Nathan Young talks us through Unlocked 1.5
Florida rapper Denzel Curry and producer Kenny Beats first teamed just over a year ago for the original of Unlocked, an almost 18-minute concept album and short film released in early February of last year. Unlocked 1.5 is a remix of the original, and an interesting project in its own right with tracks built on or entirely reimagined by a series of guest producers and artists including Benny The Butcher, Joey Bada$$, Godmode, and many others.
Unlocked 1.5 builds on what was so great about the original project - interesting vocal snippets, powerful instrumental samples, disjointed and unpredictable flows, both lyrically and musically. Content-wise, Denzel Curry is braggadocious and occasionally nerdy, drawing on Science Fiction, video games, superheroes, and rap battles. The remixes keep with this theme. Tracks like The Alchemist's remix of ‘‘Cosmic.4a" sounding more alien than the original, with noises and instruments mixed in that remind you of old-school TV sci-fi or 8bit video games, but with a meaner edge. Appropriate for a track with the opening lines of; “Drip-hop, born from the crackpot//This is for the infants, the haves and the have-nots//Meet us at the trap spot so you can be an Astronaut”.
In a similar vein, "Track07" (now the second track) gets a more fantastical remake, with Georgia Anne Muldrow’s version introducing ethereal female vocals. Singer Arlo Parks lends a new verse on the remix, which includes Bjorkeque singing of lines like “My third eye's open, I feel absolutely free//Violence in touch with my own inner energy” and spoken-word pieces of a similar spiritual theme.
The project isn’t without its flaws. Occasional tracks such as "Diet_1.5" feature new bars but don’t do anything new with the instrumental or even the chorus. Benny the Butcher comes in hard with “All these racks in the ceiling got rappers back in they feelings//Treat the game like Trump voters did the Capitol building” as the opening lines, but overall it feels lazy compared to the new things done to other tracks.
Also confusing is why "Take_It_Back_v2" features twice, once remixed by Charlie Heat, and one by Godmode. Neither are bad remixes of what was a decent track originally, although Charlie Heats is stronger and more aggressive, while Godmode’s is more mellowed and trance-inducing. It serves well as a callback, but with the whole record lasting less than 20 minutes, this feels less like a reprise and more like a repeat.
Everything about this mini-album slaps. It’s innovative and fresh, building and improving on the original while having its own identity. The remixing and new features make most tracks distinct from their original, and the reordering of the album helps give the whole album individuality also. Even if you don't like the original for some reason, rap fans would be doing themselves a disservice in not checking out this record.