Taylor Swift (From the Vault), Unlocked 1.5, ALT, Invincible, Vlure and Shin Godzilla!

Unlocked 1.5

Hal: Just as big releases began to be delayed, the rap scene of the first half of 2020 was dominated by short and sweet releases, full collaborations between a rapper and a producing partner, both sharing credit on the project. This brief wave produced some phenomenal releases, notably from producer extraordinaire The Alchemist, whose projects with Conway the Machine, Boldy James and Freddie Gibbs were highly praised ‘Album of the year’ contenders. One of the best and most distinctive team-ups though was the one between Kenny Beats and Floridan rapper Denzel Curry, whose tight album Unlocked was close to the best project in Curry’s flawless discography, despite its brevity at a mere eight tracks.

Recorded in just three days, Unlocked was one of those rare, lightning in a bottle moments where the chemistry was just right to let the magic flow. It’s a fantastic showcase for both artists with Curry at his most ferocious, yet most nostalgic, channelling a classic Wu-Tang Clan energy though elastic and growling vocals rhythms and cartoonish pop culture references. This dynamism was reflected in Beats’s production and the endlessly replayable project brimmed with electricity.

Releasing short-order deluxe versions of albums has become a far more marked trend in recent years, perhaps in response to the pandemic cancelling tours, which not only made a tight and memorable set-list less of a requirement, but also restricting label income to relying on producing fodder for playlist streams, and selling multiple versions of records if they can. However, in this case, Curry and Beats seem to have entered into the process with more of an artistic intent than many others, this time re-ordering and opening the tracks up to new producers and guest artists.

Unlocked 1.5 opens with Robert Glasper’s smooth and groovy remix of “So.Incredible.pkg”, and though one would have thought such elegance would surely clash with Denzel’s savagery, it actually complements it beautifully, as does the nice Smino guest verse on the tail end of the track. “Track07”, which was already an instrumental remix of previous songs from the album, now comes second on the album, with a new instrumental from Georgia Anne Mudrow and raw, babyish vocals from Arlo Parks singing: “my third eye’s open, I feel absolutely free”. The whole sounds both soulful and oddly futuristic, with zapping lazer sounds and cascading vocal samples laced throughout the beat.

Previously mentioned producer The Alchemist appears in person to give his similarly extra-terrestrial take on “‘Cosmic’.4a”, and Joey Bada$$ gives a surprisingly short and underwhelming verse, though he echoes the biblical references of Curry’s performance, which is still as unhinged as ever. Charlie Heat’s multi-phased version of “Take_it_Back_v2” replaces the original’s doom laded instrumental with a loose and muscular groove, though Denzel’s pitched haranguing flows ratchet the tension back up, ensuring it loses none of its intensity. Perhaps the graceful and watery Sango beat of “Pyro” suits Kenny Mason’s softer vocals better than it does Denzel’s, and their parts do feel rather compartmentalised, but it does provide a nice cool spot on the record, as does Godmode’s trippy hip-house version of “Take_it_Back_v2” incorporating break beat transitions to usher the album out gently.

The track “Diet”, which saw Curry give perhaps his most intense performance on the record (as well as the revelation that he doesn’t like Pixar) survives with the original beat, and it’s to Beats’s credit that it still registers as a highlight shoulder to shoulder with fresher tracks. That’s also in part down to Benny the Butcher, who seldom delivers a lacklustre verse and doesn’t disappoint, giving perhaps the standout guest appearance with the hilarious opening bar: “treat the game like Trump voters did the Capital building”.

Despite the brutal energy of the original Unlocked, the well-chosen collaborators here have each brought their own stamp but all pulling in the same direction, smoothing out and softening the project into a more laid back and accessible version. Though crucially, they have done so without dissipating its quality, with stellar and ambitious production throughout and Curry holding centre-stage with his incredibly charismatic and intense presence.

Written by TV Obsessive

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