Given the opportunity, Denzel Curry never passes up a chance to challenge himself or assumptions about the style of hip-hop that he makes. He’ll drop a neo-soul throwback in the middle of some of his hardest trap bangers, or primarily employ a freestyle approach in a concept album about his own experiences in his home city of Miami. He’s done a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” that rivals the ferocity of the original, and made a (very good!) twenty-minute album with Kenny Beats in the span of just 24 albums. It’d be tempting to call them stunts if his entire career weren’t peppered with such moments of confidence and dazzle.
Melt My Eyez See Your Future, Curry’s fourth album, comprises an entire album’s worth of such challenges, less a reinvention than a culmination of every diversion, side quest and why-the-fuck-not the Miami emcee’s embarked upon since he began his rap career as a teenager. His previous records carried an air of effortlessness in their tough-as-nails 808 thump, but Melt My Eyez is less driven by more-bounce-to-the-ounce freestyles and instead more of an inward look orchestrated by some of the lushest sounding productions on any record he’s released to date. His most ambitious project yet is the one in which he gives even more of his authentic self.
Vulnerability isn’t necessarily new for Denzel Curry, whose strongest moments in the past were often those that felt the most genuine, but there are even fewer filters here, and many of these songs were inspired by his own therapy sessions. On the glorious, Robert Glasper-produced opener “Melt Session #1,” set against warmly glowing layers of keys, Curry opens by acknowledging his own struggles with self-improvement, particularly through the lens of the male gaze: “I wholeheartedly understand understand why I need to grow even though I’m grown/If I did you wrong, I vow to make it right.” Just one track later, on “Walkin,” Curry cites De La Soul on the track most reminiscent of vintage Native Tongues, Curry’s inward look pushing him ever toward positivity and a determination to triumph, reflecting that “I started in a nightmare, so pinch me I’m dreamin’/I’m killin’ off my demons because my soul’s worth redeemin’.” And even when opening himself up to the risk of corniness on “Angelz” (“All I have in this world is my heart and my soul/Lay my life down for it ’cause they both made of gold“), he manages to pull it off if only because he’ll follow it up later with a clear-eyed statement of “I don’t fuck with no man that don’t take care of his kids.”
Curry cites The Roots as one of the album’s inspirations on Melt My Eyez, and tracks like the Naz and Dot da Genius-produced “Worst Comes to Worst” carry that band’s jazz-inflected boom bap grit. But with the diversity of producers throughout the record—a rotating maestro for each track a la good kid, m.A.A.d. city—comes a similarly diverse set of sounds, making Melt My Eyez Curry‘s most nourishing feast for the senses. JPEGMAFIA’s beat for the gritty “John Wayne” is unsurprisingly one of the album’s eeriest and weirdest, emphasizing the palpable danger in Denzel’s narration, while JGramm, Mike Hector and Elijah Fox’s piano loops on “Mental” provide a mesmerizing, even beautiful respite. The g-funk fusion of Thundercat’s absolutely stunning “Smell of Death” is maybe the best sounding 81 seconds of the whole bunch, and my only complaint is that it doesn’t keep going for another three or four minutes.
By the time a more conventional trap song arrives in “The Last,” it feels unusually refreshing, a hypnotic flash of the darker, harder hitting rap that Curry made his name on before turning 25. And “Ain’t No Way” bangs with even more ferocity, thanks in no small part to the fiery presence of Rico Nasty, a rapper who has a tendency to dominate whatever space she steps into. Yet even a banger with this much acid in its 808 snares manages to morph into a soulful and mesmerizing boom bap, further leaning on the neo-soul influence that permeates Denzel Curry’s latest batch.
As the most deeply personal of Curry’s records to date, Melt My Eyez See Your Future could have found him pushing further into agitated and abrasive extremes. “I’m fucked up, and people around me are fucked up,” he said recently, but Melt My Eyez isn’t a scream into the void, but a more rich and lush-sounding form of healing. He’s going through it, sure—who among us isn’t right now? But exploring himself is as great as a challenge as he’s ever faced, and he’s never sounded so confident and capable.
Label: Loma Vista
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.