At Just 21, Denzel Curry is Already The “Ultimate” Artist

Similar to a movie director and far from a true “freshman,” Denzel Curry knows exactly who he is, what he wants, and how he wants it done. We chatted over FaceTime while he was back home in Carol City, Florida, his straight-to-the-point responses (the result of redundant questions in interviews, his neighborhood upbringing, constant travel, and industry politics) punctuated by laughs and greets with local friends as he strolled his block.

He isn’t the typical 21 year-old. But then again, neither are a lot of music’s well-seasoned youngsters already in their varsity years. He is, by no means, just a kid. Enlightened by life’s plot twists, he’s much wiser than that.

“People think I’m a lot younger because of the way I act,” Curry says. “Me on-camera and me off-camera are two different people.”

I get it. This game is run by those who go get the proverbial “it,” and he’s taking on a lot at a young age—carrying his city and his squad on his back, chasing greatness, all of which he’s been doing for the past five years already. Raised in a city of flags and divided zones, he’s been bred to operate as a strong individual, as a leader. Though he acknowledges impatience is his vice, he’s grown understandably tired of instability, hopping from one hotel bed to the next. But he’ll keep going until he achieves his self-set goal—of becoming “god-level” with the best music.

“I just want to make the best albums so I can be able to say, ‘I won Grammies off this. What else can I do?’” Curry says. “I have the capabilities to know I can win a Grammy off the stuff I do, and until that point, until I win Grammies, I’m gonna keep snapping.”

Recently blessed with an XXL Freshman Class co-sign and feature, and a premiere on Zane Lowe’s Beats1 show, he’s well on his way.

Rap battles taught him discipline.

I remember this one time I got into a battle and I got destroyed—like demolished—because I didn’t take the battle seriously. I learned that I don’t like losing—at all. And since that day, I’ve become a different person. The rap game’s boring now. I ain’t even gonna lie—when I got into it with SpaceGhostPurrp, and me and him was going, dissing each other, that was fun to me. We were giving them a show, and they were going to pick who won and who lost.

Now, when [rappers] beef, they beef on Twitter, and then they’ll be like, “Yo, I’m sorry guys! I love this guy, haha! Yeah, we’re friends!” and they don’t even like each other. Everybody plays nice so they can get to a better position. Sometimes it’s to help out the clique; sometimes it’s just to actually, legit make music.

You won’t catch him placing any bets.

I learned a valuable lesson about betting on games. I remember in ’07, me and my homie made a bet [on a big football game]. I lost. He called me and starting singing Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar,” telling me, “Yeah, you owe me $10,” and that made me hot because I was a Lupe Fiasco fan at the time too. I hate losing.

His life gets hectic, but he still makes it a point to enjoy it all.

Sometimes it can be very overwhelming, but you just gotta get back on that horse and do what you gotta do. If not, you’re gonna be stagnant. I’d rather be doing a lot than nothing at all. I’m blessed that I’m actually doing all of this at the age of 21 because I didn’t know what my life was gonna be after 18.

But one thing I don’t like is when I’m around people and they’ll just be like, “Bro, freestyle right now! Rap on the spot!” Like, I just got done on stage. Let’s try this again. “Hello. How are you doing today?”

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“The moment you see this as work is the moment it flops.”

I just have fun with it, dog. Have fun with recording, and then you make something serious out of it and it becomes a masterpiece. Shows are just hard work because you’re sweating and gyrating and performing on stage, but at the same time, the people are gonna be yelling to give you that energy, and you can have fun with them. And then you have your projects and everything, and you really wanna come with the concept. We’re having fun in the booth because I get excited writing, and it’s just a reflection of me.

Don’t Force It.

If I’m forced to create something then I’m not gonna create it at all. If I have writer’s block I just draw because if I can’t create something in writing, I’m going to create something artistically and vent until I get a block there. Then I can go back to writing. Whatever I do, even if I just go outside, I hang away from it for a minute and then I go back to it probably a day or two later. I just relax I want it to sound real, you feel me? I like drawing all of this stuff. I create my own merchandise because of my artwork. If you see my shirts and everything, like the ULTIMATE gear, I created that. I send it to Julian [Consuegra], who is a part of Stray Rats, and he’s helped me out too with the designs. Most of this was derived from just stuff I created in my own book.

He also draws inspiration from the creative process behind movies and cartoons.

I like epics because I feel like it’s another world I can dive in to. I like [American Beauty] a lot because it had a lot of plot twists in it. It was really a deep movie. When I watch a movie, I pay attention to the plot. I like movies that make me think and have a certain cohesiveness. That’s why I treat my albums like that. If you listen to Nostalgic and you’ve seen the videos that came from Nostalgic—like “Threats,” “Zone 3,” “Parents”— all of that is derived from one universe. If you look at Robert Rodriguez’s movies like From Dusk Till Dawn, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Desperado, [El] Mariachi—all of that is in one universe, and that’s what I take from. I just like anything that deals with two universes combining to make one alternate universe.

Curry wants to combine different art worlds together like Andre 3000.

I mainly look at Andre 3000 because I see how he switches it up with every album. He did cartoons; he’s mastered so many instruments and everything, and that’s what I want to strive to be. And, the fact that he works out. He’s everything, like a full package. Every person that I look up to has been everything—artistic, sex symbol, stands for something—that’s what I’m into. I want to be just as beautiful as my artwork, you know? The way I’ll do an [art] exhibit, it’s probably gonna be showing how I took my [art] book and made it correlate with my music, and show my music videos to show different worlds.

Listening to other artists makes him go harder.

I’m an artist; I’m supposed to listen, because way back in 2013, when I was creating Nostalgic, everything that was coming out at that time was good. Chance came out with Acid Rap, and I was like, “Oh!” I couldn’t be left in the dust, bruh, if I was really serious about making an album. I made it raw so people would know who I am because everybody was coming out with some fire. The only reason it’s good to be a fan of your own stuff and listen to it on a day-to-day basis is so you don’t get influenced by everybody else, and when you listen to yourself again off of a certain project, you’ll figure out ways to perfect the next project. That’s what I did when I was creating Imperial.

He wants to unite his city, a la Gucci Mane in Atlanta

I look up to Gucci because of what he did for Atlanta. What he did for Atlanta really helped Atlanta out, and I want to do that for Miami because there’s no type of unity out here in South Florida. I’m trying to change that at least to a point where people are tolerant of each other, but not fake.

… But he’s not in a rush to go mainstream.

This whole system is ruled by debt. If you owe somebody, you have a debt, and I don’t want to have a debt. If I’m backed by a major label, I want to come in with my own money so they won’t tell me what to do because I know what works for me. I don’t want a major label to change me. If I play their game, I gotta follow their rules. [If] they play my game, they gotta follow mine. It’s getting easier for independent artists because everybody wanna do their own thing, but it’s still a grind for independence.

Be on the lookout for ULT Radio.

ULT Radio is just in the works right now. I’m finna play everythang, from old school to new school, from underground to mainstream. That’s the goal because I got tired of hearing 99 Jamz and 103.5 The Beat play the same stuff in rotation. I’m finna have one of my boys DJ and host it. We’re gonna launch the first one and see how it plays out. It’s gonna be crazy. I’m finna take it to another level.

Before the XXL cover was announced, these were his thoughts on getting those type of honors.

That’s any man’s game. At this point, it should be important to me, but really, I’m just in it for the music and creating the hardest stuff possible; being legendary and teaching the whole world.

Even if I take an L, I’m gon’ come back ten times stronger since I took that L. My thing is not giving up, being the Ultimate. And you gotta take some L’s to be the Ultimate. Tell my fans, in order to be real and true to yourself, expose yourself before somebody else can. That way, nobody can say anything about you.

Images: Devin Christopher, Josean Salgado, Ana DeMarco

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