Release Date: Oct 8, 2013
Record label: Fool's Gold Records
Review Summary: Ol' Danny Brown cements his legacy in the rap game with his proper debut album.The last time we heard from Danny Brown, he was busy warning us things are only going to get darker. XXX was as murky, combative and depressing as a drug-fueled introspection should be, and its fundamental dilemma was that because of these factors, it was difficult to listen to. Brown revealed his inner thoughts, and we saw all the booze-stained lyric papers, every last discarded pill bottle and condom sprawled across the recesses of his mind.
It took me a few goes to take Danny Brown seriously. He’s a gap-toothed, cartoon-voiced dude in skinny jeans, who at first mostly stuck in my head for his raps about cunnilingus (I Will) and self-consciously dodgy gender politics (“Love a feminist bitch / Ooh they get my dick hard”, Outer Space). It didn’t help that some of his recent guest spots descended into self-parody – he lent an apparently sincere 16 bars to an Insane Clown Posse track; and on his verse on A$AP Rocky’s new album he delivered the line “Bitch pussy smell like a penguin”.
Dubbed the Hybrid as soon as he came onto the scene, Detroit rapper Danny Brown offered manic and mighty hype tracks (with his patented and chirpy "high voice") along with deeper, more meaningful tales of the hood (delivered in his "low voice"). That nickname also became the title of a 2010 street release, but it would have been better saved for this, as Old hits the golden ratio of Brown's bonkers and brilliance. Dividing the release in golden age vinyl style, "Side A (Old)" kicks things off with the throwback rhyme "Got my young, light skin rollin' up the trees/Wearin' jackets in the house, it's the Michigan way" as the MTV regular and Scion A/V-sponsored star is transported back to his early days for an album's side worth of tracks.
Old finds Danny Brown at a crossroads. The Detroit rapper is torn between two poles, the old and the new, their orbits pulling at both the direction of his music and his lifestyle. Neatly divided into Side A and Side B, the record maps this moment in Brown’s career. Side A, as he told Clash, responds to all those asking “where that ‘Old’ Danny Brown shit at?” Opening track “Side A (Old)” offers to reprise the more conventional styles of The Hybrid (2010), whose Detroit-repping “New Era” it samples, and the Detroit State of Mind series (2007-10).
Danny Brown is a funny guy. Some might see the missing tooth, the long messy hair, the tongue sticking out of his mouth and the infectious smile, and cast Brown as rap’s goofy class clown. But, even the most cursory investigation into Brown reveals that he’s not just funny; he’s hysterical. Seriously, watch the Over/Under he did on Pitchfork.
Danny Brown's XXX was a concept album about desperation; "If this shit don't work, nigga, I failed at life!" he wailed on the opening song. Old is a concept album about existential confusion. Danny Brown has not failed at life—he's independently successful, with a fervent fan base both inside and out of rap. Now he's got to sort out how to best continue living.
Old may not be the most easily digestible album you'll hear this year, but if you're willing to take the trip, you'll find its unwavering eccentricity is matched only by its creative genius. Presented in two distinct halves, the album is as divided as Danny Brown himself—highlighting his struggle to reconcile the shadows of his past, present, and future—all set to frenetic, laser-sharp production and schizophrenic beats. The first half, "Side A," is an introspective dissection of the street he can't forget and the demons he can't outrun, with tracks about growing up in abject poverty ("25 Bucks," "Wonderbread") and horrific tales of life in Detroit on the fringes of existence ("Torture").
In April of this past year, during a performance in Minneapolis, Danny Brown had oral sex forcibly performed on him. The fellatrix pulled down Brown’s pants and sexually assaulted him mid-bar, and the moment could very well be seen, now, as a microcosm for all things Danny Brown: not so much in the incident’s lasciviousness (well, partly in that; Brown has always made it known that his tongue is equally adroit at clitoral as critical stimulation) but in how a moment of degeneracy begot deeper thoughts on such heavy topics as masculinity, gender roles – particularly those exposed by/cultivated in a boy’s club with such misogynistic tendencies as rap. What happened to Brown was unequivocally wrong, but his options for responding to it, hemmed in as they were by the byzantine web of manhood and sexuality interwoven between society, his art, and his life, were inevitably limited.
Defying all sense of normalcy while glamorizing dysfunction, Danny Brown strives to maintain balance between style (his trademark ad-lib) and substance. One of modern culture’s most engaging freak shows, he casts a net that reels in opposing demographics: progressive “Hypebeasts” who accept his brash character as gospel and Rap nerds generally appreciative of his technical ability to push the envelope. The outlandish calculated means of separating himself from the fray have included odes to copious drug abuse and unkempt hair—tricks which have paid off in spades as a younger following finds a hero figure in his lack of decorum.
Danny Brown deals in extremes. This fact was eminently clear on the Detroit rapper’s 2011 breakthrough album, XXX, a record that alternated between manic, mind-numbingly hyped-up, incredibly graphic tales of sexual debauchery and drug use, and reflections on the effects of crime, poverty, and drug abuse on the individual, the family, and society at large. At least to this writer, Danny’s prior work was endlessly fascinating because of the expertly musical manner in which he navigated these two seemingly contradictory modes of expression, masterfully juxtaposing them if not necessarily mining their depths.
It's been a long, trippy journey for Danny Brown. The Detroit rapper rose to fame with 2011's XXX, transitioning from Dilla-sampling backpacker to Pitchfork circuit cameo king. Fourth record Old reverses the last album's narrative, chronicling the rapper's come up from hustling in Detroit (side one) to MDMA in Europe (side two). The first side returns Danny to his poor Detroit childhood over psychedelic, dusty beats.
Just when you think hip-hop is out of new ideas, from the endless ranks of faceless trap-rap clones steps a new original. Danny Brown, gap-toothed prince of Detroit, is emblematic of hip-hop’s so-called nu-skool: an emerging generation of free-thinking, leftfield MCs and future-facing rap producers who are intent on revolutionising the form.Even next to fellow nu-skool oddballs – most notably A$AP Rocky, Schoolboy Q and Joey Badass – Brown is a freak among the freaks. Sporting a mop of scarecrow hair, he is, at 32, far older than your average breakthrough rapper.
One thing about Detroit rapper Danny Brown: He’s a music dork. In a video conversation with ASAP Rocky last year, Brown called Love’s 1967 Forever Changes “the best album in the world” – a preference reinforced just this past week when he listed his favorite albums for Complex, also including Joy Division’s Closer and Radiohead’s Kid A. In another interview, he compared Chief Keef to Johnny Rotten, which wasn’t entirely dismissible.
“They want that old Danny Brown.” It’s easy to hang much of what happens on Old on this complaint, spit by Brown on the album’s opening track, “Side A (Old)”. But perhaps there’s a better one halfway through the record on “Lonely”, when Brown—in a much wearier voice—admits “don’t nobody really know me.” Both admissions are curious for a rapper that thrives as much on unique personality as Danny Brown does. His frenetic, oddball, on-the-edge-of-chaos album XXX put him in the spotlight as much for his rapping skill as for his debauched lyrics and lunatic vocals.
Danny Brown raps with the intensity of someone not just on the edge but dangling dangerously over it. His third LP is less focused than 2011's XXX but has a wider range of moods: For every Friday binge ("Dip"), there's a bleak Saturday morning ("Lonely"); for every boast about anonymous sex, there's a reflection on a childhood numbed by violence ("Torture"). This is Brown at war with himself, proud of success but tired of the persona it required.
Thirty-two might be a little old for an emcee who's only recently entered the mainstream. But that's not the "old" Danny Brown explores on his third full-length. At times, he examines his former self. At others, he explores the depressing aspects of aging ungracefully. Throughout, his rhymes hit ….
opinion byMATTHEW M.F. MILLER Take that, Arcade Fire. Old, Danny Brown’s eccentric third LP, beat everyone’s OMG-they’re-my-favorite-band-in-the-whole-wide-world to the two-sided album punch. So what if the guy has never won a Grammy or turned Saturday Night Live into his own experimental Zorro-themed art show? Brown’s head is alive with legions of sounds and ideas – from hardcore hip hop to EDM, from a childhood trip to buy Wonderbread to Molly-fueled debauchery.
Let me tell you, it is damn tough to write about Old without comparing it to XXX, its masterpiece predecessor from 2011. Old is the follow-up, after all, and Danny Brown himself certainly doesn’t help matters with the whole “this is my Kid A” business, making a million hipsters percolate. But the comparison is a disservice. I think it’s harder yet to escape that disservice, though, because XXX slung such an intense narrative, if not in a Slick Rick-obvious sort of way; it had characters (mostly courtesy of Brown’s personalities), a thematic core, an arc, a climax, hell, it had flashbacks.
“Somebody gotta survive,” August Alsina says in one of the spoken interludes on his debut major label EP, “Downtown: Life Under the Gun” (Radio Killa/Def Jam). He’s just finished tearfully telling the story of how he learned about the murder of his brother, after singing a song, “Don.
Sometimes I feel like if Danny Brown were in the middle of getting his appendix removed, and someone asked him to do something, he might just tell the doc to hold up. He seems like he’s always down to please people. Not that I blame him; he’s not the Danny Brown who traded verses with Black Milk in 2011 or who spat fire on his Detroit State Of Mind mixtape series anymore.
When Danny Brown dropped XXX in 2011, his star was positioned in a very different place. He’d been chomped up by the industry and regurgitated as a hushed hipster buzzword, bundled with the nascent A$AP Mob and saddled with a failed 50 Cent hookup that belied his neon-flecked dress sense. He was a click-inducing Vice headline and the blog-rap poster boy, and the idea he could actually transcend that scene seemed almost unthinkable.
“Time is a mind construct,” said Prince in a typically eccentric interview with the Guardian back in 2011. For an artist like Prince the concept of time is nothing more than a mental nuisance, a brief roadblock on the path to transcendence, but for Danny Brown time is a prism to view a whole career through. With 2011’s XXX, a gleefully vulgar and often melancholy ode to turning 30, Brown reinvigorated his career by becoming the yammering id of Internet rap underground, a genre obliterating oral sex enthusiast with a taste for Adderall, an ear for Bob James and Fleet Foxes samples, and a haircut out of a children’s cartoon.
On his breakthrough 2011 album “XXX,” Detroit’s latest insane clown poseur transformed himself into a complex character praised by both hustlers and “hipsters,” a term the ghetto-raised rapper proudly claims. He scored by moving from debauched thug-life celebrations, delivered with a fast, clipped whine, to reflective cuts delivered with a straightforward, mid-tempo flow. On this highly anticipated follow-up, the 31-year-old skinny-jeans-lover intensifies the contradictions by mixing up the moods like an ace DJ.