REVIEW: Danny Brown – ‘Old’

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Artist: Danny Brown
Album: Old
Genre: Rap
Label: Fool’s Gold Records

Danny Brown is arguably the most versatile rapper in the game right now. Rather than catering to one sect of hip-hop’s scene, the Detroit native has proven time and time again his ability to craft high quality street stories alongside erratic party music. While he was more than apt at mixing these styles throughout his acclaimed album, XXX, without a problem, Brown has opted to take a different approach on his newest effort. Split into Side A and Side B, the record gives two extremely contrasting sources of material that come together to create Old.

Rather than rolling out his signature high-pitched squawk, Brown raps with a natural voice and ultra-focused flow on the album’s first cut as the next ten songs are home to the more serious side of Brown’s bravado. Even when Brown’s signature vocals do come to play by song four, though, they are not delivered in his usual carefree nature, but rather more in line of appearing utterly anxious and wired. To start things up on “Side A,” Brown lays out a general overview of life in the projects by spitting lines such as, “Dope fiends out the halfway house and they still sniffin’; Homie mommy’s 50, smokin’ and still trickin’.” Even though they are not necessarily direct references to Brown’s life, he still has a knack for extremely detailed lyricism that creates a unique view of street life in a fashion exclusive to him. As the side progresses, the Hybrid’s words become truly individual with candid references to those who matter most to him (“Wanna pull me in that fire when I’m tryna feed my daughter?”) along with brutally honest contemplation (“When I got a bitch pregnant and I’m stacking for abortion; And all I really wanted was to give myself a portion.”).

Making the material he spits even more personal, Brown bucks the trend of calling in guest features on every track, instead opting to only bring in Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q, and most notably, Purity Ring. Purity Ring’s contributions to “25 Bucks” are absolutely phenomenal as their dark, brooding mixtures of indie-pop and electronic trap beats are a perfect compliment to Brown’s former-drug dealer identity as he continues to consider the aforementioned cornerstone individuals of his life with the hard-hitting line, “I’m tired of seeing my family fucked up and hungry.”

Besides “25 Bucks,” the only unmistakable sonic product of 2013 on Side A comes from SKYWKLR on “Dope Fiend Rental,” a melodic trap banger that finds Brown delving into one of his infamously graphic sexcapades that is gritty enough to warrant its positioning on the tracklist. Besides that, the anti-hype nature of the rest of Side A’s tracks makes them feel old school due to their unassuming natures if not actually given proper attention, but rest assured, the production here is anything but regressive. The small group of beat-makers Brown works with on this side is extremely forward thinking, with talented individuals such as Paul White who introduces undeniably eastern sounds mixed into a crunchy beat on “The Return” and an array of woodwinds and tripped-out guitars on “Wonderbread”; the intricacies of these instrumental pieces are borderline phenomenal, and yet they are only two of Side A’s ten songs which all manage to match this level of quality.

Focusing on the better-known side of Brown’s persona, Side B is a whirlwind run of in-your-face music that is less suited for deep-thinking and more so for house parties and smoke sessions. Seeming to signify the drastic transition in styles, “Side B (Dope Song)” begins with a glorious orchestral introduction that seems fit for a cinema more than a rap album before suddenly turning into a bouncing trap beat from UK dubstep/grime producer Rustie. Brown injects a healthy amount of hype into the song, and it becomes almost unbearable waiting for what is going to happen next before it drops into a bass-thumping chorus of “Dope song, dope song, dope song” that will no doubt make listeners lose it on their first encounter.

The undeniable highlight of Side B, and possibly Old in its entirety, is “Dip.” Taking a slowed down nod to Freak Nasty’s signature “I dip, you dip, we dip” hook and turning it into the centerpiece of an ode to molly that is, pun intended, extremely ecstatic, the track is a cornerstone for Brown’s unconventional style as he verbally scrawls his words over an equally wonky SKYWLKR beat. As expected, the lyrical content is phenomenal from top to bottom, including one of the most unforgettable lines of the year in “Like Lieutenant Dan, I’m rollin’” as he utilizes his high-pitched spitting to describe every aspect of a night with MDMA.

From an instrumental perspective, most of Side B’s beats are synth-laden bangers, but do not make the mistake of assuming this means they are copouts or cookie-cutter, as even when Brown enters hype mode, he likes his beats the way he likes his molly: pure, pure quality. This idea is evident throughout, especially with Old‘s standout tracks as “Handstand” finds a pitch-bending synth courtesy of Darq E Freaker swirling in and out that is perfect for the twerk-centered lyrics while “Smokin’ and Drinkin’” contains production from Fool’s Gold executive A-Trak that slaps just the right amount for a substance-taking anthem. Taking a step away from the trap-centric work on “Way Up Here,” the song could easily be mistaken for a Death Grips piece as it includes a thundering, industrial beat. There is no doubt it’s Brown’s playing grounds once he jumps on the track, though, as he lays out an outrageous threat to the rest of the rap scene only he could pull off by claiming he’ll “turn this bitch into Saw II.” It may not be “Control,” but there is sure to be at least a few rappers who will begin watching their backs.

It is a testament to the quality of Brown’s work that this review has yet to even mention an appearance from rap’s rising star, A$AP Rocky, on “Kush Coma.” While it may be a fantastic guest spot and shoo-in for a highlight on any other rapper’s record, the presence of Pretty Flacko is simply one of the many components within a massive array that come together to make Old the excellent album it is. Considering the obvious effort put into Old and the subsequent detail down to a tee, the LP appears to be the product of an artist with the goals of pushing boundaries and reaching greatness. On the beautiful album closer, “Float On,” Brown even confirms this notion with the words, “Pray I grow old just to hear I been the future; just to see my influence in the genre of music.”

With an album that is leagues above the rest of the hip-hop scene’s releases this year, and possibly above the works of all corners of the music scene, there is little doubt Brown will have his prayers answered.

Rating: 10/10

Reviewed by: Michael Giegerich (Follow him on Twitter)

Click here to read an interview with A-Trak, the executive producer of Old and owner of Danny Brown’s label home, Fool’s Gold Records.

Mike Giegerich

Mike Giegerich is a freelance journalist with an affinity for the hip-hop scene. His top-five favorite records of all time are Future's last five releases. Feel free to blow up his mentions on Twitter.
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