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Life after ‘Melt’: A conversation with Denzel Curry

Photo courtesy of Danny Pleckham

Off the back of his critically-acclaimed album ‘Melt My Eyez, See Your Future,’ Denzel Curry spoke on the aftermath of ‘Melt,’ touring, his upcoming hiatus, future collaborations with Redveil, Mike Dimes , JEELEL!, aspirations to make R&B and so much more.

“I want to see you guys sign up for martial arts and get your skills up,” Denzel Curry joked as our Zoom call wrapped up. Wide-eyed and smiling throughout our hour-long chat, the enigmatic Florida emcee seemed to be at peace — focusing more on his life outside of music as of late.

Six months removed from his AOTY contender Melt My Eyez, See Your Future, Curry comfortably feels that he’s achieved the greatest heights imaginable in rap. Regardless of the weekly numbers, total sales and industry fanfare surrounding his latest LP, Melt is the defining moment in Curry’s career, where he revealed who he truly was “unapologetically” — throwing away the “rah rah” characters he portrayed himself to be on past projects like ZUU and TA1300.

Praised within a plethora of mid-year lists as a Top 3 album of 2022, it’s evident that Zel’s self-proclaimed magnum opus, which he alluded to in our March interview, came from him living and experiencing every day at a time — away from the booth and scribbling lyrics on post-it notes. MMESYF was not only therapeutic for the “Sanjuro” rapper, but a testament to everything life brings forth — a ceaseless combination of colors, emotions and, in Melt’s case, genres. While teasing its deluxe earlier this summer, Zel is keeping its contents an absolute surprise for fans, saying if Melt was a movie, the deluxe would be reimagined for IMAX.

However, this next phase for Curry looks to include less studio time and more doing what he desires. With aspirations of competing in a martial arts tournament — in which Zel has trained for the past five years — and making a full-on R&B album, in this moment, Zel is striving to become the person he wants to be by letting it all come to him.

“I’m gonna have a hiatus so I can live my life and make the music I want to make,” he said. “The next step, and I’m not going to sit here and hold this back, is the R&B sh*t. I think I hit my ceiling when it came to rap. I already have a plan for that. I wanna make sure If I make an R&B album, I want to look like him, dress like him, and I want to be him — or going to become him.”

Amid performances at Lollapalooza and an upcoming tour with one of his idols Kid Cudi, Zel is reaping the rewards of Melt’s success and is focused on living his life to the fullest.

Read our full conversation with Zel below!

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity, conducted by OGM’s Jon Barlas and Thomas Galindo.

TG: In March, you chopped it up with OGM host Hakeem Rowe, and you agreed with him that MMESYF is your magnum opus. How do you think you’ll move forward with future music and projects when you feel like you’ve already reached your ceiling? Where is there room for improvement for you?

Zel: “In order to make even better stuff than what I’ve made now, I have to live. I was able to live those last two years when making Melt. So, moving forward, I will have to live my life for real for real. Not working and living my life, I’m talking absolutely living my life. Not going places that I’ve never been on tour that nobody relates to, because not a lot of people can travel. I just have to live my life that people can relate to. That’s how I’m gonna do it, even if it takes four years to do so.”

TG: For the upcoming deluxe, will you continue the same production styles you used for MMESYF? With limited 808s and jazz/R&B/boom-bap influence?

Zel: “Ooh, the Deluxe is going to sound cool. I can’t really tell you too much because I’ll ruin the surprise. But, imagine you hear an album in its entirety and how it’s supposed to sound, but really like reimagining it. It’ll still sound the same, but imagine you just watched it in a regular theater and this time it’s in IMAX and it’s the extended version. You’ll see and you’ll be thoroughly surprised in what you hear.”

JB: With that being said, being more versatile is kind of the namesake of how Melt sounds. It’s a different sound, a different side of your artistry than we’ve seen from you in recent years. Going into the deluxe, are you making songs to try to fit that Melt vibe?

Zel: “The Melt sound, if you really think about it, everything is a mixing of genres. Look at “Walkin” for instance, I mixed boom-bap and Southern hip-hop together. That was a mixture of the genre to make a hybrid of it. And then I had songs like “Ain’t No Way,” which is the same sh*t. We just took something with crazy 808s and then blended it with boom-bap and created that Melt sound. And you have songs that literally just take the 808s, but then give it the atmosphere of something tight like “The Last.” Then you give something that’s super experimental like “John Wayne” produced by JPEGMAFIA. All of it has to come together because the albums that influenced this, not only were the jazz albums and rap albums, but you had Trip-hop albums, because that was one of the genres I wanted to tackle. One of the main people that I was listening to in trip-hop was Portishead. I wanted something that sounded similar to Portishead and the only person that could pull it off besides them was Peggy… I would say (the deluxe) will live on its own in comparison (to Melt). You’re going to listen to this and you’re going to be like, ‘What the f**k.’ It’s gonna blow your mind.”

TG: Before the album’s release, you said you were not nervous of the fans’ reception of it because you knew it had “no skips,” was the reception what you thought it would be?

Zel: “Yes. Because Australia ended up getting it first the day before it came out, but it came out technically that day for them. So when they were tweeting it, it was nothing but praise coming from it, with a couple of people that’s gonna be like, ‘Man, f**k this album, I don’t get it.’ Everybody else was like, ‘Bro, this shit is f*****g fire, this is crazy, his lines, the way he writes his lyrics, everything is on point.’ That’s what I wanted. I wanted to show I’ve grown lyrically, sonically and as a man. That’s what I wanted to package on the album. Even the way I dress now, I usually would just wear the same sh*t, the same outfit. Now I’m dressing up more because one of the main influences on the album was (Yusaka) Matsuda, who was pretty much the basis of Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop. Everything’s different, and I felt like I met my goal with it because people see a certain image of it. They see the three videos that I came out with, and there will be a fourth video that comes out later on this year. But, they see those three videos and they get to see the three different personalities but the same premise, like a movie.”

“That’s part of the art form. The way you look, the way you dress, the way you act, conduct yourself. It also comes with how the cover looks, how your videos look, how the music sounds, everything comes together that way. Even the font was important to me. The font came from Gundam Wing. That’s why, when you see all those images of Melt in all those posters, the font looks like that, because it came from anime. But when it came down to the music, I wanted it to be seen as a movie like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Fistful of Dollars or Few Dollars More or Yojimbo and Sanjuro. That’s why I have a song called “Sanjuro,” I wanted to show my stance in America and the turmoil of America, because it felt like the wild west for us for a hot minute.”

TG: In the interview with Hakeem, you mentioned how much Kid Cudi had influenced your work and how you studied his music while making MMESYF. How special does it feel to be going on tour with him now? Additionally, how special was it to make a song with him in “Talk About Me” with JID and Dot Da Genius?

Zel: “That song was supposed to be on ZUU. I made that song the same day Nipsey Hussle died, with Dot Da Genius. Cudi was going through beats with Dot one day, and Dot played that song and he was just like, ‘Wait, who the f**k is this?’ He didn’t know who I was, and Dot was like, ‘You never heard of Denzel Curry?’ He was like, ‘Nah, never heard of him. I like this song, I want to write to it. I’m gonna do this song.’ And he did it. I was like, ‘What the f**k.’ Sh*t was crazy. When it came down to me studying, I’m a Kid Cudi fan, obviously. Going on tour with him is a dream. I can’t believe I’m actually going on tour with a n***a that I used to listen to. I heard “Leader of the Delinquents,” and that’s what made me reach out to Dot. If I would have never done that, the majority of the album wouldn’t have come to fruition the way it did. After I got kicked out of my studio, Dot let us use the back room and that’s where we recorded a majority of Melt. That just became my home, I got a key to it and everything. I go there and go record whenever I feel like it.”

JB: This new wave of the underground stars who are independent are taking the industry by storm. Every year, there seems to be less and less division between the popularity of underground acts and mainstream talents. Can you speak on how the underground is shaping music today and the importance of it moving forward? Are there some underground acts you’re biting at the bit to work with?

Zel: “Of course, like redveil and midwxst. Actually, me and redveil got a song that’s about to come out. But yeah, midwxst, JELEEL! *shouts infamous ‘JELEEL YEAH!’ ad-lib*, Mike Dimes, PlayThatBoiZay. Those are the main dudes that I really have been looking at for real for real. Also AG Club, I’m supposed to work with those guys as well. I like their energy, I like their vibe… It’s just a crazy experience because these kids are shaping the way music’s sounding now.”

TG: You’ve previously said that you wanted to make music that girls could sing along to and that everybody could really experience and enjoy, as opposed to the “rah rah” music you used to make. Would you consider this album a turning point in your career and how you want fans to engage with your music?

Zel: “Oh yeah, because I know dudes still gon’ like this sh*t too. I’m not a dude person. I hate hanging out with n****s, I love hanging out with women. That’s my thing. I hate hanging out with dudes. Period. Unless they my n****s, but other than that, I don’t like hanging around dudes. That’s why I don’t go to no f*****g after-parties and sh*t like that. If it’s a Denzel Curry after-party, most likely, there’s no women there and it’s nothing but dudes. I don’t go.”

“But all jokes aside, when it came down to me, and this album, and the point I wanted to prove, I just wanted to make this for the growing. That was really what I made the album for. But sonically, I wanted to be easier on the ears so that way everybody can listen to it. It worked, because every show that I was at, a lot of women were there, alongside all the men fans that I have, but a lot of women did come in attendance with their boyfriends because they heard the album and they really loved it.”

TG: You also mentioned how much you wanted this album to be nominated for and hopefully win Grammys, is that still a priority for you?

Zel: “Hell yeah, because I know it’s gonna hit. We’re seven months into the year, it just came out in March, right? Every list that came out this year, mid-year lists, Melt was in it. And it was probably, almost near the top of that list. If it’s not next to Kendrick’s it was like two or three down from him. It’s been seven months. This whole year has went by and we’re in month seven, and people are still talking about Melt. So that means I did a really good job regardless of what sales said. Sonically, it’s a really good album.”

TG: The day after Kendrick Lamar dropped Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, you went on Twitter to express how you felt saying both of your albums spread the same message. Do you still feel this way? Do you think more artists will make more albums that look like this going forward?

Zel: “Yeah, he was saying the exact same things I was saying on his album. The only difference is he had more tracks and a little bit more detail. But, when it comes down to the fusion of us making music like that, of course there’s going to be somebody that’s going to come out and make music like that. They’re probably going to look at both of these albums and see the flaws between both his album and my album, figure that out and make a bigger album and probably draw those as inspirations. But I said what I said about Kendrick because I admire his work. I don’t diss Kendrick at all. I just understand where he’s coming from with his music.”

TG: Would you say that fans’ reaction to Kendrick having that approach was kind of overlooking your approach that came before it?

Zel: “Yeah, see if Kendrick would have come out with a Melt My Eyez, they’d be praising him like a god. But since it’s me, they don’t expect it because they’re so used to me in their brains being a ‘rah rah’ guy. So, it was a surprise to them. But, they weren’t looking forward to it because they thought it was gonna be that and it wasn’t that at all. They really liked it, but it caught them by surprise.”

JB: What’s the main message you want to get across to people that are just hearing you for the first time [on Melt]?”

Zel: “Man, when it came down to that, I just wanted to be honest with people. I gave you personalities, but I didn’t give you me. I didn’t give you who I was, and [Melt] was the album to do it. I was like, ‘This is me. This is who I am unapologetically.’”