Of all the rappers to break through in the second half of the 2010s, Denzel Curry has proven himself to be by far the most consistent.
Since his emergence from the SoundCloud scene and 2013 debut album “Nostalgic 64,” Curry has delivered one excellent project after another, including his 2016 breakout album “Imperial,” his ode to his Florida roots with 2019’s “ZUU” and 2020’s short-but-sweet Kenny Beats-assisted “UNLOCKED.”
Yet out of all of Curry’s accomplishments, one album looms above: 2018’s “TA13OO.” Here, Curry matched his aggressive delivery and ear for great beats with conceptuality and socially conscious lyrics to create one of the best albums of the past decade.
Four years later, he’s done it again.
“Melt My Eyez See Your Future” may have begun life as a sentence scribbled into a notebook, but it has transformed into a fully-formed and meticulously crafted album. Over 14 tracks, Curry delivers his most personal and observational songs to date paired with quality features and some of the best production he’s ever been on.
In the past, Curry has shaped his albums around the sounds of only a few producers, but here he diversifies and pulls fantastic beat after fantastic beat. Despite the long list of names, the album maintains a consistent tone and energy with tracks that flow perfectly into one another.
Curry matches this quality production with excellent writing and performances, crafting intricate rhymes delivered with his signature intensity. Every song feels urgent, whether it’s discussing police brutality, mental health, systemic oppression or Curry’s personal demons.
The opening track, “Melt Session #1,” establishes a jazzy, laid-back atmosphere thanks to production and piano embellishments from Robert Glasper. Curry uses the song to outline his life up to this point, detailing how his previous experiences have shaped the person he is now and hoping to find redemption for past transgressions.
It’s an unassuming but captivating kick-off to the album, re-introducing Curry while preparing listeners for an introspective and analytical journey through his psyche.
“Walkin” has been one of the best songs of 2022 since it was released as the album’s lead single, and it sounds even better in context.
The first half finds Curry rapping about his frustration with the cycles of oppression in the United States over a boom-bap style beat before a switch-up to more modern trap-influenced production has him seeking an escape from these problems while acknowledging that the only solution is to keep moving forward.
Things get even darker on “Worst Comes to Worst,” with Curry diving deeper into the state of the country and praying for salvation from a higher power. His poetic dissection of racism, classism and political division flows nicely over a woozy beat punctuated by entrancing vocal chanting and heavy drum kicks.
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The production develops an experimental leaning with “John Wayne” thanks to a mix of odd samples, buzzing synths and off-kilter drums provided by rap weirdo and previous collaborator, JPEGMAFIA.
Curry’s lyrical disillusionment with law enforcement is accentuated by intermittent gunshots and ghostly vocals from Buzzy Lee, building an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust that carries over into the following song, “The Last.”
Here, Curry explores his feelings on the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically how it impacts the most vulnerable members of society, and the activism surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Sonically, the track feels like a throwback to “Imperial” thanks to the moody but driving beat from long-time producing partner FnZ.
“Mental” is a shorter cut that features gorgeous singing from Bridget Perez, a brief verse from Curry and a spoken-word passage from Saul Williams summing up the album’s themes thus far.
It’s a nice vibe, but mostly serves to introduce “Troubles,” ironically the first truly upbeat-sounding moment on “Melt My Eyez” with its light and bouncy beat and animated performances from Curry and T-Pain. The two artists have a natural chemistry as they vent about their personal struggles from both before and after they found success.
The guest appearances continue on “Ain’t No Way” as Curry assembles an all-star roster of young talent over a multi-phased instrumental from Powers Pleasant. R&B singer and rapper 6LACK delivers a smooth hook that leads nicely into exciting verses from Rico Nasty, JID and Curry, along with a shouted refrain from Jasiah.
“X-Wing” is a similarly aggressive cut, with a spacy trap-flavored beat reminiscent of Baby Keem or Travis Scott but with Curry’s own flair. Lyrically, this and the preceding track find Curry flexing his skills and successes interspersed with clever one-liners and pop-culture references.
The more somber themes of “Melt My Eyez'' return on “Angelz.” Curry contrasts his previous exorbitance with a more cynical study of fame and the negatives that come with chasing after it backed by solid drumming from Karriem Riggins and another beautiful chorus from Perez.
Unfortunately, “The Smell Of Death” disrupts the otherwise impeccable flow of the album. While its detailed production and bass contributions from Thundercat sound great, at less than a minute-and-a-half it’s just too short to feel consequential.
This dip is quickly remedied on “Sanjuro” and “Zatoichi,” which share similarities both in tone and naming convention.
The former is a straight trap banger with a speedy flow from Curry and a welcome contribution from fellow Florida native 454, while the latter is a hip-hop and breakbeat hybrid where Curry imagines himself leading people to a brighter future alongside a distorted feature from UK rapper slowthai.
“The Ills” is a jazzy and meditative finale to the album, similar in tone to “Melt Session #1”. Curry makes his final statements here, elaborating on his current mental state and belief in the power of his art to affect the world in a positive manner.
“Melt My Eyez See Your Future” is the total package — lyrically substantive, sonically immaculate and instantaneously catchy. Whether Curry has surpassed his previous high watermark of “TA13OO” doesn’t matter, as the two albums can stand side-by-side as duel masterpieces by an artist at the top of his game.