Review: “Unlocked”

This is the cover art for Unlocked by the artist Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, PH/Loma Vista, or the graphic artist(s).

Out of absolutely nowhere, Denzel Curry has decided to link up with budding producer, Kenny Beats, for “Unlocked,” a sleek 17 minutes of some of the most braggadocious, exemplary and notable hip-hop to hit the community in years. 

The two collaborated on a short EP released Feb. 7 for what seems like the explicit purpose of letting Curry strut his stuff for a few minutes. From the lyrics to the musical composition to the underlying coherency and short evolution which the project achieves, I have not listened to a project composed as tightly as this one since Pusha T’s immediate classic, “Daytona,” which ran seven songs in 24 minutes. 

Curry has been growing in acclaim since the release of his hit song, “Ultimate,” in 2015. Since 2013 he has released four full albums and a few shorter projects to accompany those. All of them have worked toward building his heavy crunk and Houston ‘screw’ sounds into more refined elaborations of these, palatable to those not familiar with Curry’s eclectic sonic predecessors such as Trick Daddy, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and DMX. 

In more recent years, Kenny Beats has been proving himself one of the most versatile producers to touch a keyboard. His mature sense for hip-hop and its different traditions gives him the ability to compliment Rico Nasty’s loud punk-influenced hip-hop just as well as 03 Greedo’s bouncy Oakland sound. Beats has produced entire projects for both artists. 

Beats is most well known for his YouTube show, “The Cave,” where he brings on various artists, everyone from 6lack to Thundercat to Omar Apollo to Lil Yachty. They record a song over a beat he makes upon their arrival, demonstrating his creative process. For reference on Beats’ versatility, simply refer to the fact that Lil Yachty is the only artist listed who makes what could be solely considered as hip-hop.

As early as the intro track, Curry warns his listener that this project, which would be analogous to an interlude in the context of the entirety of his discography, is truly a prelude to what he thinks he is capable of. 

Curry ends “Track 01” arguing, “I’m historical/I’m the Oracle/I been known what’s in store for you/And all this has been just the beginning.”

Curry’s exhibition of pure lyrical skill is tempered by a strong sense of brevity throughout his raps on this project. This means everything comes hard and fast, a style which Curry has continuously been fine-tuning throughout his career. “Take_it_Back_v2” is a beat that begins with a hard, sustained guitar riff that dissolves into a recurrent accent in a beat dominated by an almost typical trap beat. But Curry would never let a song with his name on it be characterized as anything reminiscent of typical.

“My birth’s an accident, so what is life initially, /Officially love and lust accompanied by misery, /So obsessed with company, / Watchin’ how you move, how you walk, where your compass be, / Even when / you move to an island, livin’ comfortably, / (Drama still follows), / Harry Potter clip filled with deadly ass hollows, / Bangin’ out your trunk but it’s not a Monte Carlo, / Here’s how it really goes, now open up the car door.”

And mind you, this song isn’t even my standout. 

Since hearing this album soon after it came out, a distinct shift in my perspective regarding the place of Curry amongst his colleagues – who compete regularly – in the rap game occurred. Next to Kendrick Lamar, it is difficult to find an artist with the sort of effect which Curry infuses in his voice. It is so distinct that even attempting a description designed to emulate his effect is a futile effort. Sure, those tapped in with the highest achieving lyricists rapping currently will point me to J.I.D., YBN Cordae and maybe even J. Cole. 

To those critics I will consistently argue that none of those artists begins to approach the level experimentality which has always historically been rooted in the advent of the most creative contributions which artists have made to hip-hop. There is something to be said about a style which reveals itself as utterly original. This is what made artists like Snoop Dogg, Tupac and other legends of old like RZA into the names they are. And that is also what led swaths of people to idealize the inventiveness which others pioneered.

I don’t make this argument to disparage those who copy the sounds of other artists. Hip-hop is a constant process of development, of trying and practicing sounds initially unfamiliar to the ear. It is just my view that those who best embody this sort of creativity ought to be cast as the predominant characters in a genre whose quintessential quality is innovation.

I think Curry supports my interpretation. If his lyrics are indicative of anything, it is the simple fact that he sees himself plainly as one of the premier rappers to touch a mic. 

On what is arguably my favorite song, “So.Incredible.pkg,” Beats provides a smooth Westside bop-influenced track for Curry to boast.

“It’s the significant, never frivolous, mister/It’s the man of the hour/Super confident and my clothes yell it louder And if it don’t compute then I gots to re-route ya.”

“Unlocked” is not just a project, it’s Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats asserting dominance.

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