By Jamel Smith
August 27, 2021
Photo: Jess Dailey
Charlotte-based pianist and singer-songwriter Curtis Hayes, aka Curt Keyz has released his latest project, CURT(IS). And in this round, he’s reintroducing himself over a 17-song tracklist of wide-ranging, cohesive themes focusing on love, faith, family, resilience, and identity.
The album begins with a formal introduction from the man himself. In true Southern gentleman fashion, he knocks before entering; and when he enters, he speaks: “Hi, I’m Curt. Nice to meet you.” Acknowledging the listener in a way true to his Southern, homegrown upbringing, Curt is showing us his identity.
The remaining songs are equally grounded, as Keyz rallies his family, friends, and sounds together in a cohesive fashion– sharing warmth and spiritual grounding. In a 2020 interview with CLTure, he spoke on his personal journey of mental and spiritual resilience and liberation: “Getting to a good place for me spiritually and mentally into now feeling like, I am justified in saying what my heart feels.”
Curt Keyz is still feeling justified in singing his heart’s song on CURT(IS). Front and center, he bears his soul over a cacophony of sounds, like the ethereal reverberations of today’s vibey R&B on “FEEL.” He’s also got the help of his community with artists like Greg Cox, Arsena Shroeder, Ke’Andra, Ruby Edwards and even his younger brother M4ZE on the track “YOUNGIN.” Elevator Jay features on the Funkadelic-inspired “Best Friend” and Dexter Jordan joins him on the soulful hip-hop track, “Real.”
The sounds presented on CURT(IS) are anchored by three spoken interludes (“Right thru the MIDDLE,” “MY BROTHER ON HERE,” and “allthingsworktogether”). Keyz features his grandmother in the first interlude. In what seems to be a recording of a conversation between the two, she speaks candidly about “going through hell” as a Black girl in a racist America. In an emotional retelling of her life, she reveals that she and her friends would endure abuse while walking through the schoolyard. “Everywhere we went, we had to come right through the middle[…]” The interlude serves as a story of struggle and resilience— a story that is still being told today.
On the album’s most profound track (“OVERCOME” featuring Greg Cox), Keyz pays homage to his grandmother’s story over a piano ballad. The track interpolates 1971’s “Nadia’s Theme,” which darkens the tone of the album and captures the spirit of the message. From verse to verse, Keyz and Cox round off the dark realities of Black America, past and present: “a million lives, a million lives / too many lives to count the crowd / on my knees I pray to God / why they taking Black lives.” Inundated by bad news and a worse reality, he leans on another song of resilience (“We Shall Overcome”) to create his own: “we gotta overcome / overcome / can’t let your feet stop running.” With Cox standing in solidarity with Keyz, they both express the need for racial solidarity and liberation.
CURT(IS) is an exploration of identity. It explores Curtis Hayes, a Black man, a Southern man, a man who has experienced love and loss, a man who is rooted from a generation of resilience, and a man who is loved by God and his community. With a first listen that warms the heart and liberates the feet, CURT(IS) is bound to be a pivotal project for the Charlotte singer-songwriter.
Listen to Curt Keyz latest album CURT(IS). Follow Keyz on Instagram and Twitter. Curt Keyz celebrates his album release for CURT(IS) on Thursday, September 16 at Visulite Theatre.