Published on January 14th, 2014 | by Mike Conlon


Danny Brown – Old


I first heard about Danny Brown last year when I came across this spectacular interview in which he outlined the merits of Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ to a confused A$AP Rocky. I’ll check out any album that comes from a rapper who name checks Love and argues that Hendrix stole his fashion sense from Arthur Lee. Thankfully, Danny Brown’s latest album, ‘Old’ lives up to its creator’s geek cred. In fact, the album’s central concern is reconciling Brown’s strange brand of intellectualism with his street roots.

Betraying his fascination with classic albums of yore, Brown divides ‘Old’ into two thematically and tonally distinct halves. Side A examines all aspects of Brown’s past, where Side B brings the party. Side A kicks off with the aptly titled, ‘Side A (Old)’, in which Brown, now successful and not as tied to the streets as he once was, attempts to reconcile himself with those that don’t want him to evolve (“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”). By the end of Side A the issue is moot: no matter where Brown’s spiritual quest takes him, his past will strongly inform his lyrics and worldview.

In ‘The Return’ Danny Brown again attempts to juggle others’ expectations of ‘hardness’ and his desire to move forward. Always a realist, Brown admits that, “This rap shit don’t work then it’s back to selling krills.” On an album of top shelf material, ‘Wonderbread’ stands out. Set against an upbeat and melodic instrumental, courtesy of Paul White, Brown lays down an urban fairytale from hell, recounting a nightmarish trip to the grocery store that involves dope fiends, gunshots, an ornery Arabic shop owner, and culminates in Brown getting his head kicked in. The song is dark, twisted, and pure Danny Brown.

Brown could have dropped the mic at the end of Side A and had a classic album. But don’t expect an entirely introspective, understated album anytime soon — Brown’s got bills to pay. In an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year, he pointed out, “A majority of my income comes from festivals, so I have to look at that as a business. [Side B’s songs] are disposable in some sense, but they still have quirk. I’m not going to make a radio song, but I’ll make a song that’ll go off at a festival.” Every artist has to make a buck, so I don’t fault Brown for shilling to the festival set, especially in this instance, when the tracks are so undeniably brilliant.

‘Side B (Dope Song),’ the first track off the album’s second half, has the makings of a twisted party anthem. In fact, if you don’t listen closely to the lyrics, it’s easy to get lost in the track’s momentum, and overlook its scathing examination of the drug slangin’ game. ‘Dip’ might be the most immediately accessible track on the album. Have a listen and see if you don’t get caught up in this song’s demented psychedelic energy and Brown’s rapid-fire delivery of apparent non-sequiturs. ‘Kush Koma’ is another B-side treasure, which, far from extolling the merits of a certain marijuana strain, seems to indicate the futility of smoking pot. Brown knows, “Goddamn well when the high go away / Same shit gon’ still be in my way.” Leave it to Danny to feel conflicted about burning one down.

‘Old’ traverses a broad musical soundscape. On Side A Brown teams up with UK producer Paul White for the majority of tracks. Paul White’s instrumentals run the gamut from the relatively straightforward ‘Side A (Old),’ a gritty throwback instrumental that evokes drum-driven classic hip hop, to the more psychedelic and rhythmically challenging ‘Wonderbread.’ ‘Old’s’ second half features backing instrumentals from a disparate group of producers, including SKYWLKER, A-Trak, Rustie, and Darq E. Freaker. This group of tracks is decidedly harder than those on the album’s first half — you’re not going to find the jagged, rough edges of ‘Side B (Dope Song)’ or ‘Dip’ anywhere on Side A.

Danny Brown is possibly the most conflicted and interesting rapper out there. His mix of street cred and general nerdiness makes ‘Old’ delightfully schizophrenic, although this fusion has caused problems for Brown in his day to day life. He points out, “I alienated myself. I can’t hang around street niggas, because I’m too weird for them. And I can’t hang around regular niggas, because I’m too street for them. That’s my life now!” Brown seems forever destined to be a stranger in a strange land. Fortunately he’s talented enough to convey his predicament in a captivating way.

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About the Author

(also known as “the poor man’s Craig Silliphant”) is a writer and filmmaker. He goes to sleep reading magazines, and wakes up disoriented and craving caffeine. If you don’t mind generic tweets, follow him on Twitter: @mikeconlonsk

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