Nostalgic 64, the debut album from Carol City, Florida’s Denzel Curry, ends with an echo of a phrase, which is sung by the 19-year-old rapper nicknamed AquariusKilla: “Synthesize. Realize. Life’s no game,” he says. Written down, it’s a three-pronged phrase resembling any other “something-something-something” trope (“Eat, Pray, Love,” “Girls, Girls Girls,” “Spend, Spend, Spend,” etc.). But when considered in context, it feels more like a mantra, hidden in plain sight. It’s a not-so-secret message for listeners surviving in one of the country’s most violent zip codes, left by the freshly coronated crown prince of South Florida hip-hop.
Internet buzz and underground fame found Curry when he was a student at Miami Carol City High, where he was a member of Raider Klan (or “RVIDXR KLVN”), the fabled lo-fi brainchild of fellow Floridian and underground hip-hop hero SpaceGhostPurrp. Imbued with the sonic mystique of an obscure cassette tape, Raider Klan drew heavy inspiration from ’90s Southern horror-core, a rather macabre subgenre in which graphic, ghastly imagery is evoked amid samples of screams and other spooky sounds.
Curry’s relationship with Purrp and the rest of the Klan reached its apparent apex during the spring of 2013, following a fairly big-deal Coachella debut. Purrp and Curry claim to have remained friends following Curry’s departure, even in the wake of Purrp’s curious absence from Nostalgic 64. But if there was a reason for Curry’s curious oversight, it could have been to signal a career transition for the still very young rapper.
Despite all this success, the almost-year since Nostalgic 64’s release has been far from perfect. Curry’s older brother passed away in February, following a severe reaction to a taser attack while he was in custody. According to Curry, his next project will feature a pair of tributes — one for his brother, the other for a close friend who was a random, unassuming victim of the violence that plagues Carol City and the countless places that are just like it.
That friend wasn’t Trayvon Martin, but it easily could have been. Both Trayvon and Curry attended Miami Carol, and Curry participated in the walkout following George Zimmerman’s non-arrest in the days following the shooting. The song in which Curry evokes audio from reports of the walkout, “N64,” is among the record’s finest lyrical moments. All this being said, Nostalgic’s “N64” title probably says as much as anything about the album’s themes. Both nostalgia and N64 (as in the Nintendo video-game system) offer an escape from reality, but part of growing up is understanding just how inadequate those escapes can feel as an adult. How Curry conjures nostalgia for the sake of simplicity, and the ways in which his lyrics long for youthful naïveté, ultimately give way to the realization that in the real world, there is no escape. “Synthesize. Realize. Life’s no game.”
Denzel Curry performs at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Sunday, September 28, at 8 p.m. with Deniro Farrar. For tickets, call (805) 965-8676 or visit velvet-jones.com.