By CHARLIE SNYDER
Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats are consistently unlocking new possibilities in hip-hop.
On Mar. 5, South Florida rapper Denzel Curry and his 6’7 counterpart Kenneth Blume III, better known by his producer name Kenny Beats, released part two of their collaborative project UNLOCKED, UNLOCKED 1.5 via Loma Vista Recordings.
The original UNLOCKED was released just over a year before its successor, receiving unanimous critical acclaim. Accompanied by a short film, UNLOCKED served as the soundtrack for a movie of the same title that transitioned between different visual styles as the tracklist played on. This boldly creative release caught the attention of many who had only previously known of Denzel Curry for his 2015 hit single, Ultimate, which had gone viral on the social media platform Vine shortly after its release.
As for Kenny Beats, this collaboration with Curry serves as a continuation of his underrated influence in the hip-hop scene. Having produced tracks for the likes of celebrated artists such as Ed Sheeran, Freddie Gibbs, Omar Apollo, JPEGMAFIA and many more, odds are that you have heard at least one of his songs. Interestingly enough, it seems the iconic “Woah Kenny!” producer tag—an audio drop that highlights the creator of the song—holds more acclaim than the actual individual himself. Yet, Kenny Beats continues to be one of the most innovative producers in music today, this time curating an album that flawlessly integrates a plethora of new producers and artists that create the freshly remixed UNLOCKED 1.5.
Spanning across eight tracks over the course of about 22 minutes, UNLOCKED 1.5 does not overstay its welcome. Much like Curry’s emphatic bars and cadence, the album comes at you fast, effortlessly transitioning between the smooth and silky production of jazz extraordinaire Robert Glasper on So.Incredible.pkg, and the eerily futuristic instrumental chops of Los Angeles producer godmode on Take_it_Back_v2 - GODMODE 950 Version, that sound straight out of a sci-fi thriller. Though, these are not the only producers who are credited across the remixed tracklist. Some of the other talents included feature the likes of The Alchemist, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Sango, Jay Versace, and Charlie Heat. Aside from the Robert Glasper produced So.Incredible.pkg, it is safe to say that Charlie Heat’s version of Take_it_Back_v2 held true to his last name, providing what could very easily be Denzel Curry’s best song in the entire UNLOCKED series.
The first minute or so of the track is carried by the unedited Denzel Curry verse that listeners were first introduced to on the original album from 2020. Unless you have not heard the original, there is nothing too overwhelming so far. It takes about a minute for the song to really start heating up. All of the sudden, an air horn signals the unexpected change in instrumentation, cueing a swelling baseline that only goes to complement Curry’s verse. As the song progresses, and right when listeners anticipate the beat to drop, Charlie Heat instead comes through with a jazzy boom-bap-esque beat that pays homage to the golden era that is 90s hip-hop. A pitched-down Denzel Curry then comes into the mix, and in some ways, acts as the better half of an odd couple. You would never expect to hear him over this type of beat, but it just works so well that you can not help but enjoy the song’s seamless progression.
Furthermore, the album also includes guest features from the likes of Arlo Parks, Joey Bada$$, Kenny Mason and Benny the Butcher. The latter of those appearing on the only track not to feature new instrumentation, DIET_1.5, proving the old saying true, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Well, the track was not “fixed” per se; instead, one could argue it was elevated. The Buffalo, New York rapper Jeremie Pennick, better known as Benny the Butcher, came through with one of the hottest verses of 2021, only adding onto his already successful 2020. Even though DIET_1.5 is the most derivative-sounding track on the album, Benny makes it completely worth the listen.
In the end, Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats are producing some of the most creative pieces of music out there today and attracting a similar level of high-caliber talent in the process. Having become one of music’s most entertaining duos by bringing the best out of each other over the past year, there is no telling what the pair might accomplish next.