Praise for Danny Brown's Album Old
Painting by Leila D’Amato
"Hipster by heart, but I can tell you how the streets feel."
—Daniel Dewan Sewell, "Lonely"
This time of year is a tough transition: It's getting dark as fuck (weather- and otherwise), it's cold, everybody's getting sick—but a bunch of music starts dropping, too, encouraging you to warm your ears within some headphones. Yes, I'm still Drake'n on the low, Doris still smashes, and Yeezus is still Yeezus (aside from his newly neutered "inside voice," the fuck bro?)—but as I start to compile my best-of-2013 list (fart noise), I am definitely giving heavy thought on where to fit the newest album from Danny Brown, Old.
Brown is 32, which is basically AARP status rap-wise, but that's not what he's talking about with his album title—"They want that old Danny Brown," he grumbles on opener "Side A," which revisits the set pieces of his rep-making Detroit State of Mind mixtape era. Not quite resentful at getting boxed back in, he knowingly obliges with a harrowing tour through those same shitty houses, steak-sauce-colored Cutlass Supremes, and of course, the endless transactions with desperate fiends. (It's those bits that stick out, jagged and elbow-snagging, reminding me of sad stories I heard from my closest relations about "the life"—ranging from the mundane to comical to descriptions of degradation, heartbreaking to civilian ears, but related in the same dead tone as the rest.) On "Torture," Brown accurately identifies with a prisoner of war—PTSD is in the hood like cheap sodas—as he relays a litany of urban horrors he's known all his life: freezing in his own house, up-close murders in the park, a crack-addict uncle burning his face up. "Mind would drift off/Wish it was what I seen on TV/I snapped outta that—unc' beating on my auntie."
All of which points to his funny-coiffed and fitted future—as in my experience, there's no hipster quite as adamant as the ghetto kid who wants to see another side of life. Danny Brown knows who the fuck you came for—the adenoidal "Adderall Admiral," the molly-hoovering party rapper, insatiable sex fiend and cunning linguist. He's definitely in the building, notably beginning with "Side B (Dope Song)," and in prime form on tracks like "Dip," "Smokin & Drinkin," "Break It (Go)," and "Handstand." First though, thankfully, Brown insists that you hear about the emotional/chemical toll that it all takes, and the psychic scars that led him there in the first place—a too-familiar speedball of depression, guilt, and emptiness smolders on mournful, perfect tracks like "Lonely" and "Clean Up." This is what's called "due diligence," and it's what most rappers just don't do, which is why only a few can break above the din.
Old is Brown's Aquemini (a favorite of his, as it should be to anybody that draws breath), a reconciliation of all his thought-to-be-disparate aspects, from subject matter to sounds. It even has a second track ("The Return," featuring the gangsta rapper's gangsta rapper Freddie Gibbs) modeled after "Return of the G," 'Kast's warning not to get shit twisted. Is it similarly classic? Well, genius, that's something established over time—not blog-years, either. I can say that it's by far Brown's most inspired, complete work, which means it's easily among the year's best. Check, please.