Sum 41 “salute” Rage Against The Machine with Sleep Now In The Fire live cover
See Sum 41 pay tribute to “one of our all-time favourite bands”, Rage Against The Machine, with a great cover of Sleep Now In The Fire at last year’s Hellfest.
Denzel Curry didn’t know what the cluster of words meant at the time he wrote them down, he only knew one thing for sure. “It was a cool-ass title,” the rapper grins as he proceeds to explain how, three-and-a-half years ago, he put the words Melt My Eyez See Your Future into his notes. Sitting in his office in LA, he proceeds to reveal how he earmarked it as a name that would not just christen any old future project, but rather a defining one.
Before a single note was even recorded – indeed, he’s released numerous projects since he summoned those words – Denzel conceived of delivering a record that would, in name alone, conjure the grandeur of classics like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Soon enough, as he started making songs, Melt My Eyez See Your Future became the name of his brilliant fifth album, and an important meaning had started to attach itself to those six cool-ass words…
“It’s pretty much melting the perception of what people think of me, you know what I’m saying?” he explains. “We avoid everything on the daily, we avoid the truth, criticism, the news, people… We avoid a lot just because we don’t want to see those things. But I had to see them for what they were, and it melted away the perception I had of myself. That’s what the title started to represent: it was a self-realisation.”
The question of perception as it pertains to Denzel Curry is a fascinating one. Since emerging from the Floridian rap scene in 2011, his career has been defined by his ability to bridge genres and fanbases with ease. Denzel is not in a scene, he is a scene. And one an increasingly diverse amount of listeners are gravitating towards, hence why he’s joining us for his first-ever Kerrang! cover story.
Here is an artist who has toured with Billie Eilish and Turnstile; one who’s recorded music with both Rick Ross and Joey Bada$$ yet also collaborated with Fucked Up and Bad Brains. Not only is he famous for his live show’s wild mosh-pits, he also stopped the rock world in its tracks with his incendiary cover of Rage Against The Machine’s Bulls On Parade in 2019. He’s now in a unique position where it makes perfect sense for him to appear anywhere he chooses to be, be it with YUNGBLUD on Lemonade, or his track Bad Luck rubbing shoulders with songs by the likes of Mastodon and Rise Against on the DC Dark Nights: Death Metal soundtrack last year.
“I’m not a weird rapper, I’m a weird artist,” he once said about himself. But what actually makes him weird?
“A lot of things make me weird, man,” Denzel smiles. “Everybody’s doing stuff that’s gonna make them fit in. I do my best to make shit that makes me not fit in. If you think about all the stuff that I came up with over time, even when I made [2016 release] Imperial, I wanted to separate myself from other artists and from what I’d previously created. It’s all about being of the time but not being with the time.”
This side of Denzel’s personality makes a whole lot of sense when you factor in the sheer breadth of his creative affections. A keen visual artist, he’s equally at home talking about manga and the nightmarish psychosexual work of H.R. Giger as he is the films of Akira Kurosawa – MMESYF even features Sanjuro, a track named after the latter Japanese director’s 1961 movie. The same free-spiritedness applies to his musical influences, too, and accounts for why his new album is so kaleidoscopic in nature.
Raised by his parents on jazz and soul (Norman Brown, Isaac Hayes) and ’80s music (“my mom was super into Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam”), Denzel was later put onto hip-hop acts like Outkast, Jeezy, Lupe Fiasco, Nas and Jay-Z by his brothers. If you ever want to see his demeanour change in an instant, just get him on the topic of who won the 2001 battle between the latter two rappers. “Oh my god!” he exclaims, at the start of an extended and impassioned review that even starts to involve his manager at one point. “Jay-Z won the war, but Nas won the battle!”
But lurking within this confection was also a love for the heavier side of things.
“Me and my brother were into rock,” he recalls. “We would watch Metalocalypse, and go to sleep listening to the metal channel because we got tired of hearing 99 others play the same shit over and over again. It was like, ‘What’s on the other station?!’”
His passions for anime and metal even converged at one point. Take how he discovered Pantera by watching the Dragon Ball Z movie...
“It was through the Broly movie,” he recalls. “Great Southern Trendkill is my favourite album by Pantera, the sonics and riffs on that album even influenced the experimentation on TA13OO.”
As you might expect for an artist who recorded a song called Clout Cobain, Denzel was also transfixed by Nirvana.
“I got into them when I was in my early 20s,” he recalls. “I loved Smells Like Teen Spirit, so I started listening to Nevermind and there were a lot of gems on there.”
For all of these varied creative tributaries, and for all the ways in which he seems hard to categorise, it nevertheless also seems fair to say that we have a fairly good idea of who Denzel Curry is as a person by now. Over the years, he’s shared many details of his life in his lyrics and interviews. That’s precisely why it was so interesting when, ahead of Melt My Eyez See Your Future’s release last month, he proclaimed that it contained everything he couldn’t offer listeners on his previous albums because he was mired in depression and anger issues. So what does this outing reveal about him that the others haven’t?
“With the other albums, I was trying to disguise my story,” he explains. “This time, I’m just like, ‘This is what I go through.’ Yeah, I can make stories based on my actual real life, but on this particular album I didn’t want to be, like, ‘Oh, I’m hiding it this way or that way.’”
Melt My Eyez… is instead an album of spiritual realignment, of advocating for personal accountability and, above all else, healing. ‘I’m deflecting my daily problems within my daily life, recognising patterns of my own demise,’ he raps on its magnificent opener Melt Session #1. ‘Why I feel like hiding the truth is finding a lie, dealt with thoughts of suicide.’ It’s a song that contains a whole life’s worth of reflections in four-minutes, one-second flat, and epitomises the blunt force candour of his lyrics this time around.
“I’m telling you my emotions,” he confides. “I’m telling you everything I go through. Everything that you're getting is 100 per cent me, including my personality, and what I may be like in real life.”
We thought we knew Denzel Curry well, but it turns out even he had some things to learn about himself…
The first time Denzel Curry realised he might have a problem on his figurative hands was while he was busy using his literal ones. A passionate martial arts fan, he has been training in Muay Thai – aka Thai boxing – for years now. It was while in sparring sessions that he began to recognise something that had, up until that point, escaped his attention.
“I’d see patterns when I would turn up in martial arts,” he recalls. “I would hit somebody hard, stuff like that, and I would never actually notice until somebody hit me back hard and I’d get dropped or whatever.”
As his opponents started mirroring his ferocity, the notion lingered that his aggression had much deeper roots than mere adrenaline. Denzel decided to seek the counsel of a therapist. Plenty of people hear a voice in the back of their head saying they need help and pay no attention to it. So why did he choose to examine those behavioural patterns instead of ignoring them?
“It was either that or be six feet under by my own hand,” he says. “That’s why.”
Denzel says this so calmly, so softly even, it’s enough to make K! do a double-take and question if we heard him correctly. He seems at peace even when what he describes is chaotic.
“Especially in this day and age, when it comes down to my career and stuff, one bad decision can end your whole career, it could end your whole life,” he continues. “I could lose everything. Before I got to that, I wanted to figure out what those patterns were so I wouldn’t get to that point at all. What hadn’t I been dealing with? Well, just being angry all the time and not knowing why. Because underlying [everything], I was sad about how my life was at the time; and even before then I realised, it wasn’t just my life in that current moment, it was stuff that happened when I was a kid.”
At just 27 years of age, Denzel Curry has been through an incredible amount of trauma in his young life. In an interview with New York rap radio show The Breakfast Club, he confided that he was molested as a young boy. “I don’t even like talking about it honestly, because it’s just not me,” he said. “I don’t want that to define me as my person.” Later on, in 2014, his older brother Treon tragically died as a result of complications after being tasered and pepper-sprayed by the police. At the precise moment his career was taking off and he was playing the likes of SXSW, Denzel was contending with the unbearable prospect of burying his brother. In 2018, his one-time roommate, the controversial rapper Xxxtentacion, was murdered. Any one of these would be more than most people could fathom.
Unpacking details of his whole life in front of a stranger was, he explains, not an easy process to undertake.
“It’s very hard to open up in therapy,” he says. “I’ve recently just gotten to a place where I’m not trying to stray away from the conversation. I’m trying to go at it head on, and just talk about problems and the best way to deal with them. I would talk about my issues, and they’d be like, ‘This is a pattern, obviously.’ There have been patterns throughout my whole life. It was like a cycle over and over and over again and I needed to prioritise breaking them.”
It turns out he’s been working on himself on many levels in order to cope with where the maelstrom of fame – and its inherent pressures – have taken him.
“That’s one thing I really didn’t come to terms with,” Denzel says. “There was a lot of stuff in my life with my relationships with people, with artists, and clinging onto groups of people I felt like I needed to be around [who were like] a centre or a base. The people who I thought were my friends really weren’t, and people that I would never turn my back on, turned their back on me. Just looking at those things inspired me to end up writing this album.”
Every Wednesday he would head to therapy and sift through his past; the following Friday he would head into the studio to work on his fifth outing armed with fresh insight. This is how Denzel Curry’s best album yet was carefully forged.
“Whatever I was feeling, whatever I felt that week was going to go into it, even when bad things happened as a result of my own actions,” he says, “I would utilise whatever was going on, learn from it, and then go to the studio and lay it down.”
If Melt My Eyez… is primarily concerned with melting perceptions, are there any regarding his public persona that have frustrated him over the years?
“The misconceptions are that I’m a flawless person,” he says. “I got flaws like a motherfucker. I’m just working through them.”
The chorus of Melt My Eyez’s third single, Troubles, sticks out in this context: ‘Got some problems that music can’t fix.’ Time and time again artists always insist that music is the best therapy. K! wonders what it is therapy can fix that music can’t?
“Music is music,” Denzel reasons. “You just put it all out there on the pad. But that requires mining up from what you really feel. When you go into therapy, you’re dumping it all on one person to help you connect all the dots within your life and make things make sense. Once you begin to work through it, you can articulate your emotions better, which in turn help with the music.”
So has the soul-searching alleviated the issues he’s spoken of, those feelings of depression and suicidal ideation?
“You learn to deal with it, you learn to cope with the fact that you had these problems in your life, you learn how to deal with them,” he says. “It’s like you own them now, and you become more confident in being the person you are. I’m in a way better place now. I’ve still got more places to go internally, it’s like I’m mining all this stuff, I just keep digging and digging and digging.”
And it’s not only his own psyche he’s been digging into lately, either…
For most artists, the prospect of having Tom Morello contact them after performing a Rage Against The Machine song would probably be the stuff of cold sweats, nightmares and trembling limbs. There have been a lot of RATM covers over the years, a staggering number of them awful – the sonic equivalent of attempting to summit Mt. Everest armed with laughing gas for bottled oxygen.
“Tom Morello did reach out to me,” Denzel clarifies, reflecting on the aftermath of his Bulls On Parade tribute.
What did he say?
“He really liked the cover,” he beams. “He said that I nailed it, that I killed it.”
The 11 million views on YouTube very much suggest Mr. Morello was not alone in this. That Denzel decided to do it in the first place was not only a salute to one of his favourite bands, but also his way of proving a point in oh-so emphatic fashion.
“I have crazy versatility,” he says, proudly. “And I feel like people sleep on me, they just think I’m a one-trick pony. And I’m not. The rock community want me to make a rock album, but I’m not well-versed in that. I want to cater to everybody.”
The most telling way he does this, in fact, has nothing to do with what he raps over and everything to do with what he actually says. On The Last – one of many standouts on MMESYF – he not only targets societal problems, but also the failures to correct them. ‘Cops killing blacks when the whites do the most,’ Denzel says, before training his sights on online-only activists. ‘And your so-called revolution ain’t nothing but a post. Period.’
Worst Comes To Worst, meanwhile, boasts a rather excellent self-appraisal: ‘Every line that Curry drop is equivalent to a punch.’ It would be pure braggadocio save for the fact that it also happens to be true. Take the track John Wayne for instance, where he references police brutality by saying, ‘911 Emergency’s gonna murder me…’
K! doesn’t even get to finish referencing the lyric before Denzel starts reciting the rest of the line…
‘The day I call ’em,’ he continues, punctuating the line with an emphatic nod.
These lyrics would be freighted with extraordinary weight regardless, but coming from him they carry extra resonance. Not only did Denzel lose his brother after a fatal encounter with the police, he also attended the same school as Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American student who was killed after being shot by George Zimmerman, the latter’s not guilty verdict sparking outrage and a national debate about racism. Yet it was actually a different person who inspired the song: Ahmaud Arbery. On the morning of February 23, in 2020, he was murdered in a racially-motivated hate crime by three white men in Georgia.
“He got murdered just jogging and they tried to say he did some messed-up stuff,” Denzel says, exasperated. “But they locked all three of those guys up for life, so fuck them.”
In case it is not clear, there is an urgency to what the rapper talks about on Melt My Eyez…, and this is only intensified when you consider that there is a palpable sense of time slipping away in his words. The album is peppered with references to fallen music icons, and the limited years they had to accomplish things in. He is, coincidentally, wearing a 2Pac hoodie when he first appears on Zoom to greet us.
‘Mac [Miller] ain’t make it to 27, Pac ain’t make it to 26, BIG ain’t make it to 25,’ he raps on X-Wing. On closer The Ills he once again summons the names of 2Pac and Notorious BIG, as well as late TLC star Lisa Left-Eye Lopez, who died in a car crash, aged 30. What emerges is a curiously framed fatalism in his lyrics. Denzel Curry doesn’t seem scared of death, but he does seem highly motivated by its inevitability, of the need to get things done.
“Yo, death should often be celebrated,” he says. “But I don’t want to die now. I want to be around for a minute. I’ve still got stuff left in the chamber, I just want to make sure I leave my mark and do what I have to do. My main thing is, I’m gonna get a GRAMMY. I’m doing my best to make sure I get one some way, or somehow. I definitely will. I manifested it.”
This state of mind has been hard earned. He’s melted his eyes, now there is only the future he wants for himself. Denzel made this album to find out who he really is, but what – or rather who – was at the end of that search?
“A human being with feelings,” he laughs. “That’s as simple as it gets. I’m a human being with feelings. I’m not this super rap guy person. I see why the Bible says don’t idolise false prophets. I’m not a prophet, I’m just a human being that’s living day to day like anybody else. I just feel like my music went from me trying to be ‘the man’, to me wanting to help people, so spread it to your friends and family. This is gonna help anybody who’s going through it.”
Melt My Eyez See Your Future is out now. You can order yourself a Kerrang! exclusive blue cassette right here.
See Sum 41 pay tribute to “one of our all-time favourite bands”, Rage Against The Machine, with a great cover of Sleep Now In The Fire at last year’s Hellfest.
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