The Everlasting and Unknown Importance of TA13OO
When Denzel Curry broke into the mainstream in 2015, it was with “Ultimate”, the one-song soundtrack for every bottle flipping video ever. In the same way that tracks like “ROXANNE” and “Say So” are considered TikTok songs, “Ultimate” was a Vine song. Wow. I miss Vine.
And, just as TikTok provided national recognition for Lil Mosey and Doja Cat (let’s be real, Doja Cat was the girl with the cow song and absolutely no one knew who Arizona Zervas was), “Ultimate” gave Denzel Curry a platform that far surpassed the reach of his humble beginnings in SpaceGhostPurrp’s Raider Klan and the subsequent release of his second album Imperial landed him a spot on the cover of arguable one of the most influential XXL freshman classes. Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, and Kodak Black are SoundCloud rap legends who have shaped the current mainstream hip hop sound. Anderson .Paak is a tier under Frank Ocean and the Weeknd on the active R&B singers pyramid, and Ventura just scored a Grammy. And absolutely no one sounds like Lil Dicky. God bless Lil Dicky.
Also, Desiigner was in the 2016 class, but we don’t talk about it.
Since that freshman class, the mainstream hip hop sound has largely shifted to a sound that appears to be what you get when you cross Drake’s Take Care with Chief Keef. The Take Care style has been the most influential precursor to today’s emo rap genre, but you’d be hard-pressed to find popular hip hop singles today that weren’t all about the same things. Drugs, sex, love. It’s tough to break the mold (we commend you for trying, Kanye. Jesus is King!). The To Pimp a Butterfly era came and left. The Luv is Rage 2 and “Lucid Dreams” era had begun. Gamechangers like Freddie Gibbs and BROCKHAMPTON were far and few between. The topics that would get your streams up were set in stone.
Then, in July 2018, Denzel Curry released TA13OO, and it changed absolutely nothing.
But it should have changed absolutely everything.
TA13OO, a concept album, was released in three acts: Light, Gray, and Dark. Light serves as an introduction to the themes of the album. On “TABOO”, Denzel confronts trauma, including a possibly personal account of child molestation. The chorus is chilling and cold:
Welcome to the darker side of taboo
All I’ve got is permanent scars and tattoos
Take another step in the path that you choose
Make a bad choice in your path then you lose!”
The delivery and instrumental are so eerie, it sounds the way the hall of mirrors from Us feels.
Denzel goes full W A V Y on “Black Balloons”. Seriously, $10 says you’ve never heard a wavier song about depression. Absolute depression banger. “CASH MANIAC” is the lovely song about numbing your problems with your guap. And “SUMO” is the culmination of CASH MANIAC’s build-up. The cash-chasing has led to a completely materialistic character, who has “POCKETS TOO BIG THEY SUMO”. Hottest track of 2018. @ me.
Also, I didn’t understand the Chowder/Rada bar until my college friends started watching Chowder in my dorm room. Thanks, Brian and Cameron.
On Gray, Denzel switches it up. With “SWITCH IT UP”. Along with the references to bi-polar disorder, this song marks the character’s retreat from the “SUMO” tone towards more introspective reflections. With some of the craziest flow in the game, Denzel drops a Hamlet bar, considers the mental disorders causing school shootings, and even spits:
“Everybody wanna ride waves
but jump when the ship don’t sail”
Also, name one more active rapper who would ever drop a bar on Moonlight.
On “MAD I GOT IT”, the murkiest song yet:
“Hate the government, capital punishment
I keep a heater on my hip, don’t need an oven mitt
I’m on some other shit, mind is twisted
I wear this mask everyday, Stanley Ipkiss”
Full disclosure, I started writing this before the George Floyd protests. It’s impossible to ignore them when talking about “SIRENS”.
An incomplete list of every topic Denzel and J.I.D cover in the song:
- recurring racism only gaining an elevated platform in recent years
- the U.S. intimidating minorities into only being comfortable around each other and unable to gain support outside of their own community
- conservative news networks criticizing hip hop’s explicit sound without ever hearing its message
- “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” reference
- feeling uncomfortable voting in a government system that isn’t made for him
- the police killings of high school classmate Trayvon Martin and his brother Treon Johnson
- the increasing political divisiveness
- Trump’s wall and MAGA
- the need to riot in an age of violence(!!!)
- U.S.’s national pride despite its police brutality and drug problem
- 2017 London terrorist attack
- Donald Trump’s apparent adherence and subversiveness to Vladmir Putin
Recalling the XXL 2016 freshman class mentioned previously, Denzel raps, “pass a class, rise above it.” Find one of these current issues on any of the rest of the class’s songs. Please.
*note* saw a video of Lil Yachty at the protest in Atlanta with Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon. Mad respect.
“SIRENS” is the most important song since “The Blacker The Berry”. In an era where political rap is nowhere near the mainstream, Denzel takes police brutality head-on and releases a song that could honestly be the face of these protests. Funny how little change has happened in two years, let alone the past 80. Let alone the past 244, really.
The George Floyd protests are an overdue reaction to years of police brutality. They are an overdue reaction to a system that has oppressed black people since its creation. They are an overdue reaction to a country that elects a president who can’t condemn white supremacy and tweets that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Denzel was just prepared two years earlier.
“CLOUT COBAIN” is a ridiculously catchy song about the perils of chasing clout and celebrity status. It is catchy, thought-provoking, and haunting.
Introducing Dark, “THE BLACKEST BALLOON” recalls “BLACK BALLOONS” from the first act, and details his most personal black balloon: the pain and trauma of his brother’s death by police.
With these dumbass n*****, and they don’t say shit
Sound like “Durr, durr, durr”, you’re like “Oh, that’s lit”
With yo’ boof ass hits: “Imma fuck yo’ bitch,
I just popped two Xans”, n**** fuck that shit!
Said it better than I could have. Denzel evidently isn’t with the mumble rap drugs and sex wave that has completely been the face of current hip hop. Understandably, political hip hop isn’t considered lit. But it is necessary.
“VENGEANCE” and “BLACK METAL TERRORIST” don’t have as much substance as the rest of the album, but I’d be lying if I said they don’t pack a punch.
TA13OO could’ve changed the narrative. This could have been the album that everyone was talking about. This could have started discussion. This could have been College Dropout, To Pimp A Butterfly.
TA13OO peaked at #28 on the Billboard 200.
I don’t quite understand why Denzel never got the spotlight. It could’ve been that no one wanted to listen to the water bottle song guy from Vine. It could’ve been that no one was interested in music that didn’t involve doing drugs and stealing your girl. But I think it was that no one wanted to listen to something that made them uncomfortable.
No one likes feeling uncomfortable. No one wants to have to talk about trauma, mental illness, depression, or police brutality. But being uncomfortable is the first step towards making a change.
TA13OO is uncomfortable. It’s not a first date album. But it is important. It says something, which is more than what 90% of the Soundcloud generation’s albums do. TA13OO invites conversation. It wants you to think more. It wants you to recognize that not everything is okay.
TA13OO changed absolutely nothing. But don’t think for a second that that means TA13OO doesn’t matter. In the same way no one is talking about TA13OO, no one is talking about the taboos that the album readily and directly discusses. Culturally, it will be remembered as Soundcloud rap’s most important album and statement on the mental state and political climate of the late 2010s.
Oh, now THAT’s lit.