Review Summary: The ultimate has returned, this time with no heart
For most fans of modern rap Denzel Curry needs little in the way of introduction, thanks to his viral hit “Ultimate” which took him from the underground mixtape scene to trap rap stardom. Since then it’s been an upward trajectory for Curry, signified by his inclusion in the controversial 2016 XXL freshman class, where his cypher performance made him stand out against the lean soaked waves of his mumble rap classmates. Since then Curry has been fairly quiet with new material, despite a number of high profile interview appearances and collabs (check out the badbadnotgood sessions especially), but now he has returned to break the silence with this surprise EP.
This time around there appears to be no struggle anthems like on last year’s Imperial, just 13 minutes of straight up cold and aggressive bars, a tone set by the crushing opener “Bloodshed” where Curry proclaims on the hook – “Denzel why did you have to bring the bloodshed, cos a *** n***a ***ed with the ultimate”. From then on in the anger never ceases, with each track seeing Curry spit nothing but pure vitriol over noisy, bass-injected trap instrumentals. Even the more laid back and conventional sounding closer “Zeltron 6 Billion” seethes with rage, coming complete with a p****d off Lil Ugly Mane on the second verse who exhibits pure chemistry with Curry, in spite of their contrasting styles.
Despite the heavy and distorted nature of production, the beats (with the exception of “Zeltron”) on 13 are fairly minimal, often composed of a simple synth lead at most, allowing the focus to be placed on Curry’s vocals. Fortunately, Curry does not disappoint in this area, delivering his trademark internal rhymes while constantly flicking through his repertoires of rapid fire flows. He even tries a new vocal style on “Heartless”, channelling the anger of the South Floridian streets through a sort of deep and booming roar. However, without any reversion to his usual style, the track does become monotonous.
Curry has always shown he can whip up a strong hook, a fact made known to all on his career defining smash hit “Ultimate”, however, on he has honed this ability further, offering the listener a collection of instantly memorable hooks. One example is on “Zeltron 6 Billion”, where Curry flows through the hook with razor sharp precision, adlibbed with frantic yelps to ensure the song ingrains in the listener’s brain.
The main drawback with 13 is a sense of incompletion that lingers throughout, making the finished product somewhat unsatisfying. One example being the terrible guest verse slapped on the second half of “Synthesizer” by long-term production associate “Ronny J”. Here Ronny contributes nothing but autotuned filler of the usual trap tirades, whose warbling’s are made all the more incomprehensible by the crushing bass that elevated the preceding Curry verse and hook. Industrial-esque “Hate Government” also stumbles in this respect, clocking in at a measly 1:48; a real shame considering the track itself is an undeniable banger.
The incomplete nature of 13 may reflect on Curry’s desire to capitalise on his recent achievements. Perhaps he would have been better off investing in more time to develop a fully-fledged and focussed album, rather than something that feels rushed; hopefully this is what we’ll get with his heavily rumoured upcoming Taboo project. Still, the majority of material on display here has Curry playing to his strengths, with a few additional ideas here and there, serving as a strong appetiser for any future releases from the knotty headed wordsmith.