Let’s look beyond the memes for a second. Beyond crafting the viral hit “Ultimate,” which became the soundtrack to the infamous #BottleFlipChallenge on Vine, Denzel Curry is a wildly talented emcee. His rambunctious one-two punch of blazing fast machine gun raps over hazy, synth-drenched instrumentals has won the admiration of thousands, including Young Thug, Rick Ross and Joey Bada$$. He even collaborated with the latter two. Curry is bringing it to Vinyl Nov. 10 for his Black Metal Terrorist tour, but first, he chats with us about his success, working with his favorite artists and staying independent.
You’re a bit different: You’re a XXL Freshman, you dropped three albums at 21 and you’ve amassed a large following. Why do you choose to stay independent?
Early on, I realized that I could do most of this myself, get funds for myself, create most of this myself—then I’ll have something to bring to the table when I do sign to somebody. I really value my creative rights, my freedom and not being tied down to anything. It all goes back to knowing what I want to do. I’ve got a craving that’s entirely mine. I want to keep that. I feel a lot of people lose sight of that when they get signed, and that’s awful. I’m not about that.
Your releases have been free up to this point. Do you plan to do the same going forward?
No, the next one won’t be free. I made Imperial free because I had reach in mind. I wanted to reach out to the people who haven’t heard me, or haven’t heard of me. By putting it out for free, I exposed them to what I’m doing, my vibe, my scene. Free means exposure, and I feel like I exposed so many people to my music by keeping it free.
You’ve worked with Rick Ross and recently Joey Bada$$. Is there anybody you’d like to collaborate with next?
Over the years, I’ve held it down with DJ Dahi. Ross was definitely my biggest feature, but I’ve got something with Kirk Knight in the works.
I’ve got big plans for the future. I’d love to work with Kendrick Lamar, the Weeknd, Flying Lotus, Lil Wayne. On some other shit, I want to work with George Clinton—he’s a real one!—Andre 3000, Tyler, the Creator … this list goes on.
What’s next after this tour promoting the re-release of Imperial?
I’m working on my new album, Taboo. Thematically, I’m trying to make the ugliest emotions, the ugliest situations sound beautiful.
It’s a bit deeper than Imperial. On that album, I was trying to hone in on my sound and my style, and I was projecting my emotions for the very first time—especially anger and sadness. There weren’t many uplifting tracks on that album, with the exception of the last one, “If Tomorrow’s Not Here.” [When writing that album] I was in a weird state of mind. My emotions were out of whack. But I’m calm and relaxed now. I’m gonna do what I gotta do.
“Ultimate” has taken off as a meme thanks to Vine, the water bottle flipping challenge and an Adidas commercial. How do you feel about it?
It’s cool, and I’ll take all the good words that come from it, but, to be honest, most of the Vines are annoying. The bottle flip shit—I think that shit’s stupid. I know people are having fun with it, and that’s cool—I embrace all the success that comes with that fully, but I think it’s dumb. I’m not into that bottle flipping, but it’s funny, and it’s cool to see a lot of people getting exposed to my music because of it.
You’re performing in Vegas as a break from the festival circuit. Do you prefer performing in venues or festivals?
I’m a festival guy, man. I like the big crowds because that means more exposure. It’s cool to see how different people react to my music. The one-off shows are cool, too, because it’s always my core fan base that comes out to support. Those shows always get wild, but at festivals, I get to play for my fanbase and other peoples’ fanbases. I get to play for people who have never heard of me, and they get to see me do it right.
What can we expect at the Vegas show?
Expect a whole lot of energy. This one’s gonna be theatrical, with hands flying everywhere and me going off onstage. It’s gonna be the ultimate “turnt” style. [Laughs.]
Jam Nation Presents Denzel Curry
with Boogie, Yoshi Thompkins, Dela Phantom and Black Bag Brothers. Nov. 10, 8 p.m., $18-35, Vinyl, HardRockHotel.com