Denzel Curry first came onto the hip-hop scene as a wild teenager who rapped with the Raider Klan, an up and coming underground crew based in South Florida. His confrontational track “Ultimate” went viral in 2016, breaking him into XXL’s “Freshman Class” cover with contemporaries like 21 Savage and Anderson .Paak. His following releases demonstrated his knack of seamlessly balancing longer, more ambitious works with shorter, lighter projects. Before the dark three-parter TA1300, there was the EP 13, and before this latest album, he came out with ZUU, a largely freestyled tribute to his family and hometown of Carol City. With a tracklist a full 45 minutes in length, Melt My Eyez See Your Future is not only a return to a more conceptual Curry but a complete evolution of his career.
The album sees Curry trade out his signature hard-hitting trap 808s for a more controlled, jazzier brand of nostalgic hip hop. He also departs from his numerous characters and personalities to rap candidly as his real self, culminating in a more mature project and personal journey that deals with his surrounding world of capitalism, police brutality, and institutional racism. In an interview with Loud and Quiet, Curry stated that the album has two faces. Melt My Eyez represents what people choose not to see – the news, criticism, truth, and themselves – while See Your Future is emblematic of Curry’s self-reflection and his commitment to sharing his own story of accepting the past and moving forward.
Part of this commitment comes from his experience with therapy during the pandemic. In the same interview, Curry talked about how sorting through underlying trauma helped him gain a sense of self-assuredness to reveal parts of his true self in the album. Tracks like the opener “Melt Session #1” and “The Last” seem to come from Curry figuring out some of the answers. In the former he says, “Dealt with thoughts of suicide, women / I’ve objectified / Couldn’t see it through my eyes so for / that I apologize,” and “Accountability, I take responsibility / For all my actions, I packed them in these soliloquies.”
The album’s first single, “Walkin” seems to encapsulate the entire project. The track’s music video depicts Curry as a lone traveler navigating the desert of a spaghetti Western, while the music gives off a contemplative boom-bap sound. He raps about the systems in place that hold him back; “They ready to set us up for failure / it’s systematic / But when I felt it, my eyes melted / The selfish are constantly profitin’ off the helpless.” However, the beat suddenly switches into energetic trap as if Curry is waking up from his malaise; “Bullshit fly my way, I keep walkin’,” he proclaims. Curry has witnessed the “dirty, filthy, rotten, nasty little world we call our home,” and instead of letting it all happen, he pushes for change through his music. By rapping about everyone’s commonalities and collective predicament, he intends to bring people together when the world does everything to tear them apart.
Melt My Eyez‘ production mirrors the project’s overall change in perspective for the rapper. Curry takes his sound in a completely different direction by adding a blend of jazz, R&B, boom bap, funk, neo-soul, dancehall, and punk to his classic hip-hop beats, and a glance at the credits reveals an expansive set of collaborators. The opener “Melt Session #1” features well-renowned pianist and producer Robert Glasper, while “Angelz” highlights jazz drummer and hip-hop producer Karriem Riggins. In addition, he reconvenes with previous collaborators, with JPEGMAFIA arriving in the hazy “John Wayne” and Kenny Beats in “Troubles”, who smoothly combines T-Pain’s vocal delivery with the Curry’s sensibilities.
The second half of the album is just as varied as the first. “X-Wing” mixes strings and hi-hats as Curry raps melodically about his success and the hate that comes with it. But perhaps the most unique track is the Thundercat-produced “The Smell of Death”, a short cut that uses psychedelic synthesizers and snippets of vocal samples to complement Curry’s aggressive rhymes.
As the album goes on, the vastness of Curry’s ambition becomes apparent. He’s not just changing his production but also his entire approach to making music. He’s taking risks in an attempt to make a classic, multifaceted album. This is evident in “Ain’t No Way” where Curry enlists the help of 6lack, Rico Nasty, JID, and Jasiah – artists whom he clearly respects and values, and he gets repaid with hungry verses from the whole line-up; it’s reminiscent of something that would end up on a classic Kanye album. He even references Jay-Z and his debut Reasonable Doubt, noting that Jigga released it when he was 26, the same age Curry is now.
However, not all of Curry’s swings are flawless. While “Sanjuro” showcases Curry’s lyrical delivery, Cardo’s production doesn’t add much to the track, and “Mental” feels like it could be developed further. “Zatoichi” interestingly incorporates breakbeats, but they drown out Slowthai’s distorted vocals, rendering the chorus unintelligible.
Despite these slight missteps, Melt My Eyez See Your Future is a profound exploration of the state of the world and Curry himself. He works with a diverse set of producers and collaborators to transform his sound and incorporates the aesthetics of Westerns and the samurai films that inspired them to disclose his inner feelings and personality. With this album, Curry wants to let the world know who he is and what he stands for, and the music is all the better for it.