As this decade comes to a close and we begin to admire just how prominent and outreaching hip-hop as a genre has become, we tend to place so much more emphasis on the seminal projects that really got the ball rolling as far as defining a respective sound, era, or a combination of both.

For the underground as we know it today, and more so how we have come to see it evolve, seldom projects better offer themselves as fitting this description with such perfection as Denzel Curry’s essential solo debut studio album Nostalgic 64

Released just at the end of summer 2013, the project entered the public domain at what can only be described as a tumultuous time for both Curry himself and underground hip-hop as a whole. The ever-influential Raider Klan had just entered into the apex of its infamous collapse, which saw Denzel leave the group just as this project was in the height of its development. 

What we did not know at that time was that this departure served as arguably one of the most important blessings in disguise that this scene would ever come across, as Curry’s inaugural venture into a solidified solo career would come to define and set the bar for the next 6 years and beyond within this genre. 

With this release, Curry took every single aspect that his former group had come to refine year in and year out and essentially translated them into the most telling and cohesive full-length project within the realms of that style. The always familiar Memphis influence combined with that extra sense of contemporary hip-hop nuance that only Denzel truly knew how to bring at the time were showcased in full on nearly single track present — giving the burgeoning and hungry underground audience the “landmark” album that they had lacked up to that point.

And truly, there is no hyperbole in that statement. Though he would eventually come through with multiple projects of higher stature and arguably increased quality, it is no secret that this project was indeed considered somewhat of an “instant classic” even at the time of its release. That remark is of course in complete unknowing of the trends and overall wave it would come to create as this scene progressed further day by day and year by year; the album’s sheer quality is what denoted it as such back then, and it still does so to this day. 

That sentiment is exemplified clearly when taking a look at some of the album’s most timeless highlights. 

Take the undeniable bar-fests like the always-popular “Thretz” and the perfect opener “Zone 3.” These are both tracks that not only proved Denzel carried the influence of his predecessors with both respect and pure craft, but also that he was at the forefront of the next cutting-edge sound in hip-hop — being one of the first to bridge the gap between unmistakable talent and raw musicality that past eras in hip-hop had created. 

He furthered this notion through dialing it down on multiple points throughout the album, as not every track necessarily had to be a banger whatsoever. In realizing this and executing the shallower moments with just as much grace and adequacy as the harder ones, he again became one of the first trailblazers in the gradual, but now completely evident rise of “emotions” in popular hip-hop. 

There simply is too much to say about the completely unprecedented nature of this album without taking an extremely deep dive, but it is at least fair to remind those who may not have been in the scene at the time that this project represents so much more than the title of “Curry’s first album.” Its impact on underground, as illustrated, is immeasurable, and it should be respected as such. 

Too much do we focus on what groundbreaking artists that are currently in their prime – like Denzel is at this very moment – are going to do next. Looking back at the individual accomplishments that let them achieve that certain legend status in the first place actually reveals much more about the atmosphere they have manifested themselves in, and in his case, helped create. 

Nostalgic 64 is, without question, the accomplishment that set the standard for where we are today in this era.