Sometimes, when you pair up a producer and a rapper who each have their own signature sound, you can immediately imagine what their collaboration might sound like. If I said Metro Boomin and Lil Wayne were dropping a single, anybody familiar with both artists could already hear the hazy, southern rap banger forming in their head.
But an EP with two of the most versatile artists in the rap game — Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats? That’s a different beast. That’s unpredictable. That could mean anything. On UNLOCKED, it meant an off-the-wall, Madvillain-meets-Wu-Tang-type, vintage-veneered rap album that paves the path for hip hop of the new decade.
For Kenny Beats, the producer whose motto is “Don’t overthink shit,” UNLOCKED feels meticulously pored over, highly polished, pruned, tweaked and trimmed. If you take Kenny’s philosophy to mean trusting in simplicity, then UNLOCKED would be Kenny throwing that philosophy in the trash. There’s a clear complexity to the numerous interweaved sounds and samples, so smoothly integrated that I kept catching more I didn’t hear on the fourth, fifth and sixth listen. But if you look at Kenny’s motto differently, I can see it: Other producers might feel nervous about overproducing the project. Kenny Beats does not overthink it. He puts his footprint in between every line from Denzel Curry. Despite that density, every beat on the eight-track EP is clean.
The comparison to MF DOOM and Madlib’s masterpiece Madvillainy is an easy one to make when you hear all the vintage samples layered throughout the EP, but the inspiration is truly evident in Denzel Curry’s contributions. Curry plays with listener expectations in his rhyme schemes all over the EP. It’s a move straight out of MF DOOM’s playbook. On “So.Incredible.pkg,” Curry raps, “Like, who brings the composition to the competition? / There’s gonna be some consequences when I — (Look out).” The way he drops the line before finishing the rhyme recalls DOOM’s ingenious line on “Great Day” from Madvillainy: “Spit so many verses sometimes my jaw twitches / One thing this party could use is more … ahem / Booze.”
In that sense, Curry’s bars take inspiration from his forefathers, including the clever intricacy of MF DOOM and the razor-sharp edge of Wu-Tang. Even the scream-along chorus on “DIET_” feels characteristic of DMX. Still, the brand of aggression he brings to each bar makes his raps his own. “You act so hard, you should thank the Academy” is so straightforward and gutting that if I didn’t know better, I would guess it came from a Method Man track.
Curry is on top of his game, keeping the project fresh with every switch-up of his flow and every clever line he spits. He effortlessly matches the mood that Kenny Beats creates on each track. When the beat switches on “Take_it_Back_v2” into something more sinister, his lyrics are dark and ominous to match, rapping “I look at the sky to answer the curious / The God and the Devil, they both imperious.” Curry knows his raps are on point, and he says as much on this record — though ironically he acknowledges it in maybe the worst dud on the album. “Bars harder than the morning wood, tryna pee up” is not the imagery anybody needed.
For a 17-minute project, UNLOCKED is overflowing. Ominous sample-based interludes, screamable or rap-along hooks, warped vocals, nutty beat switches — it’s all there and none of it feels overplayed or underutilized. Kenny and Curry each have their own time to flex their flashiest production and hardest bars, making for a uniquely retro and aggressive EP. This is the full potential of Kenny Beats and Denzel Curry unlocked.