Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats Release Surprise Album “Unlocked”

Liam Queneau, Reporter

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     Without warning, rapper Denzel Curry and producer Kenny Beats released their first collaborative album, Unlocked (stylized in all caps), on February 7th. The two had previously worked together when Kenny Beats had Curry on as a guest on his YouTube Show, The Cave, in which the duo made a now viral freestyle. Fans of the show heralded the episode as one of the season’s best, yet were confused when the song was not released onto music platforms, as previous freestyles from the show had been. Now we see why, as the two had been planning the album, and presumably had to keep fans interested and wanting more.

 

    Any indication of collaboration between Curry and Kenny came the day before the album drop, when the two started a fake argument on Twitter, then ended it with a video of Curry on his way to apparently fight Kenny. Then, on the 7th, the two released a 24-minute movie, a mix between live-action and cartoon-like animation, along with the album. The movie depicts the two artists fighting over an apparent leak of their music, then finding a mysterious black hole in Kenny’s computer, and they embark on a journey to reclaim their leaked music. The two claim to have created the entire project in 78 hours, almost immediately after their freestyle session. Denzel Curry takes over the vocals for the entire album, while Kenny Beats created and produced all of the beats . Though the entire album only spans 17 minutes with eight songs, it feels full of emotion, quality, and is capped off with incredible production by Mr. Beats.

 

    The album starts off with Track 01, which begins with the sound of a tape recording, or a vinyl player, with static throughout the entire song, and even a few record scratches. The sound of the track is very reminiscent of that of ‘90s hip hop, a definite old school vibe, which was no doubt the purpose of the track. About halfway through the song, we hear a record scratch and come to a halt, and then we are greeted with a crash cymbal and a completely new feel, which made me feel like I was looking at a glitch in the matrix. Still littered with vocal samples and very ‘90s-esque drum sounds, we are given a few vocal clips from Denzel Curry himself, which are revealed to be part of songs found later in the album. The track closes off with a final vocal snippet: And all this has been just the beginning.

 

     We then move on to the second track, Take_it_back_v2, which continues the old school hip-hop vibe with a simple distorted piano loop. Curry enters the song with powerful lyrics, and immediately dominates the song. In the background of the song, we hear what sounds like a menacing guitar power chord, being played repeatedly throughout the song, and we are again being carried through the song with actual drum-kit drums, rather than the electronic drums that have become a staple of most mainstream rap. Curry’s lyrics on the song, similar to most of his lyrics, are very centered around Curry himself, with lines like  “Everything that Denzel spits… is all facts.” At first, I was uncertain if I liked the song or not, as the hook feels very syncopated and out of character, but the more I listened, the more that I realized that the syncopation is exactly what makes the song interesting and enrapturing. Again, the song changes vibe almost directly in the middle of the song, bringing the looming guitar back in a more playful mood, and Curry’s vocals become pitched and more playful, yet hold their menace.

 

Denzel Curry, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

     It is in Lay_up.m4a that we finally get Kenny Beat’s signature producer tag: “Whoa, Kenny,” and is the first mention of Kenny’s involvement in the project (even though he produced the entire album). After a little vocal intro from Curry, a short double-stutter intro pushes the listener into the song, similar to Pharrell Williams’ signature four-count intro. Curry takes a more laid-back approach to the song, though his lyrics are just as biting. For the chorus, a warped vocal track paired with retro-sounding synths perfectly accompanies Curry’s lyrics about Grand Theft Auto, Thanos, and Star Wars: “Franklin’s on me, Los Santos / Diamonds on me, no Thanos / Too, Too smooth to be Lando. Through his harsh lyrics, he still manages to sneak some humor into the music. The drums on this track are slightly more electronic-sounding and rap-oriented, but it matches the feel of the song.

 

     For the fourth track, Pyro (leak 2019), we’re again met with an old school hip-hop vibe, and Kenny’s producer tag once again, which ends up appearing on most of the tracks for the rest of the album. This track feels a lot more fun production-wise, though Denzel continues with his characteristically dark lyrics. In the first few seconds, what sounds to be like a vocal snippet of the late Russell Tyrone Jones (also known by his stage name with the Wu-Tang Clan, ODB) singing can be heard. This sound comes back again later in the song, though instead of being sampled, Curry uses the same singing inflection to begin one of his verses, and obvious homage to ODB.  Again, Curry references two different video games, Fallout, and Mario Bros in his lyrics. Though the track is short, with no chorus or hook, Curry delivers, what seems to me, one of the more interesting lines of the album: These (people) hysterical, I’m historical. I am the oracle, I been know what’s in store for you.” These lines were also sampled in the first track, signaling the beginning of the full circle return that the album takes.

 

     DIET_ starts off with a tribal-sounding melody, which goes away almost the second that Denzel Curry begins his lyrics, which only adds to the power that he has over the song. Every other verse for the first few bars is accented with a bass hit, which eventually builds into what becomes the beat for the rest of the song. Curry’s lyrics begin almost as mellow as the rapper can get, then gradually build over the course of the song, coming to a climax at the chorus. It is at this point that I stopped the song to try to figure out who he was trying to impersonate, the almost-yelling inflection that the rapper takes on, accentuating the third beat of his verses for four bars in a very DMX-like fashion, the rapper behind the song X Gon’ Give It To Ya. It is also on this song that Curry drops one of his most playful bars, “And I don’t like Pixar, Missed-Star,” a random lyric for the feel of the song.

 

     Nearing the end of the album, we have So.Incredible.pkg, which is a relatively chill song compared to the intensity of the rest of the album. The melody is a mix of pulsing chill synths and little bass guitar tunes, which makes the song much more palatable. Right before Kenny’s producer tag we hear a sample of a man laughing, which I can only assume is a snippet of Will Smith from YouTube’s annual Rewind Video, in which there is a video of Smith pointing to the sky and laughing (which ended up going viral). Though not very important in any way to the quality of the song, I appreciated the tiny nod to pop culture that you might miss if you weren’t listening. As with the rest of the album, Kenny Beats does an excellent job with this track, producing a captivating drum beat and catchy melody, mixed with ambient percussion hits throughout the song. 

 

     For the second to last track, Track07 feels as if the album is truly winding down, and is largely instrumental, mixed with a combination of vocal snippets from Curry or otherwise. The track opens with a horn call, then moves to a drum beat, accompanied with a synth chord and a repeating bass line. It is on this track that Kenny’s past experience as a drummer is shown, as the beat on this track is so intoxicatingly catchy that it may be one of my favorite songs, solely for its bass line and drums. The bass line modules throughout the song, but stays interesting until the end of the song, where we hear a snippet of audio, presumably of Curry in the studio with Kenny working on the album.

 

     And finally, UNLOCKED ends with ‘ Cosmic ‘ .m4a, one of the longest songs off of the short album. Curry raps about his contribution to the world of rap, but the song ends with a vocal sample unrelated to the rest of the song, but could possibly be the two’s interpretation of the album: 

     But who’s gonna stop me? You? 

     Any unusual experiment can produce unusual results

     That’s why I choose this island, it’s isolated

     Miles of open water in any direction

     We did everything in the world to exterminate them

     But, ha, no apparent luck.

     Perhaps they are referring to the isolation that Curry and Kenny put themselves into to make the album, devoting all of their time to create it. If so, these are excellent lines to end the album with. The song ends with dreamy chords and this sample, almost exactly how it began. 

 

     I was really impressed with this album, as most of the songs I heard that had been produced by Kenny Beats were mostly comical, not very serious, and did not adequately show off the skills that are apparent throughout the entirety of the album. However, no matter how good the production end of an album is, it will not succeed if there is not a good artist to perform for it. Enter Denzel Curry. Curry easily made the album the piece that it is, using his intense flow, hard rhythm, and interesting lyrics to keep listeners engaged with the music throughout the 17 minute runtime of the album. Though short, I believe that if it were any longer, the quality and sincerity of the music could have been compromised. All in all, UNLOCKED has been my favorite album of the new decade.