Welcome to the ZUU.
“Real-ass n***a from the 3-0-5,” raps Denzel, his cadence playful, on ZUU banger “Carolmart.” “I was raised off of Trina, Trick, Rick, and Plies.” An unlikely quartet if one were to genealogically trace the DNA of his existing repertoire, but a logical one should geography be the sole metric. Given that Denzel has grown into a leader of the new school, it’s interesting to hear him wax poetic on his formative days as a Florida youth. In fact, the open love letter to Carol City makes for ZUU’s main thematic anchor. An expat of sorts, having left his home city (he’s discussed his reasoning at length) to relocate to California, Denzel’s homesickness has come to manifest itself in a variety of unpredictable and exciting ways. Those expecting a retread of familiar ground - IE: ad-infinitum “Ultimate” clones - may find themselves lost amidst Denzel’s wade through the tide. Yet mourn not for the bangers lost, but rather celebrate for a refreshing and oft-unseen sense of creative agency.
Spontaneity, or the death of overthought, permeates ZUU in a tangible sense. Though deeply conceptual, there doesn’t appear to be the additional baggage of a deeper narrative thread or any overarching lyrical themes. Instead, the concept manifests itself through production, handled primarily by Finatik N Zac, down to the chosen instrumental elements. Miami Bass remains a dominant throughline, particularly on songs like “Shake 88” and “Carolmart,” an aesthetic Denzel has seldom explored. For that reason, ZUU’s selection ofinstrumentals feel like a statement unto itself, an aberration that might have been strange were Denzel’s confidence not so evident. Somehow it feels as if Denzel is navigating familiar territory, despite having never explored such a stylistic direction.
ZUU’s organic nature is mirrored by the spontaneous making-of process, which found Denzel freestyling the majority of the album, discovering the concept as it developed before his very eyes. Luckily, the absence of a blueprint does little to dull Zel’s sharp lyricism, which displays nicely over signature bangers like “Ricky” and “Speedboat”; it’s no coincidence that both tracks were selected as the project’s lead singles. Yet even then, the elements of ZUU’s baseline DNA are ever-present. Consider “Ricky’s” blistering bounce, which deviates masterfully from the expected formula of a paint-by-numbers trap single. Yet day one fans are still rewarded with clever Easter Eggs, such as this nod to “Parents:” “your mama ain't shit, your daddy ain't shit, and I been makin' waves way before Nostalgic.” The worldbuilding continues throughout the Tay Keith produced “Automatic,” where Denzel’s fragmented memories are granted new life through the conviction with which they’re recounted.
Cue the opening chimes of “Wish,” where listeners are subjected to the most evocative Floridian vicarious experience since loading up Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in 2002. Even the mixing feels strategically aligned with the sound of the eighties, a recognizable aesthetic to visitors who may have developed their own preconceived notions of Florida’s cultural vibe. Yet for Denzel, our escapist fantasies are his reality. An approachable introductory sample proceeds to strike a welcoming tone, conjuring musical memories of TA13OO’s “Cash Maniac,” as Denzel once again asserts himself as a savvy scribe for melody. Little details like the infectious chorus signify Denzel’s artistic growth, albeit in a subtle fashion; his penchant for crafting bangers is well documented, his restraint less so. Inserting regional slang like “woadie” only enhances the sense of conceptual immersion without deviating into heavy-handedness.
Between the cavalcade of Floridian staples - from Big Rick Rozay to Sam Sneak - to the minimalist yet image-laden album cover, ZUU feels like the wisest sort of statement. Unfettered by rhetorical wizardry, given credibility through personal experience well-lived. Those who proudly lay claim to Miami, or even the greater Florida landscape, may feel a sense of kinship upon hearing this album, while those unfamiliar can take solace in a priceless comfort: this narrator is light years from unreliable.