Album Review — Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats’ ‘UNLOCKED’

This was a project I heard about and got immediately excited and then I completely forgot about it. But I’m glad I was paying enough attention to still catch it when it dropped, as seeing Denzel Curry, one of the best rappers in the game today, teaming up with producer Kenny Beats, one of the most promising up and coming producers in hip-hop, had me excited at the potential of this team-up. And after listening to UNLOCKED, the duo definitely lives up to the hype.

Two things I have to point out before getting to the music: the album art is fantastic and a perfect reflection of what you can expect when listening to this project. It also has a heavy CZARFACE influence, as it looks like something you would expect for album art on one of his records. The other thing I have to point out is this was allegedly made in just 24 hours by Curry and Beats, which makes what they create on this short project even more impressive. 

Opening track “Track 01” serves more as an intro, as it features a sample of a PSA and some beats before giving way to “Take_it_Back_v2.” And right away Curry’s furious and forceful delivery takes control, spitting off bars with authority. The beat is sinister and modern, but you can also hear the boom bap influences that permeate throughout this song and the entire album, making for a captivatingly grimy appeal. The bars are humorous and flow together really well, as I especially enjoy the word interplay in the line “You fell in love with kali ma, but now it’s time to take your heart.” 

“Lay_Up.m4a” continues with the hard and funny bars. The most memorable line: “Surfboard body ass boy with your fish tits.” It’s such a fun, shit-talking flex song with some appropriately eerie, ominous beats lurking in the background. “Pyro (leak 2019)” is very much along the same lines, featuring some clever bars around Cee Lo Green. It’s a pretty short song though and that’s probably the biggest complaint I have with songs on this album. This is definitely an album where you need to hear it all together and not broken up to get the full effect of each song.

“DIET_” sees Curry brilliantly channeling Busta Rhymes, sure to bring a smile to anyone who enjoys this style of rapping. This is also the best and most complete song on the album, as everything just ties together perfectly. Curry attacks the beat and it has the best bars on the album too: “One man, ichiban, fresh outta Japan/Do as I command” and “And I don’t like Pixar, mist-er/I am the master, I came through like a (wait a minute).” The latter bar in particularly highlights how great Curry’s flow and approach to bars makes what looks awkward on paper, work so easily and smoothly in execution.

“So.Incredible.pkg” and “Track07” feature my favorite beats on the album, as they’re both smooth and surrealistic. It’s why I enjoy hearing Kenny Beats project: you’re going to get some sounds that you don’t normally hear in a lot of hip-hop projects nowadays. This different and fresh approach, while also drawing from previous influences in hip-hop, is why he’s quickly become one of my favorite producers in the genre today, as I wish more producers would “go out there” with their sound like Kenny Beats.

The album closes with “’Cosmic’ .m4a,” another song where Curry’s rapid delivery is right on point with memorable, hard-hitting bars. I harp on Curry’s delivery once again because it’s so key to what makes this album great. The songs themselves don’t have any big messages and are essentially bangers that focus on delivering fun bars. So many hip-hop albums are like this today and many are largely forgotten because the delivery just flat-out sucks. But Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Grade: 9/10