Review: Danny Brown, ‘Old’


Danny Brown delivers one of the year’s most intriguing rap albums 

Danny Brown⎪ Old ⎪ Fool’s Gold ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 8, 2013

How does one describe Old, the new album release courtesy from one of rap’s brightest up-and- comers, Danny Brown?  My ideal adjective for Old would be intriguing.  Just how ‘intriguing’? Brown easily delivers one of the year’s MOST intriguing rap albums, hands down.  That’s amazing considering the number of superb hip-hop releases that have graced the music industry this year.  With the absence of that Kendrick Lamar-sized effort to woo us, the Detroit oddball rapper definitely directs his own pathway on this effort, which is infused with personal narrative, drugs, and of course sex.  “Get ready, get ready, get ready!”

Side A (Old)” kicks off Old both capably and boldly: “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 bring them AK’s back.”  If the hook doesn’t bite ferociously enough, nasty lines like “…whore want it hardcore, squirt it…” should be enough to shut up haters.  “The Return” is even stronger, with Brown once more alluding to his previous (“old”) self on lines like “This rap shit don’t work then its back to selling krills…” He gets the assist from Freddie Gibbs, who isn’t exactly reserved himself: “Eastside n***as keep roaches in the ashtray / twenty thousand out the public housing on a bad day…” It’s not charming stuff, but it’s real talk.

‘Shit gets realer’ on “25 Bucks” (featuring Purity Ring), where the production exemplifies the ‘hardcore’ rap sound as does Brown.  While the delivery eschews sugarcoating things, the sympathetic listener can’t help but be moved by the message, regardless of its brash approach.  “Arthritis in her fingers carpal tunnel in her wrists / ‘bout to feed her kids at night sleep between her leg and twists…”  The dark, unhappy portrait continues to be painted exceptionally.  As good as “25 Bucks” is, “Wonderbread” is and deniable standout, despite its disturbing message.  While Brown’s rhymes about an unfortunate drug-related incident are hard to decipher without the aid of lyrics, his idiosyncratic approach and overall effect more than atone for a few quick-paced rhymes.

Gremlins” continues consistency, dropping references to trendy clothing for young adults (Aeropostale and Hollister) as well as 2 Chainz.  “Dope Fiend Rental” proceeds, brings in another hot MC to watch, Schoolboy Q.  The cut definitely stands out above the rest, though its subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart.  Brown touches on topics such as preparing drugs for sale (“Trail of blood on that baggie / I done scraped myself with that razor…”), brothels (“getting…in that trick house and I snuck out without paying her…), and pleasure.  Q isn’t exactly refined either, certainly justifying the ‘misogynistic’ labels with lines like “Her mouth can be as wide as…” (we’ll stop right there) and “Hell no I don’t love that b**ch / hell yeah I’m gon’ enjoy that b**ch…” Contextually, “Dope Fiend Rental” is a winner.

Torture” continues on honestly with a truly dark edge about it.  Among the best, Brown continues to shock yet allure with his twisted tales.  As good as it is, “Torture” definitely shouldn’t be played as a way to improve your mood; its content truly is torturous.  “Lonely” is a ‘torture’ in its own right, as Brown holds things down without anybody’s help (“I don’t need your help homie / cause don’t nobody really know me…”) The best line could only come from a modern day hipster: “See that’s going on a  limb / and I used to sell trees, and I used to rock Timbs / Radiohead shit, fiends with The Bends…” Alt-rock fans should be in awe.  Brown finishes Side A brilliantly with “Clean Up” (“The thoughts all cloudy / in the marijuana sky, but it started raining molly”) and “Red 2 Go” (“codeine in my cereal / always behind a smokey / I’m sorta like a miracle, you rappers are venereal…”). Geez Louise.

Side B (Dope Song)” is indeed ‘dope’, brilliantly playing with double meanings of the word.  Of course a dope Danny Brown is also an incredibly offensive one, who continues to  raise eyebrows with his  rhymes.  Moving on, “Dubstep” is cool because it not only utilizes cues of the sub-genre but also uses the word itself (“I had them dubs on the step…”).  Not that Brown needed any help, Scrufizzer guests on the third verse,  “…tryna get Maybach money / I’m a Mac Miller, spittin’ ASAP rookie…” Okay then.

Dip” has so many one-liners that an entire essay could be written examining each and everyone.    The premise of the song? Well Danny Brown is pretty wasted, period. The Forrest Gump reference definitely captures attention early on (“Like Lieutenant Dan, I’m rolling back to back / I keep on smoking…”).   My favorite moment involves you guessed it, ‘molly’: “Now all these rappers talking ‘bout that molly / bet a million dollars these n***as ain’t dipping / pure MDMA, put it in a shot we talking ‘bout crystals / been thizzin’ hard up all day, rest in peace to Mac Dre…” And if you thought Brown had stopped ‘dipping’ among other things, “Smokin’ & Drinkin’” proves otherwise.  “Drop a deuce in that soda / tell your h** to come over / coming straight out the Motor / sipping oil never sober…” Have I mentioned Danny’s not family friendly?

Break It (Go)” just keeps on trucking with its colorful, oversexed rhymes that are nothing short of grimy.  If you were looking for chivalry, it won’t come by way of Brown, particularly on the obligatory p-popping anthem “Handstand” which may ring in as one of 2013’s most explicit and dirty songs.  I won’t share the embarrassingly freaky lyrics, but usually when the word “piranha”    is used in a rap song, it’s not really talking about a fish.  Mentioning a ‘handy cam’ probably doesn’t scream G-rated either.

Way Up Here” sports some of the strongest production work of Old, definitely yielding some sick ear candy.  Irresponsibility doesn’t end, with Brown making a ‘killer’ reference to art (“Run a mic like Michelangelo draw, too / while I turn this b**ch into Saw II”) or guest Ab-Soul’s agenda (“Puffing pop on a mountaintop / dipping in that bag / white girl on my countertop…”).  Penultimate cut “Kush Coma” is just what it says it is… Brown is faded as a mudda mudda.  It’s no surprise though as “Nuggets the size of Rakim rings / got my head looking like a fatality screen…”  The best cut of the trio is the closer “Float On featuring Charli XCX.  Brown takes a subtler approach here but doesn’t lose any of the magic.  Maybe “Kush Coma” found Brown his most to’e up, but “Float On” has a superb stoner sound about it that makes it bang.

So the question isn’t whether Old is good or bad but rather just how good is Old? The answer is exceptional.  Sure Danny Brown’s idiosyncratic approach and his freaky potty mouth won’t appeal to the masses, but to trill hip-hop fans and the open-minded folks who love a humongous personality with some definite skill, Old is the perfect addition to your collection.  I’m onboard… well, with the quality, not all the excesses.

Favorites: “The Return”; “Wonderbread”; “Dope Fiend Rental”; “Torture”; “Clean Up”; “Dip”; “Float On”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰½

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