The legend of Muck City football was recently presented in a 55-second ad for adidas’ “Creating New Speed” campaign, showcasing some of the fastest football players out of South Florida. To match the energy of athletes chasing rabbits through burning sugarcane fields, the company paired the visual with rising rapper Denzel Curry’s song “Ultimate,” a hypnotic anthem that appeared on his 2015 EP 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms and has earned 23.4 million on-demand audio streams through the week ending Oct. 6, according to Nielsen Music.
Add the song’s growing popularity on Vine this year (just check out this funny compilation of “I Am the One” memes) and the Carol City upstart is in a position to be the next star out of the Sunshine State.
Talent is born, not made, and in Curry’s case, he’s been able to harness his skills to create a budding movement for himself and his Cloud 9 collective, which includes artists and producers like SDotBraddy, J.K. The Reaper, Yoshi Thompkins, POSHstronaut and Ronny J. After earning a spot on XXL’s 2016 Freshman cover in June, Curry, along with managers Rees Escobar and Mark Maturah, has made a noticeable impact through the fan reception of his Imperial mixtape and nationwide tours, getting on the radar of several major labels. Now, in an exclusive announcement with Billboard, the 21-year-old rapper talks about the label services and distribution deal he’s signed with Loma Vista Records, an independent label that’s home to Little Dragon and St. Vincent.
“I went to several labels and pretty much I had weighed out my options with each label and [saw] what they wanted from me,” Curry says over the phone before one of his Black Metal Terrorist Tour stops in Tampa. “And Loma was the only one that stood out to me [in] that they didn’t want the same things that all the other labels wanted. They wanted to really work and put effort in what I’m doing because they see we could do it on our own. So they just wanted to be the machine behind us.”
In terms of specific details of their partnership, Curry explains it is like having an “extended family,” where he’ll have complete creative control over his future projects and releases from C9. He’ll also own the master recordings of his music. On Oct. 14, Curry will be re-releasing Imperial with two new songs — “Me Now” (produced by DJ Dahi & Blood Pop) and “Goodnight” (featuring Twelve’len & Nell; produced by FNZ) — to all digital retailers and music streaming services. Physical copies of Imperial, including a special release on vinyl, will come later this year.
Escobar says Curry’s deal with Loma Vista was finalized in September 2016. “I’ve known Ryan Whalley [A&R at Loma Vista] for about five years now; he’s followed up on Denzel from the release of Nostalgic 64 [in 2013] through Imperial,” Escobar says. Adds Curry, “They heard Imperial and they loved it. It was just one of those times when I was like, ‘Okay, I am ready to sign.'”
Curry may only be 21, but he’s been building his name on the mixtape circuit ever since he first started taking rap seriously at age 16. Hip-hop connoisseurs remember Curry’s time as a member of fellow Carol City native SpaceGhostPurrp’s Raider Klan, where he briefly ran with the crew in 2011. A rookie in his camp at the time, early Curry tapes like King Remembered, King of the Mischievous South Vol. 1 and Strictly 4 My R.V.I.D.Z.R.Z. embodied Purrp’s dark-themed lyrics and gritty, 1990s-inspired lo-fi production. And similar to SGP, Curry paid tribute to Houston’s chopped and screwed pioneers DJ Screw and Pimp C with slowed down freestyles that sounded straight from the underground.
Curry left Raider Klan due to “personal reasons and business disputes” that stemmed from a contract agreement and choosing not to align with certain members, according to reports. But with a foundation of fans thanks to SGP’s co-sign, Curry pushed himself to step out of his shadow with 2013’s Nostalgic 64, which many deemed his breakout tape. Released when he was just 18 years-old, Curry says living the Raider Klan lifestyle — and eventually leaving it — while balancing high school up until graduation resonated with a younger crowd.
“Nostalgic was just all my influences and me just being like, ‘Yo, I’m going to be the hardest one out of everybody.’ With that mindset, I was looking at SpaceGhostPurrp and I was looking at people like Robb Bank$, they was exploding out of the city, just out of nowhere,” Curry remembers. “I just felt like, ‘Damn, they think these people are hard. They think he’s hard.’ I was like, ‘Yo, I gotta show and prove.’ I felt like everyone is sleeping on me, and I didn’t want to be slept on.”
N64 contained internet buzz tracks “Zone 3,” and “Threatz,” both of which have millions of plays on YouTube; now, his current tape Imperial sees him collaborating with established MCs like Joey Bada$$ (“Zenith”) and Rick Ross on the remix of “Knotty Head.” Ross, who also hails from Carol City, recognized Curry was doing something positive for Florida.
“[That’s] one of those collaborations that just solidified we both are on common ground when it comes down to the city and what it needs,” Curry says of Ross. “Me and him both went in as leaders. I respect him as a leader, and sure enough, he respects me as one.”
As the spotlight continues to focus on Florida with bright young talent like Kodak Black, Yung Simmie, Pouya and others rising through the ranks, Curry is looking to take his career to the next level with his upcoming album, tentatively titled Taboo. So far, his entire catalogue proves he’s getting better as a rapper and songwriter with age. “Next project, I just want to make people cry,” Curry says. In a happy or sad way? “Both.”