Danny's bipolar third album paints a complete picture of the Detroit lyricist
Between self-released mixtapes, EPs, and albums, Danny Brown has put out so many projects over the past few years that it’s hard to keep up. The Detroit MC has a really deep catalog, so deep in fact, that many of his fans—at least to hear him tell it—want that ‘old’ Danny Brown back, the one who used to rhyme over skittering Black Milk and J Dilla beats. That underground shit. His new LP is named Old, and the album is essentially a tale of two projects—a double-sided effort that attempts to appease fans who miss the sound of his past work while still attempting to be progressive. The result makes for an interesting listen.
The first side kicks off with the breakbeat-charged “Side A,” clearly aimed at fans of his older material. “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 and bring them AKs back,” he spits. Continuing that theme, there’s the OutKast-inspired “The Return,” which finds Danny’s voice pitched back down to its speaking range and explaining that people have him misunderstood. “Return of the gangster, fucked that hipster, squeeze the trigger/You got me fucked up, I’m a hood-ass nigga.” Maybe so, but does the hood know who Purity Ring is? Probably not. And yet that’s exactly who Danny summons for the next song, “25 Bucks,” which discusses his reasons for dabbling in trap life over staccato 808s and a growling bass rumble. Elsewhere, “Dope Fiend Rental” is about bartering drugs for sex, while “Torture” finds him vividly detailing the horrors of drug-dealing. And while he’s been a vocal proponent of Molly, allow him a moment of introspection. On “Clean Up” he laments the fact that he’s sometimes too fucked up on MDMA to even see his daughter. Depressing.
But Danny doesn’t stay down for long, though. In fact, while the first half of the album mainly traffics in poignant descriptions of Detroit's slum villages, the second half deals with what his current preoccupations really are: partying and doing drugs. To that end, there’s “Dip,” about rolling on Molly, and “Smokin & Drinkin,” which covers similar territory. Then there’s the back-to-back twerk-anthems, “Break It [Go]” and “Handstand.” Finally there’s the album’s best song, “Kush Koma,” featuring A$AP Rocky. It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel from a thematic standpoint—clearly people have been rapping about smoking weed for decades—but with its percussive build and deep bass, it may legitimately make a non-smoker put one in the air.
At 19 songs deep, Old is expansive and long. Some might argue it’s too long. But the story Danny is telling here—his progression from underground rap hero to an on-the-cusp cult celebrity—would only be partially complete in any other fashion. And so we get it, it’s long for a reason. There are essentially two albums here, one for his old fans and one for the new. Rare is it that an artist can pull that off, but he somehow does. Mission accomplished. —Paul Cantor