by Evan Miller
Danny Brown is a unique figure in today’s hip-hop landscape. A Detroit MC signed to indie label Fool’s Gold, he is an eccentric who manages to be one of the top underground MCs in the game right now, a big name for music festivals, and a personal favorite of current greats such as Kendrick Lamar—all without any of the commercial exposure that today’s hip hop giants bask in.
He can be found being featured on remixes of Chicago GBE-affiliate street rappers, on major-player posse tracks led by A$AP Rocky, and also collaborating with pop acts such as Purity Ring and Charli XCX. Brown is also notable for hitting his creative and critical stride at age 30, starting with his 2011 album, aptly named XXX.
The success of that album, with its included humor and party-mode Danny lyricism, has led to his first officially-released album, Old. Brown, coming off of the very-hyped XXX, researched albums that performed better than their critically acclaimed predecessors, and as a fan of Radiohead, he settled on this album being the Kid A to his OK Computer—in terms of success and tone. Now at age 32, with this idea in hand, the album goes on to take a more serious tone than XXX. Brown has said in interviews that Old would be a disappointment to those expecting another album full of dick jokes, and also expressed less interest in his sex and drug-fueled party lifestyle of the past as he has grown older.
The first half of the album, labeled by the first track called “Side A (Old),” is grade-A serious Brown. The tracks’ subjects range from musings on cleaning up his life for his family and 12-year old daughter in “Clean Up,” retellings of his drug dealing past in “Torture,” and a day-in-the-life of young Brown going to buy bread in Detroit in “Wonderbread.” This half also includes the aforementioned Purity Ring feature, which is pulled off excellently.
We then have the second half of the album, starting with “Side B (Dope Song),” which has been described by Brown as the side with his party and festival-centric tracks, as festivals are a large income source for him nowadays. Here is definitely where Brown’s higher-register, elastic style comes into play. In “Dope Song,” he raps about not having to make songs about selling dope anymore because he’s successful in music. Not yet finished on the subject of drugs, this side also includes “Dip,” “Kush Coma,” and “Smokin & Drinkin,” about molly, weed, and weed and alcohol respectively. This second half, while certainly exciting, doesn’t stay as consistent as side A, with “Break It (Go)” and “Handstand” being points where the album drags. This half ends with the previously mentioned Charli XCX collaboration, which could easily belong on the album’s first half. Here Brown closes the album discussing his current place in the rap game, his stress and struggles to maintain his position and hype, and his habitual multi-drug usage to keep himself afloat. The track’s moody introspection finalizes the album’s darker tone, and the Charli XCX hook assists well.
Overall, minus a couple of weak spots, this album successfully achieves his Radiohead-inspired goal of surpassing his last album. Despite the album’s bleak tones, a bright future is in store for Brown as he continues to ride his growing wave of success.