Hip-hop and horror movies go hand in hand. Beyond the overt references (think Nicki Minaj’s allusion to “Child’s Play” and “Bride of Chucky” on “Monster” or the name Freddy Krueger of the Geto Boys on “Assassins”), both genres often play with tales of suffering and survival. On his 2018 album TA13OO, Denzel Curry creates his own horror story: navigating the music industry as a young black artist full of promise and naivety.
TA13OO, as its name suggests, seeks to unpack the many taboo subjects of Curry’s life – focusing on personal struggles with mental health and the exploitative experiences of corporate executives and the public alike. While these themes are at the forefront of Curry’s lyricism, the full picture of this industry manipulation is incomplete without considering the album’s accompanying music videos.
In the series premiere episode, “BLACK BALLOONS”, a businessman wields a pen and a long piece of paper in an effort to persuade Curry to sign a contract with a label. Above a stream of sinister organ synths, the man says, “I can do anything for you Denzel, and all you have to do for me is sign.” A reluctant curry presents its signature and is almost immediately transported to a world of luxury, parties and excess. Yet as the song progresses, Curry transforms from a participant in these opulent feasts into a source of entertainment. Here emerges the clown persona that Curry assumes throughout the project, adorned with the same black-and-white face paint seen on the album cover. At the end of the video, Curry is sitting in a jail cell and far from the golden splendor he was promised in his early days.
In the following video, this time for the track “CLOUT COBAIN”, Curry becomes a circus act in his own right. The record executive, and now ringmaster, frees Curry from his handcuffs and taunts the rapper to perform in front of an aggressive crowd of white dudes with face tattoos and skinny styrofoam cups. As he endures this teasing, Curry sings on the chorus, “I just wanna feel, you want me to kill myself.” The video reaches its climax when an anguished Curry puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger, much to the dismay of the demanding audience. “CLOUT COBAIN” is a clear example of how artists are forced to sacrifice their own sanity in order to maintain a profitable and acceptable image for fans. The SoundCloud rapper persona is satirized in the video’s predominantly white audience, highlighting that from a production and consumer perspective, the genre is often reduced to appropriations of black aesthetics. Curry ultimately falls victim to these pressures, but all hope is not yet lost.
In the album’s final video for the track “VENGEANCE”, Curry returns from the dead and seeks bloody revenge on his tormentors. With the help of the JPEGMAFIA and ZillaKami features, Curry’s ghost rises from his bloodied body and sets out to find the record director who triggered his downfall. The still-living businessman lies on an operating table as Curry and his friends dissect his insides with hooks and cleavers in a final act of redemption. The rapper got rid of his harlequin makeup, fresh and finally free from his oppressor. In the last shot, Curry drives off in a taxi to the sound of soft guitar and trumpets. Sonically, there’s a shift from the brooding acidity of the rest of the track in those closing seconds, perhaps a signal that Curry has achieved some semblance of peace despite all he’s lost in the process.
TA13OO is a candid chronicle of talented black artists rising from obscurity and propelled into the music industry with very little creative freedom. What remains scariest about Curry’s career is not the gothic clownish imagery or the graphic violence, but his entrapment in the racist cycle of young artists forced to trade their well-being for supposed wealth and influence. . Yet, despite these difficulties, the existence of TA13OO evidence alone is that Curry actively rebelled against the hidden horrors of industry in a victorious display of self-reliance.
Nora Lewis, daily arts writer, can be reached at [email protected]