by Douglas Markowitz
In today’s ultra-diverse hip-hop climate, Danny Brown deserves the distinction of “most instantly divisive rapper”. With such a uniquely high-pitched voice, the Detroit MC tends to be a quick turnoff to certain listeners.
However those who can get past and/or enjoy his voice will be pleasantly surprised to find some of the most interesting bars in the game, especially in his phenomenal 2011 mixtape-turned-album XXX.
Over the span of 19 short songs, XXX transitions gradually from stories of debauchery and drug-addled heights to wandering the streets of Detroit, hung-over and depressed. It concludes with the fuzzy-horn-filled “30,” perhaps the most cathartic song in this decade of rap music. The album is one of the finest works of hip-hop in recent memory, which is why Brown took his sweet time with its follow up, Old. He’s even boldly compared both albums to Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A. Now Old is out, and the new album is absolutely a must-listen.
While Kid A diverted completely in style and function from its predecessor, Old retains the themes of XXX while reversing the concepts and pushing both to their extremes.
Rather than transitioning from popping molly in the club to rolling in the gutter, Old splits the highs and lows down the middle. Side A contains gritty, brutal raps about terrifying experiences on the mean streets of Detroit. The ghetto nursery rhyme in “Wonderbread” weaves a tale of a grocery run gone wrong, while the chronic ache of inner city living realizes itself fully in “Torture,” the bleakest song on the album.
Side B begins with “Dope Song” where Brown pledges to embark on one final wasteful trip to the tune of the grimiest synthesized orchestra ever realized, courtesy of guest producer Rustie. The song soundtracks Brown’s declaration of ill-intent, followed by 25 minutes of pure unrefined trap, including possibly the catchiest hook of the year, “Dip.” Closing song “Float On,” featuring guest vocals from Charli XCX, doesn’t quite match the power of “30,” but provides a solid end to the album nonetheless.
Stacking this album against XXX proves to be difficult; both albums are similar works from a hip-hop star at the crest of talent. One thing is clear: 2013 is incomplete until you have some Danny Brown in it.
Recommended If You Like: Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Das Racist
Check Out: “25 Bucks (feat. Purity Ring),” “Dip,” “Kush Coma (feat. A$AP Rocky and Zelooperz)”