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Sunday, February 25, 2024

How ‘The Mandalorian’ Inspired One of the Year’s Best Rap Videos

Like so many kids of the Blockbuster generation, the eclectic Miami rapper Denzel Curry, 27, grew up renting the same movie over and over. For Curry, it was Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi. His father, who he immortalized in his 2019 anthem “Ricky,” put him on to Jedi. Once he did, Curry never wanted to watch anything else. “Luke Skywalker with the green lightsaber and shit,” he remembers thinking. “Oh, this shit is hard.” Eventually, Ricky had to say, “man, watch another Star Wars movie!” Curry moved on to his all-time favorite, The Empire Strikes Back, and eventually to the entire franchise, from the prequels to the modern-day TV series.

Curry’s current obsession? The Mandalorian. He loves the way it echoes stuff like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or Lone Wolf and Cub. He particularly liked the series’ second-season finale, which inspired his grandest video production yet: “X-Wing.” At a time when videos often get sidelined, the trippy visuals in “X-Wing” are wildly ambitious, featuring Curry piloting a spacecraft around a place he calls Komodo City. For music and sci-fi nerds alike, the video, released alongside the “Extended Edition” of his latest album, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, is a rare treat, and a stellar three minutes.

Before explaining the video’s origin, Curry kindly asks if I’m caught up with The Mandalorian—a respectful spoiler alert. Then he takes me back to his internal monologue while watching the show’s last few minutes. “An X-wing shows up. And it’s like, ‘An X-wing? Great!’ And then I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute. There’s only one person that drives that shit. They ain’t gon’ do that shit.’ So you see somebody with a cloaked hoodie. … Then you see the glove and the green lightsaber, and it was like, ‘They did that shit! Oh shit!’”

The impact of Luke Skywalker appearing for a deus ex machina hit his whole household hard. His girlfriend started crying. Curry was inspired to sing. “The hook just came to me, naturally.” He croons it happily, “I don’t want a car, I want a X-wiiiing.” He thought, “This is what the rap game needs”—a hero “that don’t take no shit, that’s still fire, but at the same time is a force for good. That’s what inspired me to bring sci-fi into the music.”

Collaborating with producer David Wept and director Adrian Villagomez, Curry worked on the video’s treatment, imagining the minute details and expanded universe of Komodo City. In the spirit of the original Star Wars trilogy, he wanted to use “real places, less CGI.” Still, he knew the budget would be an issue, so he squirreled away money as it was coming in from shows and streams to splurge on the production.

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But that doesn't mean Curry got everything he wanted. For one, it's not like Lucasfilm, or its parent company Disney, is loaning out X-wings. And trying to recreate one could’ve been a copyright nightmare. (“I was like, ‘This motherfucker definitely gonna sue me.’ Nah, can’t fuck with the mouse!” Curry says.) So Curry reached out to Lucasfilm and was effectively told he could make the video as long as his X-wing didn’t look exactly like the real thing. “We modified it to the best of our abilities,” he says.

During quarantine, Curry plotted out an elaborate comic book that he hopes to one day adapt into a line of toys, animated features, and live-action movies. He’s already collaborated with Vans on a limited-edition shoe that featured scenes from his work in progress. Eventually, if it all works out, Curry will have his own epic empire to control. Doing the “X-Wing” video made him feel like “I could be doing movies; I could be doing hella shit!”

Which, by the way, includes acting. “I wanna be in a Star Wars show,” he says. “If they hit me up for Andor, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be a fucking smuggler! What do you need? I could be on Dagobah, I could be on Tatooine, I could be anywhere. What you want me to do? Look at this video, I really did that shit. I could do choreography, I could do martial arts. I got everything in the bag. All I need is the script!’”

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