Remix: Kelly Rowland and Denzel Curry on fame : The Limits with Jay Williams For the next few weeks on The Limits, we're pulling together some of our favorite conversations from The Limits Plus that were only available to subscribers – until now.

In this week's Remix episode, host Jay Williams – a star basketball player turned TV commentator – reflects on the downsides of hyper-visibility with two musical artists who have seen it all: Kelly Rowland, who became famous as a teenager as a member of Destiny's Child; and Denzel Curry, a pioneer of 'SoundCloud rap' and one of the brightest young talents in hip hop.

Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter. Email us at thelimits@npr.org.

Remix: Kelly Rowland and Denzel Curry on fame

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1136536188/1136554469" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

JAY WILLIAMS, HOST:

Welcome to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams. And in case you didn't notice about me, I spend a lot of time - actually, I spend every day for 10 hours in front of a camera as a host for ESPN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAMS: I think Kevin Durant has been given the gift of a lifetime.

It changes the dynamic of the way a lot of us in our community looked at sports. And I just want to bring that to attention because it's really - it's led a revolution. And it's opened the doors.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Jay Will, my man, returning to Cameron Indoor and showing off some skills, hitting a three-quarter-court shot.

WILLIAMS: It's thrilling, and it's afforded me a life I've always wanted. But it's also my J-O-B, my job. I've performed my whole life. In college, I played basketball for Duke, the biggest stage at that level, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: He and the game could become one. Not many players can do that.

WILLIAMS: As soon as I saw his hands down, I'm like, hey, man, this thing's going up. And it goes up, and it goes in. And it's like, all of a sudden, it's a 2-point ball game. And everybody in that gym was like, what just happened?

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Dixon into the lane. Oh, Battier blocks it. Unbelievable. Williams with the ball. It's the most remarkable comeback I have ever seen.

WILLIAMS: Then when I had my career-ending accident, I figured out a new way to perform on a different platform - TV, as a commentator. One thing I've learned is that it's hard to separate the fake from the reality. So many artists I've had on this show have talked about the downside of success and being hyper visible. And I wanted to share some of their insight on navigating this path. You have no idea how difficult it is staying sane in a sea of spectators.

First up, Kelly Rowland. She's carved out an illustrious solo career as an artist and entrepreneur. Before that, she was a teenage star in Destiny's Child. Here's what she told me about that.

You were recruited when you were 11 years old, is that correct, Kelly?

KELLY ROWLAND: Yeah, recording. You said recording?

WILLIAMS: Yes. Yes.

ROWLAND: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Wow. So what was it like learning how to cope with being so young in the entertainment business?

ROWLAND: I mean, when the girls and I were that age, we were 10 and 11. We had each other. You know what I mean? I think that it definitely made it easier because we had each other. We all shared this love and passion for singing and dancing. And we really didn't think anything of it. We kind of just felt like we just loved what we did. But we were really fortunate to do it together because whether it was performing or tutoring or after-school homework, like, we had each other. That was the greatest blessing to me because - and we were just doing what we loved. Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Was there a moment when you recognized, even though I am doing what I love and we're just having fun and we have each other, that I kind of have to be an adult in a certain way, and I can't be an 11, a 12 or 13-year-old?

ROWLAND: Not at that age, because we still had chaperones. And we were still kids. I remember at that time, it was - the moms were, like, being, like, around us all the time. And we couldn't stay out past the time that we were performing anywhere out because we were 11, you know, 11 years old. So it's like, y'all better take y'all little butts home.

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

ROWLAND: That's what it was for us. You know, once we finished performing, it was like right back to being kids. If we weren't rehearsing, we were in school or going to Astroworld. Like, we were still allowed to be kids. I think that, what you're thinking as far as like us having to kind of like really see things on a more mature level or space, we were probably like 15, 16 when that happened.

WILLIAMS: Explain to me that shift when you recognized it at 15, 16.

ROWLAND: That shift, when we were signed, you know. We were signed to Sony. And we had 15-hour days of interviews. And you know what I mean? Meeting people back to back to back to back in like one or two rooms and shifting from one to two rooms and, you know, but then that night, going back to the hotel, resting, waking up and doing it all over again. But we were definitely working adult hours. We were working adult hours. And we were still allowed to be kids in that time, you know, just talking to people. We were still allowed to be kids.

WILLIAMS: You know, one of my really good friends is a guy named Scooter Braun, who's managed Justin Bieber. And he's, you know, known Justin since he was 10 or 11 years old.

ROWLAND: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: And it was - it's always such a challenge when you see young people so - naive is the wrong word because it doesn't really carry a negative connotation, but just uncertain of who they're becoming. And people on social media and everybody has some kind of opinion. And while you're in your formative stages of your year - of your life, how do you even process that, Kelly? How do you even learn how to cope or deal with that? Was this just having a strong support system around you?

ROWLAND: I think it is having a support - a strong support system. But I also think, like, in that time when the girls and I were coming up in this business and now, it's like two totally different things. I mean, we were definitely, I'd say, looked at, you know, under a microscope, but not the way it is now. Like, it's the Wild, Wild West out here now. I would definitely say people still had an opinion. And if one person said something, it could affect everything. But now, a hundred million people can say something at one time. And it's like - it's really kind of - it's a lot, you know what I mean?

But we had just as much pressure, I would definitely say. I think that one doesn't hold more weight than the other. But social media definitely makes the impact, I'd say, a lot more treacherous for sure. But I think that when we were coming up - like I said, I'm really grateful to our support system. And we figured things out along the way. You know what I mean? If there were things that we didn't understand or, you know, had questions about, they were answered. It was - yeah, it's nothing like the way it is now (laughter).

WILLIAMS: I see it every single day.

ROWLAND: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Did fame ever change you for the worse, Kelly?

ROWLAND: I don't think it had a chance to, not with our team around. You know, we were always humbled. I would come back home from being on the road. And I remember this one time I came into my best friend's house, and I was like, hey. And I saw her, and she was like, get out. And I was like, what? She said, get out.

WILLIAMS: Wait. What?

ROWLAND: Yeah. And I got out and I was like, knock, knock on the door again. And she was like - and she answers the door. I was like, Hey. She's like, boom, slams the door. I was like, what is this about? So I knock on the door again. I was like, what happened? She's like, come on in. She's like, you had, like, eight people behind you. Like, she's talking about ego.

WILLIAMS: Wow.

ROWLAND: She's like, you had just...

WILLIAMS: Wow.

ROWLAND: She's like, I've never seen that on you. She's like, and it's not invited in this house (laughter).

WILLIAMS: Where - I need these type of friends in my life.

ROWLAND: I know.

WILLIAMS: That's a special gift.

ROWLAND: I know. And I love her for it because, I mean, by the time she opened up the door the third time, I was like, (imitating crying) well, what do you want? So...

(LAUGHTER)

ROWLAND: I was fine afterwards. But I was like, goddawg, what was this about? But I understood. And I knew what she meant because I think - like, I think before that trip home, it was, like, the third No. 1. and touring. Like, it was a lot. You know what I mean? Sometimes, when it's a ton of people and they're coming at you - like, it can be a lot. And you just need to be sonned.

WILLIAMS: I mean, it's like - and now, I mean, you're a seasoned vet at this. I mean, you know how to vet people. And I often try to explain to people because, you know, playing basketball, I became somebody when I was 16, 17 years old. And one of the challenging aspects for me was how to properly deal with the amount of people that come at you all the time. And I'm a very personable person, and I've always felt that same way about you. You want to be honest and respectful towards people, but who you let in your personal space is a very, I mean, sanctified type of feeling.

ROWLAND: It is. It is. It is. And don't you think you learned that along the way? I felt like I learned that along the way, like, who deserves to be in that personal space because the truth is - and I hope I don't sound funny or arrogant when I say that - but I don't care who you are. Some people just - some people should be in your personal space, and some people shouldn't. And I think that you have to be aware of yourself and what it is you know you need. And, like, if somebody is not serving that space correctly, then no, they need to go. And if you're not serving someone else's space correctly, then you should know, I need to dip out. You know what I mean?

So I think that it's a very hard process because I think that us being so young in entering, you're like, well, I don't want to hurt this person's feelings. But it ain't got nothing to do with nobody's feelings as much as it is your boundaries. Your boundaries are the most important thing. And I tell that to my son all the time. Like, if there's something that makes you uncomfortable, you can advocate and speak up for yourself. Or you can tell Mommy. You can tell Daddy. Or you can tell your nannies. Like, say something because the truth is nobody's going to know how you feel unless you tell them. And I'm learning this thing even now where I can't expect for someone to read my mind, and I can't read theirs.

WILLIAMS: So good.

ROWLAND: So I'm learning about communicating. And it's never in a way where you're, like, trying to be a jerk. That's not my nature at all. It's more so just trying to just be black and white about it. I really admire people who are just black and white. There's no gray area to where they're like, you know what? I don't think I like this. Some people take that personally because maybe they can't communicate that for themselves. And I think that when they can't communicate that for themselves, they take what you're saying and you advocating for yourself too personally. It has nothing to do with them. It's just how you feel about something. So it's learning about that for me at 41 - you know what I mean? - and being OK with that. But if my son sees me do it, then he'll do it. And I want him to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILLIAMS: That's one of the hardest parts about being famous - learning to set boundaries and knowing who to trust. So many people on the outside say, well, he or she should've kept better people around them. Well, how the hell do you know how to navigate that when you don't know what people's true intentions are? After the break, I sit down with one of the brightest young hip-hop talents in the game, Denzel Curry. After years of buzz, he's learned to step back from the limelight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILLIAMS: Hip-hop is the sound of America for a reason. People want to listen to the music that they can relate to. Over the last decade, a new generation of rappers born from SoundCloud took that even further, making some of the rawest rap we've ever heard. Denzel Curry was part of that era, with songs like his underground smash, "ULTIMATE."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ULTIMATE")

DENZEL CURRY: (Rapping) ...And family. By any means, your enemies, my enemies, we wet them up like a canteen. The yellow tape surrounds the fate. Don't have a face, so now you late. Open the gates.

WILLIAMS: This is what I love about Denzel. He channels a lot of rage and trauma into his music for his listeners. I asked him about how he balances that with having a life to himself.

So who do you think is the most relatable artist out there today that gets you to tap into, like, their variety of emotions - right? - they're honest, they're real with it? Who helps you tap into it the most? Who do you think is the realest one out there?

CURRY: The real is one. I mean, I could say Drake, but they all have their own ways. Like, just looking at Kendrick Lamar and the way he does music helps me - makes me think about, like, my environment of growing up in Carol City. The way he talked about Compton, it reminds me of Carol City a lot. And then you got J. Cole, which, you know what I'm saying? He says a lot of truths within his music and people criticize him for it. But he's one of the greatest rappers of all time. He's speaking from the average Joe, like the normal man, like the person who's going through things and is, you know, constantly trying to be on the up and up.

And then you got Drake, which taps into the emotions of what men should feel. People will be like, that's simp. You should be hard and this, that and the third. But he's tapping into the vulnerability, same with Kid Cudi. Like, everybody taps into something different. So I wouldn't say there's one singular artist that taps into all those things, but, like, they all do it, including XXXTentacion, you know what I'm saying? He tapped into all types of emotion. It's just like, you know, people relate to NBA YoungBoy as well.

WILLIAMS: Exactly. Facts. I mean, those rappers are so good at what they do, but it's almost like they have to sacrifice a part of who they are to be relatable. So, D, I'm curious. How have you managed that process of being this face, being in front of everybody, Like, being socially active, but not letting them dictate how you move or what you move for?

CURRY: I mean, that didn't happen until 2020. And it took me to realize, like - you know what I'm saying? - it was a rapper that I worked with in the past, and I always wanted to continue to work with him and stuff like that. And people were telling me like, no, he don't fuck with you like that. He only use you for fame, this, that and the third. And I didn't believe them. And that was like years ago, you know what I'm saying? And next thing you know, I get a phone call from this person. And they called me intoxicated. And, you know, when you're intoxicated, your true self comes out. Like, something that you always wanted to say comes out, you know? And he disrespected me. He violated me. And then I was just thought to myself at that moment where I was just like, for all these years, I'm trying to be friends with this person and try to continue to be friends with this person. And in this exact moment, at this exact time, this person disrespected me and doesn't care about our friendship.

WILLIAMS: So how do you put up barriers, man?

CURRY: I just told him straight up, like, me, I don't hold stuff back. If I feel something, I'm going to tell you straight up, you know. And that was my whole thing. So what I did was I just told him, like, what it was and how I felt about it and how he don't respect me. And I just didn't fuck with him ever again after that.

WILLIAMS: Do you find it hard to let people into your life - new people - because of all the things you're doing?

CURRY: You know, at first, no. Now? Yeah, because people suck. Like, and I don't mean suck in a way, like, oh, you're lame. I mean, people actually do suck. They suck the energy from right out of you. They're draining. You know what I'm saying? They always wants something from you.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I do know that. I know that on a daily basis. So how do you manage that process? How do you manage who you decide to give your energy to?

WILLIAMS: Just got to base it off their character. It's a long time. It takes a long time to build trust within somebody. Like, I learned the hard way from trusting people right off the bat. And that's how you get burned.

WILLIAMS: So, D, I'm fascinated because I've had this in my life. When do you think that moment was when you actually realized that you needed to take a step back away from the fame?

CURRY: I wanted to take a step back from it when I was like - when I was getting jealous of others, getting jealous of what they had, getting jealous of the notoriety they was getting, getting jealous of everything. Like, when I started seeing myself get jealous of other people and what they got, knowing that I did X, Y and Z to get to where I was and it just - somebody comes in and swoops in and does the exact same thing I was doing and then blows up when I was doing it ahead of time, that's what makes me angry. And that's when I knew I had to step back.

WILLIAMS: This quote right here, knowing when to step back - I'm going to sit with that for a long time. Thanks to Denzel Curry and Kelly Rowland for keeping it real about fame. We'll be back next week with another episode. Until then, remember - stay positive, and let's keep it moving.

THE LIMITS is produced by Devin Schwartz, Mano Sundaresan, Max Freedman and Leena Sanzgiri. Video production by Kaz Fantone, Langston Sessoms, Christina Shaman, Iman Young and Nick Michael. Our executive producers are Karen Kinney, Veralyn Williams and Yolanda Sangweni. Our senior VP of programming and audience development is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Special thanks to Christina Hardy, Rhudy Correa and Charla Riggi.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.