Denzel Curry - TA13OO
"Soon black balloons pop, that’ll be the day the pain stops."
At the age of 23, Denzel Curry is incredibly comfortable in his own skin. His latest album, TA13OO, touches on themes of paranoia, fame, the music industry, Trump, revenge and personal pain. Broken into three parts (light, grey, and dark) TA13OO is exceedingly ambitious, meticulously thought-out and deeply thematic. Curry showcases a true sparkle of potential in the relentlessly boring battle of authenticity in the rap world.
Curry doesn't play that game. His art speaks for itself. He doesn't rap about weapons, jail-time, a battle with drugs or a rough upbringing. Instead of wasting time on flex lyrics, he is acutely focused on creating a raw and thought-provoking album, littered with deep metaphors and cultural observations. While he does talk about his upbringing and hardships, starting with the title track "TABOO", this isn't a chronicling of his life, but rather, a snapshot of where he is now.
Despite being broken into three different shades, the overall aesthetic of TA13OO is dark. The opener, "TABOO", fearlessly tells the story of a childhood friend who suffered horrible abuse, and the forbidden relationship the two of them shared. A perfect start to an album named after the things we do not speak of, Curry wants to examine all of them. It's a ballsy track to open an album with, considering this is supposed to be the "light" section.
"Black Balloons" follows, a laid-back groove with a catchy chorus. Black balloons are a symbol used all over the album to represent pain. "Soon black balloons pop, that’ll be the day the pain stops." The track also features one of several allusions to the famous Stephen King book It, drawing parallels between his own life and the book. As it concludes, the tune morphs into a frenzy of sound effects, radio frequencies and the mentioning of Denny Cascade, a previous persona. A voice questions whether Curry is even making an album, and another asks "What exactly are you trying to hide, Mr. Curry?"
Before switching into the "grey" section of TA13OO, Curry muses about how he's "made it" in "CASH MANIAC", a damn-near immaculate production. Referencing 8-Mile, Curry raps, "I see my Future, but I'm not B-Rabbit", emphasizing the rap world is more than taking care of his bank account, he's not going to need a side-hustle. The last track of the "light" section, "SUMO", is actually heavy as hell, and from here on out the album goes extremely hard. It's the first tune on TA13OO with a speaker-breaking bass line combined with his more recognizable aggressive triplet style.
The "grey" section has some truly impressive tracks worth highlighting. Curry is a remarkably diverse MC, and his patience to show off his toolbox of tricks is uncanny for a 23-year-old star. "SWITCH IT UP" introduces Curry's aggressive rasp that adds yet another element to his persona. The lyrics cover a lot of ground here, from suicide (a major theme on the record) to mental health. The chorus itself is likely meant to represent bipolar disorder and one's major mood swings. But the verses are packed tight, and lines like "If you put out a hit, bet you the killer ain't gon' make a cent" is a wonderfully creative take on the music industry making money off artists hit songs.
"MAD I GOT IT" is slow and sparse, but Curry again shows his patience and comfort in his talent. He's not afraid of leaving a few bars of silence or experimenting with vocal rhythms, and talks about the jealousy his friends, whether part of paranoia or not, have cultivated towards Curry.
The first real overt anger towards the government is shown on "SIRENS", and specifically calls out Donald Trump. It's not an obligatory reference in today's political world, instead, Curry wants to spotlight this is a topic he cares about. But, this is not what the album is about and he's smart enough to stay focused, as opposed to feeling the pressure to make repeated political stances.
The final act of TA13OO is "dark", and "PERCS" is an outstanding diss track. Taking direct aim at the rap world, Curry calls out mumble rappers and face tattoos. He considers, "maybe I should go to jail to get my name up, then get out and show you how to fuck the game up." He's quick to point out, however, "I don't even try to hate, I'm just saying what I ain't."
TA13OO is already the third album from the ambitious rapper from South Florida. He's been through his fair share of pain, and the death of his brother is a heartbreaking story. TA13OO isn't about overcoming these challenges or inspiring those with similar pain. It is simply comfortable telling its story, comfortable with the different shades of life.
There are certainly some lines that don't work, some songs that perhaps stretch a bit too far, some melodies a tad too dissonant and some vocal decisions fleshing out slightly awkwardly. But these are small nit-pickings compared to the overall success of the album. Ultimately, TA13OO is an impactful effort and a signal of a true star being born out of darkness.