Danny Brown’s career is a beautiful fluke. Underground rappers don’t give Kathy Griffin tongue on national television or model for Mark McNairy. But here he is, caught in the buzz of eager Internet folk hot on his label debut “Old.”
Brown first caught ears for his oblong, hedonistic lyrics and grimy sound on his landmark mixtape “XXX” (2011). For “Old,” the 32-year-old rapper makes a slight return to the sound of his native Detroit.
The album, like “XXX,” is divided into sides A and B. Side A resides in the the smoky, psychedelic sound of Detroit’s J Dilla and Black Milk.
Here, Brown continues on the drug comedown that ends “XXX.” His voice is low, often irritable but earthy compared to his caustic pop.
“The Return” baits listeners who “want that old Danny Brown” with tales of past crimes. Go-to guest rapper Freddie Gibbs plays foil here, rapping in a sharp, precise attack to Brown’s rolling garble.
While Brown’s wild image has never distracted from his talents, one could argue that people underappreciate his storytelling.
His focus is wide and grim – yarns on getting robbed for his groceries (“Wonderbread”), domestic abuse (“Torture”) and wasted potential (“Gremlins”) loom here bitterly.
Brown even chastises himself on “Clean Up,” regretting that his lifestyle prevents him from playing father to daughter.
The criticism goes on side B, the “fun” side. Posers in drug rap are warned on “Dope Song,” apparently his “last dope song,” although one could take that with a grain of salt.
The fun comes full force soon though. Sonically, side B is a return to grime a la “XXX.” “Smokin & Drinkin” is a tangy electro number, while “Dubstep” tells trap stories for a fluttering melody.
Fans of “Blueberry,” Brown’s collaboration with Darq E Freaker will squeal over its sister song “Handstand.”
What sounds like a ghost pitching woo to a robot plays backdrop to girls inhaling, twerking and snorting. It’s easily the standout track on this side.
Don’t think “Old” is so easily dividable to parts “happy” and “depressing.”
Schoolboy Q’s as excitedly goofy as ever on “Dope Fiend Rental,” a raunchy ode to promiscuity that brightens up the first half, if only for a little bit. Side B’s “Kush Coma” touches depression felt after a drug high, albeit layered in sputtering synths.
“Old” isn’t Brown’s “mature” album. He’s always been a realist despite his eccentricities; although, a year of good fortune has given him a platform to talk seriously with his audience.
His rapping, as ever, is flawless, making awkward punchlines smooth with shear Hendrixian force. Brown’s the Ghostface Killah of his time, not commercial enough to wage war for “the throne,” but too powerful to put him under anyone.
Here’s hoping his run goes undefeated.