It is generally an accepted fact in life that people named Danny are predisposed to greatness. Often considered the most handsome, well-spoken, and kind people in the world, they are the heroes that carry forward the banners of progress with their beautifully sculpted chins held high. Danny Brown is no exception to this rule; in 2011 he set the world of underground hip-hop ablaze with his Raptacular XXX, (Pronounced “Thirty”) a depressing collection of songs that chronicled the life of an aging MC trying to find his footing in a violent world of drugs and Wonderbread-thieving thugs. Its critical success skyrocketed Danny’s popularity in the world of rap, and has set the bar for his follow-up, Old, somewhere in the stratosphere.
For the most part, Old meets (and exceeds) those expectations. Ordinarily known for his squeaky cadence and sudden plunges into aggression, the Detroit MC makes a conscious decision to tone down the wacky character of his raps in exchange for raw emotion. The first half of the album (both halves are conveniently bookmarked by tracks labeled “Side A” and “Side B”) sees Danny in a place so dark it would make “Blunt after Blunt” recoil in horror. The most notable example of this, “Torture”, features a beat smothered by haunting vocal choruses behind slamming percussion. A downtrodden Danny enters the fray, discussing all of the terrors he saw growing up in Detroit. He recollects his mother ushering him away from a gruesome shootout, an addict attempting to smoke crack, and a human lip being burned off by a heated spoon. The imagery is sobering, to say the least.
After Side A takes the darker characteristics of XXX and turns them up to a fever-pitch, Side B unwinds and allows Mr. Brown to return to his squeakier side. The record heaps banger after banger in the face of the listener, assaulting them with bass throbs on “Dubstep”, airy whiffs of excitement on “Handstand”, cloudy bouts of psychedelia on “Kush Koma”, and straight-up creative synth work on “Dope Song”. The ability for Danny to seamlessly transition from his darkest moments to his catchiest and most fun is a key feature of Old that really puts his versatility in the spotlight. When it comes to working with concepts, Brown is a genius.
It’s difficult to register many complaints with Old, but there are a few flaws. Occasionally the story being told will call for an extreme aggression, but Danny will deliver a flow with a sobered tone instead. The best example of this would be on, “Torture”, where I was waiting for the MC to bust out a Blunt-after-Blunt-style aggression. At other points in the album a beat may not hit has hard as it should, like when the bass drops in “Dope Song” don’t quite match up to the mammoth rumbles of past projects Danny Brown has been affiliated with (DJ Mugg’s Base For Your Face comes to mind). Finally, what WOULD have been the best song of the album (“ODB”) was cut from the tracklist entirely due to an unfortunate lack of sample clearance.
To put it in shortform, Old is to rap what people named Danny are to the world. It’s a creative, exciting piece of work that is hard not to love.. Though it hits a few potholes and may overstay its welcome a touch, it is still proof that an Old Danny Brown can treat us to new tricks.
Favorite tracks: Torture, Float On, Side B (Dope Song), Hanstand
Similar artists: Action Bronson, Despot, Killer Mike, Black Milk
Review by Danny Baldus