Review: Danny Brown – “Old”

Authenticity in hip-hop, for whatever reason, is a prized commodity. No matter what you rap about, the inevitable question surfaces: “are you for real?” On the surface, Danny Brown seems like a prime candidate for such suspicions of realness. A 31-year old guy with no front teeth, skinny jeans, half a haircut and a spaced-out voice rapping about fucking groupies, tripping balls and slinging dope? If it sounds like a joke, the music is anything but. With Old, Danny silences his naysayers while both satisfying his existing fanbase and welcoming new listeners.

Success is a long time coming for Danny Brown. If you really want the full scoop on the Detroit native’s past, check out Complex’s beautiful cover story. In terms of his rap career, Danny’s undergone something of a career rennaissance in the past three years. Starting with The Hybrid in 2010, Danny adopted a more cartoonish persona created after experiencing the effects of Adderall. The success of that tape led him to sign to Fool’s Gold Records, where he released the critically-acclaimed XXX in 2011. Two years, a couple loose singles, and a slew of feature verses later, and Danny’s label debut has finally hit shelves.

Despite its standard runtime of around an hour, Old feels like a double LP, as the album is carefully divided into two parts, delineated by the tracks “Side A” and “Side B.” The first half harks back to Danny’s pre-Hybrid days, delivering gritty stories of drug dealing and what life was like for Brown as a kid. The majority of the tracks are delivered in a more natural tone than his zooted persona. The stories he tells, like watching a crack fiend light a pipe directly off a stove top on “Torture,” are as gritty and authentic as any artist today. If you initially approach the album expecting the hyperactive persona that’s made Danny popular, you’re sure to be thrown for a loop.

The second half of the album dives into the Danny Brown from XXX, the fanatical molly-user with freaky sex on the brain. If I could choose the soundtrack to a felony, this is the music I would choose. Where Side A harbored pent-up aggression and resentment, Side B serves as the vent. When Danny snarls the hook to “Side B (Dope Song),” I get the barely containable urge to flip over my desk and punch a hole in a wall. This feeling carries through the heart-thumping single “Dip” and lasts until the closing track “Float On,” in which Danny lays bare the struggle of creating the album you’re listening to. It’s a welcome end to the madness, and brings you back to the Danny from Side A, leaving you with a rounded view of his character.

Perhaps due to his veteran status, Danny’s official debut doesn’t suffer the same pains as other rapper’s initial efforts. No song overstays its welcome, as every track besides “Kush Coma” clocks in at under 4 minutes. It allows the album to flow without ever growing stale. No guest spot seems forced, and Danny feels at home with everyone he works with, from Freddie Gibbs to Purity Ring. The production of the album commands your attention; multiple listens are required to truly dig into Danny’s substantial lyricism because the beats are so gripping. If there is a flaw, it’s that the connection between the two sides is somewhat flimsy, as they feel like two different albums until the very end. Even so, they’re two very good albums, so it’s really just nitpicking.

Danny’s got his finger on the pulse of his fans, and Old is like the best of both of Danny Brown’s worlds. On “Side A,” he raps “they want that old Danny Brown / to bag up and sell a whole pound.” While that’s not who he is anymore, he still gives those fans an album’s worth of material before appealing to his newer fans with Side B. It’s a testament to Brown’s natural charisma and skill that it doesn’t come off as stilted or “fake.” Old is an album shows that you can be crazy and down-to-earth, a tortured soul and a party animal, thoughtful and mindless. Life doesn’t deal in absolute definition, and neither should rap.

Score: A

Favorite Tracks: “The Return,” “25 Bucks,” “Torture,”  “Side B (Dope Song),” “Dip”

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