-Moving away from the darker, trap style of his older projects, Denzel Curry shines on a new release.

Along with A$AP Mob, Lil Ugly Mane, and Raider Klan (which he was a part of), Denzel Curry was a big part in the Memphis Rap Revivalism that took hold at the birth of the young decade. However, he was more “Memphis by association” than actually creating the sound, as his first two major projects were exercises in trap rap, albeit dark and hazy trap rap. But now, having broken entirely from Raider Klan, Denzel has almost completely abandoned that style, and its resulted in his best project to date.

“Imperial” is a short, ten song, free download, full of straightforward bangers with lyrics concerning crime, regret of said crime, and recklessness. Not the most groundbreaking thing of all time, but this album hits some serious high water marks in terms of quality. First of all, the beats are fluid, hard hitting, and fast moving, with tons of punch but also some subtleties in the background samples. For example, “Gook” has a kind of glitchy piano line playing throughout that perfectly underscores Denzel’s speedy flow, “Narcotics” has an oppressively dark atmosphere, (and is consequently the only Memphis sounding song here), and “Zenith” features a skipping drum beat and some luxurious and spacy synths and strings. The beats here are consistently varied and memorable, and though they are the most grounded beats Denzel’s rapped over, that’s part of what makes them so good. They’re grimy, street level trap bangers, and few things are better than that.

Even less things are better than Denzel himself, though. He’s always been a good rapper, but he’s improved across the board. His typically energetic delivery has gotten even more intense and blood pumping, his lyrics have gotten more introspective and at times clever (“smokin’ on a island till a nigga look Thailand”), and his Three Six Mafia derived triplet flow has remained incredibly precise and hard hitting. On “Imperial,” he makes a case for moving from being a good rapper to one of the best out right now. And people seem to be noticing, as he gets Joey Bada$$ and Rick Ross to lend their talents on the mic. Rick’s verse is truthfully just OK, but Joey’s is one of the highlights of the album, just coming off incredibly confident and assured. But the real focus is on Curry, who is consistently lyrically interesting, vocally impassioned, and flow wise, extremely impressive and even catchy.

“Imperial” is a huge step forward for Denzel Curry, proving himself to be a pretty incredible MC and beat selector. At 10 songs and 39 minutes, “Imperial” is a brief, high speed plummet a couple chambers below the surface, but even more than that, it’s just a visceral good time.

4 stars

Standout Tracks: “ULT” “Gook” “Sick and Tired” “Story No Title” “Zenith”

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