet but no less beautiful note, “The Ills” consolidates all of the themes under one roof over a steadily evolving boom-bap production from the crack team of Dot Da Genius, Noah Goldstein & A-Trak. 

A triumphant end to a triumphant album, Denzel suggests that he’s setting his sights on top 5’s with the coy, Kendrick-referencing bar of:

“Deities and darkness meetin’ at my dinner table

Deeper than rap, my life is real, this is my mystic fable

Play the bad guy just to finish the race first

‘Cause the last guy was nice, but he end up dying of thirst”

In music, there’s often a sense that an artist is on the downturn of their creativity or relevance by their fifth record but in Denzel’s case, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Much like the protagonists of the various anime and manga that he’s routinely drawn inspiration from, Denzel has had to undergo a lengthy personal odyssey in order to finally reach his most durable, unstoppable form. Now, all that remains is for the rest of the world to give him his flowers.

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