Recommend if you like: Experimental music, dark lyricism
Expectation: Danny Brown is a very unique rapper who has gained a nationwide following since his breakthrough mixtape, 2011’2 XXX. Both that tape and its successor, Old, received critical acclaim, with special attention paid to Brown’s duality of subject matter and bold, abrasive vocal delivery.
- Downward Spiral – The beat is lurching and sloppy, with the drums practically tripping over themselves just trying to keep a beat. Brown’s nasally voice has gotten even more exaggerated, and unprepared listeners will probably turn and run from the sound of the first bar. Its pure Danny Brown, and the perfect introduction to the downward spiral of drug addiction he describes throughout the album.
- Tell Me What I Don’t Know – Immediately contrasting the drugged out, self-destructive character from the opening track, Brown unleashes his low-voiced character to give a clearer view of who he is and where he comes from. It isn’t pretty, but it makes for great music.
- Rolling Stone – Brown continues to keep listeners on their toes, returning to his higher voice but with a tighter, more focused flow and a soulful hook from Petite Noir. There’s a great bass line here, too.
- Really Doe – A monstrous cypher cut, featuring Ab-Soul, K Dot, and Earl Sweatshirt, more than lives up to its potential. The beat is angsty and unnerving, and Kendrick was a perfect choice for the hook. Brown’s verse is crisp and weird in all the right ways, Soulo’s verse is adequate, and Kendrick’s verse is short but good. Earl is the showstopper though; his slow, drawn out delivery stands in sharp contrast to the quick, crisp rapping of everyone before him, and his rhymes continue to be top notch.
- Lost – An extremely Madlib-esque beat coupled with simple, lamenting horns set the stage for Brown to unleash a lyrical fury as he depicts his further descent into drug addiction, despite his growing fame.
- Ain’t It Funny – Paul White cranks the madness to 11, delivering an instrumental that sounds like a demented carnival side-show, and Danny Brown has never sounded so at home. The beat’s twisted, upbeat sound perfectly compliments Brown’s sarcastic “Ain’t it funny how it happens?”, which itself refers to how thoroughly wrong his life has gotten.
- Golddust & White Lines, – Further descriptions of Brown’s downward spiral of drug abuse. Make no mistake though; Brown isn’t repeating himself on this record. Despite devoting the bulk of the album towards a single theme, every additional song contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the addiction that Brown knows he needs to escape, but simultaneously doesn’t want to quit.
- Pneumonia – A song about drug dealing, which Brown admits is more of a party song than part of the album’s concept. Still a pretty interesting song though, with hints of the EDM sound from Old returning in the percussion.
- Dance In the Water – Possibly my favorite beat on the album, rife with chanting vocals and clanging percussion, plus a very unusual drum beat and bass line for a hip hop song, though Brown still sounds perfectly natural (well, he sounds like he always he does).
- From the Ground – Brown makes further use of his low voice to reflect on his life and how far he’s come. The production calms down along with him, but the constant minor changes and additions make it clear that the chaotic energy of the rest of the album is still bubbling underneath.
- When It Rain – After this single dropped, I read an online comment that said it made them feel like they were holding in a sneeze the entire time. I think that’s a perfect description, but its definitely not a bad thing; the mounting energy and constant uneasiness that permeate the track can almost be physically felt in a way that I don’t think any other artist could have pulled off this well.
- Today – Danny Brown is literally overflowing with energy; the beat is quiet and sparse, but the vocals are a panicked flurry anyways, and somehow Brown still pulls it off.
- Get Hi – After the anxiety of the two previous tracks, the harmonic vocals of the intro are like a sigh of relief. B-Real’s hook is goofy and dumb, but more annoying than funny to me.
- Hell For It – A glimpse of Brown’s pride and motivation as an artist, similar to the closing track from XXX. Despite catering to the festival crowd on half of Old, Brown still holds himself to an extremely high standard and knows that his end-goal is to make music that will outlive his own lifespan.
Overall: Danny Brown is a unique voice in hip hop, not only in a literal sense, but from a lyrical standpoint as well. While this album isn’t any kind of departure from Brown’s previous subject matter, its less like he’s standing still and more like he’s digging straight down; he’s still on the same subjects, but getting deeper and deeper into them. If you can stomach a vocal delivery and beat selection that outright defy hip hop sensibilities, this album is among the most nuanced and ambitious albums of the year.