Taken at face value, you could get the wrong impression about Denzel Curry. The Floridian rapper (who we met in our latest print issue) is of a similar age to the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Desiigner and Kodak Black, also sharing the XXL Freshmen cover with them. And, judging by the crowd’s response to his DJ dropping Lil Pump’s ‘D Rose’ as they wait for his arrival at Village Underground, he shares large portions of his fanbase with them as well.
You could, therefore, imagine his name being associated with the burgeoning crop of what people have termed ‘mumble rappers’. But at the risk of sounding like a #realhiphop fan, it’s fair to say that the Carol City native doesn’t fall into that category. Unsurprisingly (and understandably) a lot of the lyrical nuance and variation in flow, pace and delivery that are offered up on his recorded output are sacrificed in order to deliver of a full-throttle live performance.
Too often hip-hop acts are criticised – often deservedly – for not translating their music to an engaging live experience. Denzel Curry is not guilty of that. For large portions of the night, the atmosphere is more akin to what you'd expect from a punk band or grime MC; two genres for which Curry’s admiration is well documented. After all, he's signed to the same label as Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson and Alice Glass, and has recently worked with AJ Tracey and Jme (more on that in a bit).
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There's even a ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ interlude midway through the set just to make sure everyone knows the levels expected. For the occasional moments where he does try to bring the energy down, the crowd are having none of it, opening up circles for whatever drop could be found in more laid-back songs like ‘This Life’, seemingly still hyped up from early favourites ‘ULT’, ’Equalizer’, ‘Gook’ and ‘Threatz’. It's nearly three quarters of the way through before Curry actively instructs the crowd to take a few deep breaths; a necessity given the steam rising from the masses (and the stitch that yours truly suffers after a hurriedly eaten kebab on the way to the venue).
There had been murmurings in the crowd before the show started that a certain guest from Ladbroke Grove had been milling about outside, so it doesn't come as too much of a surprise when AJ Tracey arrives on stage for his appearance on ‘Knotty Head’. The fact that his mic isn't really turned up properly is irrelevant to an excitable crowd. And when Curry announces that just one more person is missing, fleeting thoughts of fellow ‘Knotty Head’ guest Ricky Rozay stepping onto the stage are quickly put to bed when it becomes clear he's referring to none other than grime icon Jme.
The trio see their way through ‘Alakazam’ from AJ's recent 'Secure The Bag' EP – with Curry still managing to elicit the biggest response – before the UK MCs depart. As the show heads towards its conclusion, there is still time to try out some new material from the upcoming album (currently titled ‘Taboo’), having previously included only one new song earlier on in the set by my calculations. And the track that is presumably going to be titled ‘Switch It Up’ was genuinely up there with the best songs of the night – helped by a quick practice of the chorus beforehand so everyone could join in.
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It’s impossible to make any judgement on the new album based solely on the live show, and whether the diversity and consistency offered on the superb ‘Imperial’ will be matched on record number three remains to be seen. But while Denzel Curry is capable of offering such a blistering live experience, he'll clearly have no trouble drawing crowds time after time.
Words: James Kilpin
Photography: Aliyah Otchere
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