Danny Brown is arguably the most extravagant personality in music right now. From his Jekyll and Hyde lyrics, notorious substance use and prolific sexual exploits to his distinctive hair-cut, missing tooth, and of course that laugh. Brown’s previous release XXX saw a world-wide audience exposed to the hip hop version of Dennis Rodman, the record gained critical acclaim earning Spin magazine’s #1 hip hop album of the year as well as Danny winning Metro Times’ artist of the year for 2011. After much anticipation his follow up LP Old has finally been released.
The thematic juggling act on XXX earned rave reviews; the switch-up from bragging, grandiose excess to depression, anxiety and drug addiction marked Danny Brown as one of the craftier wordsmiths on the scene. Although at times he appears to be this crazy, over-the-top persona boasting how his genitalia “tastes like tropical fruit skittles”, there is a lot more to the story.
From the beginning of Old it is clear that Danny Brown is again about to take the listener on a journey of contrasting styles and themes. The album opens with ‘Side A’ serving up a taster for what the first half of the record will be like. The airy boom-bap beat serves as a backdrop for Danny recalling his days in the Detroit streets barely being able to survive; “Wearing jackets in the house it’s the Michigan way, boiling water on the stove, Ramen noodles for dinner.” We see him revisiting his low-pitched delivery style which has fallen to the wayside in recent years as his wacky, piercing flow has almost developed into a trademark. The hook of ‘Side A’ is telling of the reasons behind the change-up; “They want that old Danny Brown, to bag up and sell a whole pound, Might have to go and get my braids back, matter of fact go bring them AK’s back.” Since his experimentation with EDM and collaboration with producers like Darq E Freaker, people have been requesting for the “old” ‘Hot Soup’ era Danny back, this inspired the name of the album as well as a decent amount of the content. The end of the song features a sample of ‘New Era’ off 2010 release The Hybrid, “I rep that shit right now and for ever”, in this context he means he will continue to represent Detroit no matter how successful he becomes, he may be branching out in musical terms but he will always stay true to his roots.
Next up is ‘The Return’ featuring the hard-nosed, gruff Freddie Gibbs. In an interview at Roskilde Festival earlier in the year, Danny stated that it’s a follow-up to the 1998 Outkast track ‘Return of the G’; “We remade the Outkast song, it’s part two”, with Danny comparing himself to Andre 3000 and Gibbs to Big Boi. In the original Outkast track, Andre has a few lines that could be seen as relevant to Danny and judgements made about him; “Them n*****s get the wrong impression of expression… Is he in a cult? Is he on drugs? Is he gay?” The Brown & Gibbs remake is just as hard-hitting as the original, atop Paul White’s old school instrumental Danny is easily mistaken for his counterpart as they both deliver vicious low-toned verses and hooks.
The next 3 tracks are rife with stories from Danny’s upbringing in the harsh streets of Detroit. ’25 Bucks’ enlists the services of Canadian-based Purity Ring to tell the story of his mother who would braid hair for 25 dollars at their house while doing drugs. ‘Wonderbread’ and ‘Gremlin’ tell more tales of Danny’s darker days, from getting his head stomped for food stamps to reflections about his gang banger peers; “Listening to 2 Chainz, ain’t thinking about college, wonder if he knew that 2 Chainz went to college?” ‘Dope Fiend Rental’ features TDE powerhouse ScHoolboy Q and long-time collaborator SKYWLKR on a track packed with explicit references and innuendos, reminiscing on days where he would trade drugs for sexual favours.
Although Danny is notorious for living a rockstar, lavish lifestyle, Old offers moments of self-reflection and criticism, outlining the perils of being involved with the drug game. The middle portion of the LP strings together a number of memorable moments. ‘Torture’ is one of the more poignant pieces on the record, with Danny describing the nightmarish conditions he was once stuck in, dealing with drug lords, fiends and the police on a regular basis. ‘Lonely’ is another introspective track, from the dreamy Paul White instrumental to the lyrical content; “Hipster at heart but I can tell you how the streets feel.” ‘Clean Up’ deals with the down-side of substance abuse and the corresponding depression, with some of the deepest, most heartfelt lyrics seen from the self-proclaimed ‘Adderal Admiral’; “Daughter sending me messages saying ‘Daddy I miss you’, but in this condition I don’t think she need to see me. Ain’t slept in four days and I’m smelling like seaweed, problems from my past haunt my future and the present.”
This vulnerability however soon gives way to the Danny audiences around the world came to adore on XXX, the molly popping, blunt sparking monstrosity with punchlines for decades.
Side A of Old ends with ‘Red 2 Go’, which features Danny back at his infamous yapping best, spraying entertaining bars left, right and centre, preparing listeners for the onslaught about to come on the second half of the album; “Is anybody scared? I’m red (ready) to go.” This track is a strong contender for my favourite on the record, with some of the more amusing lyrical content; “Dawg I’m on a mission, you’re playing exhibition. On an expedition poppin X but never trippin, chillin with a vixen, tryna stick my dick in, read head ho like a young Kathy Griffin… Rap’s Martin Lawrence, all you other rappers boring, Bruiser makes 2 Live Crew look like some mormons.”
‘Red 2 Go’ paves the way for ‘Side B (Dope Song)’, which is produced by Scottish phenom Rustie. The beat’s build-up and eventual drop left me in need of some new underwear, Danny enters full on spazz mode for the first time on the album over a bonafide banger of an instrumental. If you’re not excited by this track on first listen then you’re either not listening to it loud enough or lacking a pulse. The lyrics on this track express his disdain for rappers who still go on about their drug slinging pasts, letting listeners know this is his last song of that kind. This is the first of many tracks on the second half of the album flaunting Danny’s interest in genre bending experimentation.
‘Dubstep’ displays his ties formed on the UK grime scene, as Danny recruits young English rapper Scrufizzer who comes through with one of the better features on Old in my opinion. However, I’m not a huge fan of the instrumental on this, as well as the placement on the track list, I feel it would be better suited on the first half, even swapped with ‘Red 2 Go’.
‘Dip’ is undoubtedly the best molly/MDMA song from the recent wave of popularity the drug has received in hip hop. The track takes shots at the artists who have contributed to the rise of molly references and tracks (such as Trinidad James’s infamous “popped a molly, I’m sweatin’ WOO”); “Now all these rappers talking bout that molly, Bet a million dollars these n*****s ain’t dippin’”. While illustrating the true molly experience; “Eyes keep shaking and I can’t stay focussed, I’m fucked if you n*****s ain’t noticed, I’m sweatin’ but I’m cold, mouth all dry but I got a runny nose, I just bought me a water bottle chugged that down but I think I need me some mo.” Produced by SKYWLKR this is destined to be a festival favourite for crowds that will no doubt be familiar with Danny’s drug of choice.
Next is the anthemic, A-Track produced ‘Smokin’ and Drinkin’, no guesses as to the subject matter on this track, however the instrumental hybrid of EDM and trap is near perfection. ‘Break it (Go)’ and ‘Handstand’ are very much of the same ilk, sure-fire club favourites with classic Danny Brown lyrics. Although this string of tracks are enjoyable, it’s hard to escape the feeling of same-old, same-old, both production wise and thematically. ‘Way Up Here’ offers moments of promise with another rising TDE star Ab-Soul, altogether it’s a solid track, however, it’s somewhat forgettable in the midst of the chaotic second side of Old.
‘Kush Coma’ switches things up with one of the more innovative instrumental efforts on the record, although at times it borders on too experimental it always manages to pull itself back before divulging all-out madness. Lyrically, Danny speaks about a darker element behind his habitual marijuana use; “Gotta get away from all this bullshit in my way, knowing goddamn well when the high goes away, same shit gon’ be still in my way, I’m a slave to the sticky icky…” This track would be a possible stand-out on the album if it weren’t for A$AP Rocky’s lacklustre verse which goes on for about twice as long as it should.
To round out the album ‘Float On’ does a perfect job. Reverting back to his old, lower delivery style Danny contemplates the stresses of his everyday life trying to advance in the music business; “So I’m trapped in the beat, stuck on every line, nothing else matters except my next rhyme, you can never understand the pressure I’m against, getting high thinking how to make it better than your last shit.” While continuing to reflect on the horrors of his past, he also contemplates his future and potential legacy; “Pray I get old just to hear I been the future, just to see my influence in this genre of music.”
Old is truly a bi-polar output, a combination of Danny Brown’s two alter-egos fighting against themselves, the result being a genuinely original, entertaining piece of work. Side A and Side B of the album sound like two completely different records, they are polar opposites, the only thing constant is Danny’s superfluous persona and extremism.