By Christian Hince | April 18, 2022
(Credit: Brad Harvey, photo found on flickr.com)
Two years after his last studio project, Denzel Curry has re-emerged with his most subdued, serious, and varied album yet: “Melt My Eyez See Your Future.”
Denzel Curry has always been known for his work ethic. Having rapped since his teenage years with the Florida-based Raider Klan, Denzel’s signature aggressive delivery, use of alternate personas and pop culture wit, and loyalty to his Carol City roots have long made the 27-year-old an esteemed figure in hip-hop.
Before 2022 however, Denzel had yet to seriously tap into his emotional side through music. This changes within the first minute of “Melt My Eyez,” the product of brainstorming and planning which dates all the way back to 2018.
The opening track “Melt Session Pt.1” introduces the record’s personal themes in full coloration. Denzel raps about being molested as a child, his mistreatment of women, substance abuse, and social isolation among a general haze of emotional unease. Robert Glasper’s smooth and jazzy but still urgent production completes a powerful opening track that stands apart from anything in Denzel’s prior discography.
This unforeseen level of personal depth of the record’s opener flows into “Walkin,” the album’s lead single released in January. Kal Banx’s simple production driven by an angelic vocal melody powerfully backdrops Denzel’s lyrics about personal and institutional issues. His commentary lands through both the calm and pensive first section and the energetic trap drums in the second part, with the song sporting an infectious chorus albeit its seriousness. “‘Keep on walkin’, ain’t no stoppin’, in this dirty, filthy, rotten nasty world we call our home,” he raps.
“The Last” is also an exemplary moment in this regard, channeling exciting energy into one of the record’s darkest moments. Here, Denzel leans into the pandemic gloom defining the two years between “Melt My Eyez” and his Kenny Beats collaboration, “UNLOCKED!” “Brung a mask for the whole day, we ain’t tryna get sick so we walk around with no face,” Denzel raps on a loaded hook which juggles other current event topics such as the substance abuse, and police brutality.
While Denzel’s newfound openness about personal and widespread difficulties of life make this record on average more serious, he still makes sure to have fun while addressing hardships. “’Cause they smacked us in the face with that bulls***, now I gotta focus on makin’ my soul lit,” he raps on the swinging “Worst Comes to Worst.”
On “Troubles,” the record’s third and final single, Denzel and left-field guest T-Pain easily work humor and playfulness into their musings about personal troubles persisting through show-business success. “Think you happy when your a** get rich, blow my money cause a bag ain’t s***,” the two of them sing over a weirdly contagious Kenny Beats production led by a jittery keyboard riff.
Even though problems and troubles are at the heart of “Melt My Eyez See Your Future,” Denzel’s acknowledgement of them is only one half of the picture.
“Melt My Eyez’ is a metaphor for things we choose not to see on a daily basis,” he said in a March 14 interview with Loud and Quiet. “Most importantly, we avoid facing the truth ourselves when it’s right in front of us.” Meanwhile, ‘See Your Future’ comes from “self-reflection” and motivation to “move forward in life if we don’t focus on the past.”
While tracks such as “Walkin’” and “The Last” capture the first part of the record’s title, “See Your Future” is well represented in the song which directly follows “The Last”: “Mental.” While the soothing, jazzy production makes it work incredibly well as a follow up track, the highlight performance here is Saul Williams’ spoken word outro about art which comes from sorrow. “Needed somethin’ death could dance to,” he muses during the song’s final seconds. “Sorrow streamlined into story, dancing alone in front of speakers my whole life.”
When it comes to the motivation behind “See Your Future,” no moment on the album is more energetic or driven than the posse cut “Ain’t No Way.” Here, Rico Nasty, 6LACK, Jasiah, and JID deliver charged contributions over a bright production which melds chipmunk soul, trap, and boom bap.
Despite the smoothness of 6LACK’s hook, the tenacity of Rico Nasty’s opening verse, and the technical prowess of JID’s 16 bars, Denzel’s clever, reference-loaded final verse full of aspiration stands tall on this cut. “Ain’t no way this the way I’m livin’ out my final days, I feel like JAY, chakra flowin’ through me like a tidal wave,” he raps.
Denzel’s affinity for pop culture references is something he’s been long known for and something he maintains on this record.
On “John Wayne” he compares himself to the western movie legend while discussing gun violence and police brutality over a hazy JPEGMAFIA beat. “911, emergency will murder me the day I call ‘em,” he raps. “Now they got me livin’ lawless, I’m the furthest thing from flawless.”
On “Zatoichi,” Denzel and Slowthai race against a spacy breakbeat production with conviction in the face of life’s various hardships. “I’m Zatoichi leadin’ the blind, pressure get applied,” he raps on the pre-chorus, comparing himself to the fictional blind Japanese swordsman in his quest to lead himself and those around him to self-fulfillment.
There’s also a “Naruto in Sage Mode” reference in “The Smell of Death,” featuring electrifying acid-jazz production from Thundercat on a track which is criminally cut shy of 90 seconds.
The one knock on “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” is that the second half of the album dips slightly compared to what precedes it. Denzel’s mumble rap hook on the trappy, violin driven “X-Wing” is mesmerizing, but the song’s verses feature one of his more unengaging flows. “Sanjuro” is a solid trap song with Florida homage that reminisces to ZUU, however the chemistry between Denzel and 454 is cut short with the song barely reaching the two-minute mark.
These are minor slights for an excellent album, and it finishes subtly but powerfully with “The Ills.” While Denzel admits plainly that his struggles continue, he clearly seems to be in a place of greater solace than he was at the record’s beginning. “The kid inside me always seems to man up, the higher power is within myself, no need to pan up,” he raps over a simple jazz rap beat. The ending of “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” shows clear progress for Denzel Curry, making it his most purposeful album yet.
It's only fitting for growth to be the record’s takeaway. Not only is this one of the most cohesive and profound hip-hop albums of the last decade, but in just 45 minutes, Denzel Curry incorporates a level of musical variation and creativity most rappers never see. If this is Denzel’s peak then it’s an earned one, because “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” is an inspiring and rewarding musical journey that any hip-hop fan can enjoy.