EP Review: Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats - 'UNLOCKED'
A new collaboration from Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats sees the pair effortlessly bounce off one another to create a short but expertly formed EP.
Video games, anime, weed, fast cars and superhero comics. These are the primary subject matters covered over the duration of Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats’ new collaborative EP’s brief 17-minute run. Impressive thematical variety? Undoubtably. Lacking in nuance and emotional complexity? I mean, maybe if you’re moist. Over the course of the project Curry references Nandos, Rosa Parks, Pamela Anderson and Anakin Skywalker. The project is a veritable grab bag of tastefully employed pop culture references, esoteric put downs and passionate geek-culture worship, made palatable by Curry’s propensity for wordplay which has developed to a point paralleling muscle memory, allowing him to maintain his sharp punchlines and witty references through any flow imaginable.
Kenny Beats has been hip-hop’s new prodigal production son for some time now, whose appealingly primitivist motto ‘don’t overthink shit’ has made him the producer on call for many of rap’s hottest upcomers and some truly established names, thanks to the way it opens him up to connecting with artists on an almost spiritual level. Here, his role is slightly inverted, as he opts to challenge Curry with genre-fusions and sonic influences outside both artists’ regular respective wheelhouses.
The album begins with a brief Madvillain homage, which manages to transcend its clear point of reference by reframing Curry’s life and come up as a technicolour comic book world, familiar to fans of geeky backpack rap but also a take entirely his own. The album truly starts with the subsequent track Take_it_Back_v2, the longest track here (although it still lands under 3 minutes). Like the project at large, it crams so much in, it’s in many ways a perfect summation of everything Denzel and Kenny do exquisitely on this EP.
'The project is a veritable grab bag of tastefully employed pop culture references, esoteric put downs and passionate geek-culture worship, made palatable by Curry’s propensity for wordplay'.
It’s also a fluent and effective hypothesis that lays out the potential benefits these two could have on each other’s artistic developments as well as the well of excellent music we could get as a result. Kenny rams as many moving parts and whizzing contraptions into the beat as he possibly can, opening on an urgent surgical beat before dropping into a minimalist chorus groove that allows Denzel to deliver a submachine flow which gives the hook the tone and delivery of a really good joke – culminating in a Rosa Parks themed punchline that still catches me a bit off guard every time. By the time Kenny switches the beat up into some twisted electro boom-bap and Denzel whips out a bloodthirsty flow, it’s already clear this is both a honing of Denzel’s skills as well as a consolidation of the influences that’ve brought him to this point.
Elsewhere on the project Denzel’s heroes are equally emulated and tribute, perhaps most clearly on project standout DIET_. Across the course of the track, Denzel emulated DMX’s iconic throaty bark for maybe the EP’s most flooring chorus and compares himself to Ol’ Dirty Bastard, interpolating the famous Method Man line in which he says nobody fathered ODB’s singular style for a memorable and smart brag bar. Packed with memorable one liners and blink-and-you-miss-them pop culture references – including the notably provocative (and by his own admission untrue) ‘and I don’t like Pixar’, Kenny Beats proves he refuses to slack for any project as this beat sits amongst his finest compositions.
Bizarre, sparse and wholly unique, it’s a blend of weird, clattering percussion that sounds halfway between traditional tribal drums and a PS2 Crash Bandicoot game soundtrack. It’s then compiled with a chunky, angular bassline that seems to fill itself out gradually over the course of the song, like a painting that has to be viewed from multiple angles to be fully appreciated. Overall, this is one of the strangest and most forceful bangers in mainstream hip-hop in the last few years.
'It’s also a fluent and effective hypothesis that lays out the potential benefits these two could have on each other’s artistic developments as well as the well of excellent music we could get as a result'.
This is an exquisite and varied, yet simultaneously simple and straight to the point EP, making it resultantly one of the hardest hitting hip-hop projects we’ll get this year. Kenny Beats continues to prove himself to be this generation’s go to rapper-producer, able to draw the creative best out of every artist he works with and presenting a versatility and taste nigh-on unrivalled in the industry. Denzel simply continues his streak as one of the most consistent and hungry rappers in both underground and mainstream hip-hop. Here though, he seems more relaxed than usual without the commercial pressure and high concept drama he usually brings on full length projects, and the result is a Denzel just as flow-savvy and thematically versatile as ever, but also arguably more sincere and funny then ever before.
If you’ve been a fan of either artist’s work before I cannot recommend this project enough; more generally, if you enjoy tight production, varied and mind-boggling flows and genre experimentation that remains accessible, then you’ll probably enjoy this project.