Denzel Curry has been establishing himself as one of the best rappers in all of music for over half a decade, building out an incredibly impressive discography for an artist that has just turned 26 years old. 2021 has already been off to a strong start for Denzel, with one of the best guest features of the year on JID’s “Bruuuh” and the two-lead singles released for his new album. A direct follow-up to 2020’s “Unlocked,” “Unlocked 1.5” is Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats’s sequel and re-edition of their first collaborative album and animated film. Excitement began to build a few weeks ago when a hilarious trailer revealed that there was more music coming back from the electric rapper-producer duo.
Although it might not be a project of entirely new tracks, “Unlocked 1.5” still features another collaboration between a duo with great chemistry, as well as an incredible group of guest features including Smino, Joey Bada$$, Kenny Mason and Benny the Butcher. With Denzel’s history of consistency, it is hard to imagine that a project put out by him could be anything but good, especially with the help from one of rap’s best producers at this moment.
Obviously, opinions can change greatly about an album as time passes. Still, here is my initial reaction to each track and the album as a whole on my first listen of the album.
Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats: “Unlocked 1.5” (March 5, 2020)
- “So.Incredible.pkg (Robert Glasper Version)” ft. Smino & Robert Glasper
The re-edition gets off to a more relaxed start than the original. With a dark, soulful loop in the background, and a calm drum kick, this definitely feels like a perfect track for a Smino feature. Smino’s versatility and ability to adapt to any song are some of the more impressive and enjoyable traits in hip-hop currently. Despite having a beat that doesn’t really excite or feel too engaging, the combination of Denzel and Smino makes the song enjoyable enough.
- “Track 07 (Georgia Anne Muldrow Version)” ft. Arlo Parks
“Track 07” feels like an interlude with Arlo Parks’s vocals sprinkled throughout. Percussion-heavy with an electronic and eerie vibe throughout, this song feels a bit odd, but not too out of line with some of the work in the “Unlocked” series thus far. Not a ton is going on here, but this is not a bad song.
- “Cosmic . m4a (The Alchemist Version)” ft. Joey Bada$$
Heavy bass lines thumping in the background are complemented with a dark and grimy jazz beat. Zel’s verse is identical to his original for the song, and I feel that the verse fits the original version a bit better. Joey’s verse fits nicely, but only runs for only about 30 seconds. The production of this song feels as though it is lacking something. It is impossible for The Alchemist, Denzel and Joey to create a bad track together, but this track did not reach its full potential.
- “Take_it_Back_v2 (Charlie Heat Version)”
Immediately, the drums are kicking hard, and the background sample is complementing Denzel’s delivery nicely. This song starts off feeling like a borderline fusion between metal and hip-hop. The first verse goes insanely hard. Okay, now a slight beat-flip a little over a minute in that gives a bit more of a jazzy feel. Probably the most intriguing mix so far in the tracklist.
- “Pyro (Sango Leak)” ft. Kenny Mason & Sango
With a great producer like Sango and a promising up-and-coming artist like Kenny Mason, this one should be entertaining. The beat has a futuristic feel and really nice details throughout. Kenny’s verse is very fun, and his versatility in vocal fluctuations is always good to hear. This song really provides a satisfying switch-up in the flow of the album.
- “Lay_Up.m4a (Jay Versace Version)”
Right away, the production doesn’t feel like it fits as well as the original version of the track. The original was one of my favorite tracks on the first project, but this new beat just doesn’t do very much justice to Denzel’s bars and delivery. I appreciate the idea of adding in more of the experimental relaxed beats, but the execution could have been much better.
- “DIET_1.5” ft. Benny the Butcher
One of my favorite rappers with a guest feature combined with one of the best songs from the original project — I really don’t see how this could go poorly. Immediately, this Benny verse is well-placed. It’s obvious that very few people can rap at this level at the moment. This verse is probably going to be one of my favorites of the year so far. The beat is kept nearly identical to the original beat from “Diet,” and Denzel’s parts remain the same. A great remix of the song and a perfectly placed feature.
- “Take_it_Back_v2 (GODMODE 950 Version)”
There is some really odd mixing going on in the beginning of the song. I get the push to be abstract and to have the electronic feel, but some of it just feels a little unnecessary. The song really stripped back most of the initial rapping and vocals, which I think was not the best choice. The production feels chaotic but controlled at the same time, but also not very quality or exciting. An odd outro to the project for sure.
Overall, on a first listen, it was fun to hear Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats again, but there wasn’t anything incredibly special going on here. The feature from Benny was fantastic, and the feature from Kenny Mason was really good. The Smino and Joey features were all right, but they weren’t really complemented by the best production choices. A couple of the new mixes on the beats were good, but I am not sure that I like any of the new beats better than any of the original ones. Effortless talent and great delivery are going to be constant in Denzel’s rapping, but I think he could have really had better production to complement his style on this album. As opposed to the tight and consistent thematics of the original, this project unfortunately seemed to be lacking much of the same consistency and focus. Even as somebody who loves Denzel, I wouldn’t say that this is a must-listen project by any means. Given that this project was a re-edition, I didn’t have the highest expectations, and I still expect plenty of greatness from Denzel throughout the future.
Favorite Songs: “DIET_1.5,” “Pyro (Sango Leak)” “Take_it_Back_v2”
Album Score: 60/100