At the culmination of the fifth round of Red Bull Denzel World Wide, the crowd assembled at Magic City Innovation District looked expectantly to see whose hand the referee would raise in a demonstration of victory: Denzel Curry‘s–Zeltron’s–or J.I.D.’s. Yet, despite the wrestling aesthetic of Red Bull Denzel Worldwide, from the wrestling ring in which Curry and J.I.D. traded verses, the live wrestling that preluded the rap battle, the multi-round format of the competition, and the belts brandished at event’s end, the traditional dichotomy of the victor and the defeated was not to be found at the conclusion of the traveling concept series’ sold-out Miami iteration, where both Curry and J.I.D. reveled in the crowd’s cheers, each with a champion’s belt in hand.
Over the course of the evening, the sense that it would be a feat to identify a victor became increasingly clear as Curry and J.I.D. dexterously cycled through their catalogs to perform two cuts apiece during each of the event’s five rounds. This equivalence of skill, Curry said, is an integral part of Red Bull Denzel World Wide’s design.
“If you have two people of the same caliber with the same sort of resources [face off] against each other, then it becomes a battle. You don’t want a blow out.”
However, commensurate ability is just one of the characteristics that Curry seeks in an opponent in Red Bull Denzel World Wide. “The competition requires a natural kind of synchronicity and dynamism,” Curry said. “Every artist has a strong point and every artist has a weakness, but if you can come in [the ring] with versatility and you can get with me on energy and do things unpredictably, you’re a deadly force.”
You need dynamism.
Needless to say, Curry saw these qualities in J.I.D., an Atlanta-born rapper whose credits include membership to the Spillage Village musical collective, founded by EarthGang in 2010, and a feature on “SIRENS | Z1RENZ” from Curry’s 2018 LP, TA1300. Speaking with EDM All Day before he stepped foot in the Red Bull Denzel World Wide ring, Curry said, “It’s more of a respect match between me and J than a grunge match. Like I’ve told him, it’s like we’re from the same dojo; we’ve run in the same backyard, so we’re going to have respect for each other in that octagon.”
Importantly, Curry knows and knows well that respect for his opponent is not synonymous with tempered competitive force. When the live wrestling that served as the opening to Red Bull Denzel World Wide climactically gave way to the main attraction, Curry circled the ring, surveying the crowd before assertively tearing into his catalog in a no-holds-barred demonstration of lyrical strength. That Curry donned a brown leather jacket and the exact tank top worn by Tyler Durden in Fight Club only further added to the highly stylized nature of Red Bull Denzel World Wide Miami.
Flashing his teeth and roaring his bars into the microphone as his faithful following in attendance kept pace, matching Curry word for word, Curry wielded high-intensity selections such as “Ultimate,” from 2019’s ZUU and “SUMO | ZUMO.” An inclusion that warranted bookmarking, Curry’s cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” added heavy rock pop and circumstance to Curry’s audacious exhibition of his fine-tuned craft.
For each of Curry’s performative bullseyes, J.I.D. had one of his own. The Dreamville Records signee paid homage to earlier singles such as 2018’s “Off Deez” and further incited the crowd to action–read: to raise their “Team J.I.D.” foam fingers in the air–with a raucous delivery of “Costa Rica,” from 2020’s Revenge Of The Dreamers III: Director’s Cut. Bas, who is also featured thereupon, was in attendance, as were several special guests who graced the ring throughout the evening, including Johnny Venus of EarthGang, Kiddo Marv, IDK, and Twelve’Len.
The homecoming installment of Red Bull Denzel World Wide, which followed Curry’s bout against Joey Bada$$ during the 2019 Red Bull Music Festival in Atlanta, routed more than 1,000 attendees to Little Haiti, Miami to witness the Carol City-born Curry take on J.I.D.
A one-of-a-kind concept-driven hip-hop experience, Red Bull Denzel World Wide has the power to extend the camaraderie that is visible between the rappers in the ring to the broader hip-hop community of Miami, Curry said. Or, at the very least, that is one of the goals of the series, which was born in Miami in 2018 when Curry and Red Bull collaboratively hosted the first iteration, Red Bull: Zeltron vs. Zombies (Flatbush Zombies).
Hip-hop culture here, people want the same unity that Atlanta [has]. And honestly, we don’t have that. So I will make that.
Our sh*t is based off conflict. So usually when you’d be up [to battle], most of your friends out here you probably faded first. I want people to embrace the fact that we are embracing conflict and getting money with it [in Red Bull Denzel World Wide].
All the dumb a** rappers are fighting and sh*t and going to jail. We’re actually using this conflict to get money, be productive, and be unified in the game.
Despite the sold-out status of Red Bull Denzel World Wide Miami, Curry said the public reception, or rather, embrace, of the series has surprised him.
I didn’t realize how many people would want to do this with us. Some people wasn’t down to do [Red Bull Denzel World Wide] because they didn’t know what was going on with it.
If you hear the idea, two rappers going against each other in a ring, you might think it’s corny–until you see the show. Then you’re like, wait, this sh*t is amazing.
Later down the line, Curry hopes to face off against Waka Flocka Flame, but until then, the Florida rapper can be found stoking his innate verbal firepower in preparation for his March 20 battle against Rico Nasty at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Details for a subsequent stop in New York remain forthcoming, but Bay Area hip-hop enthusiasts can find tickets to Curry’s California installment, here.
Photos by Stephanie Estrada and Ian Witlen