Monday, 14 October 2013

''Old'' Danny Brown - A Review

''I made XXX with the aim of getting great reviews. And when I started making Old, I was trying to think of artists that came back from getting great reviews and made an album that was just as good– or better! The only group I could really come up with was Radiohead. So if XXX was my OK Computer, then I’d have to make my Kid A next.''

That's quite a statement, and it's telling of Danny Brown; apart from the hilarious comedic personality that comes across throughout interviews with the Detroit rapper, there's another aspect of his character buried underneath, namely his hunger for success. Brown is as ambitious as he is talented, two characteristics you may fail to notice if you're not overly familiar with the rising star due to his eccentric nature and open attitude towards drug abuse. Many heads were turned with the release of XXX back in 2011, a surprising, original and entirely unique hip hop fusion album that found it's way towards the top end of many critics best of lists come the end of the year. A follow up was always going to be risky business, but the above quote will assure you of Brown's fearlessness if nothing else.

Old is the result of half a year spent in studio before an overly long production process that frustrated Brown to the point of him threatening to release the demo version for free ahead of his label Fool's Gold. The casual 2013 hip hop fan may have more likely been found in circles patiently waiting for Yeezus, Magna Carta Holy Grail or Nothing Was The Same but if you'd kept your ear to the ground this year, alongside Earl Sweatshirt's Doris, Danny Brown's third release has been in high demand and the wave of expectation that came hand in hand with it eventually died down this month when fans were actually given the chance to finally press play and listen.

You may be misled into thinking that Old represents the 31 year old's contradictory age in the modern rap game, however it's actually referring to the style Danny used previous to XXX, which he made several large hints about returning to during the recording process, and this is made instantly clear on the opening two tracks with the title track and ''The Return'' dealing with the resurrection of the ''old Danny Brown'' (presumably what the working title of ODB stood for, apart from invoking the image of a frequent Danny comparison in the form of the Wu Tang legend).

Further on, a long awaited collaboration between Danny and Purity Ring takes place with wonderous results on ''25 Bucks'', as the unexpectedly suited pairing work to their individual strengths with Corin Roddick's soft electro beats, Megan Jones beautiful vocal and Brown's rap combining to perfection. The highest praise I could give is that 2 and a half minutes was simply not enough; perhaps only a full Postal Service style album of these three individuals would have sufficed, but Brown presses on in style, reigniting his outrageous XXX self for the first time on ''Wonderbread'', a whole four tracks in. It's the first sound of that special vocal delivery that captured an audience so vividly just two years ago, and not the only time the rapper returns to the party persona he hinted would be obsolete this time around, with the most notable examples arriving in the form of ''Red 2 Go'', ''Dip'' (featuring an excellent interpolation of Watch The Throne's smash hit ''Niggas In Paris''), ''Dope Song'' and ''Dope Fiend Rental''.

For the most part however, these type of club anthems are overrun by the prevalent darkness of the album, as songs like ''Torture'', ''Lonely'' and ''Gremlins'' showcase heavy electronic beats steeped in bleak imagery, deep contemplation and hard hitting lyrics with Danny recalling the second half of Old's predecessor but travelling further into the void. Brown is honest to the point of brutality, confronting his inner demons, issues with family and friends, depression and, most importantly, his drug habit. Throughout these 19 tracks the listener finds Brown in direct confrontation with his party image and grown up self, most effectively exemplified through the contrast between opposites such as ''Smokin & Drinkin'' and ''Clean Up'' or ''Lonely''.

It's not exactly unheard territory for an artist to place the spotlight on themselves for such trouble, but the crucial difference here is the perceived reality of it all; Brown sounds as though he is genuinely conflicted, ruthlessly examining his own identity, and struggling to figure himself out over the course of 56 minutes, with the experimental, trippy production (courtesy of DB cohorts SKYWLKR and Paul White) seemingly representing the fragilty of the rapper's mind and his bipolar nature.

As the album draws to a close, two of the biggest song highlights in  ''Kush Coma'', a previously released single that sounds great within the context of the album and features an excellent cameo from associate A$AP Rocky, before ''Float On'' ends the record with Charli's XCX's ghost-like, charming vocals whispered over Danny's ryhmes in a content, peaceful beat that stands in direct contrast to XXX closer ''30'', then the sum of all the frustration and anger that Brown had dealt with to that point.

Ultimately, Old is a daring, exceptional album that outdoes XXX for it's focus, energy, honesty, bravery and direction. Brown has ignored fans who would have been happy just to hear the funny man again and built on the talent he exposed to the public intially while drawing from the tormented soul that came before fame and fortune. The perception of Danny Brown as an outsider or wild card should now be over; he's the real deal, leading the field alongside rising modern rap stars like Kendrick, Tyler and co., and most cruically doing something in modern rap than few can match and absolutely none can emulate, making him undoubtedly one of the most exciting talents in the rap game, and music world, at this moment in time.


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