(Fool's Gold Records)
Being a musician from Detroit with such a prestigious musical history must bring with it a sense of pressure. The city brought the world Motown and Techno, as well as proto-punk groups MC5 and The Stooges, hip-hop mega star Eminem and cult heroes like the late producer J Dilla. Following the success of his breakout record XXX, Danny Brown may well be joining those ranks, at least as a cult success, as over the last few years he's shown himself to be one of the most unique voices in contemporary hip-hop.
His new album Old seems him continuing to elude obvious classification with one of the most varied lists of collaborators on an album in recent memory. It sees electronic pop and grime get look in along side Glaswegian maximal dance producer Rustie, samples of 1970's pop are followed by coarse trap beats. All of this makes it very clear that Danny isn't looking to fit in to any one scene or trend. After all, this is the guy that said Joy Division’s Closer was the biggest inspiration for his last album. Old is split into two sides, like a cassette tape, starting with side A embracing the 'classic' Danny Brown style, with his lower register rapping, whilst side B embraces the new, featuring more of the club ready sound that’s made its way into hip hop in recent years, filtered through Brown's drug-addled gritty world view and crude sense of humour.
The Return featuring Freddie Gibbs is amongst the stand out tracks on Side A, with some smooth and soulful samples and Dilla-esque production from Paul White. Its followed up by some huge sounding production from electronic group Purity Ring on 25 Bucks, still Danny holds his own amongst the synth heavy sound though the track may have fit better in the albums more club ready second half. Clean Up captures that moment of bleak, burnt-up, come-down clarity. Brown raps 'It's time for me to clean it up/I came too far to fuck it up' with a disheartened flow. Red 2 Go, produced by Madlib's brother Oh No, finishes Side A. The track blends old and new production with ease and its steady 4/4 beat it makes for a perfect transition into the modern production of Side B.
Dope Song begins the second side and is, well, pretty dope. It's just as in your face and brash as a Danny Brown and Rustie collab should be. The track features a very generous low-end sound amongst the drum machine hand claps, RPG video game sounds and twisted high pitched vocals very much in the same vein as his 2011 album Glass Swords. Dubstep has more than a little humour and ends with an fast-paced appearance from West London MC Scruffizer. Previously released single Dip is the most club friendly thing on offer here, the lyrics all based around gratuitous pure MDMA excess. A pitched down chorus and dark, early Hyperdub bleeps make for an aggressive and energetic change in direction which is continued through most of the albums second half with tracks like Smokin & Drinkin and Way Up Here.
In the aftermath of the intense weed dream of Kush Coma things take a turn, with the chilled out closing track Float On which is aided by the R&B vocals of hotly tipped singer Charli XCX. It the perfect end to the run of hard hitting tracks, giving a moment of calm reflection before the album's end, thinking on the pressure of success, 'trapped in the beat, stuck on every line/ nothing else matter except my next rhyme' before a chorus that seems him talking about how he just floats on over an appropriately hazy beat.
He's toned down some of the explicit lyrics on show on XXX, though his sexual exploits still remain but there's more space for his acute insights alongside the expected debauchery. Even though there's a few anomalies in the track list, like Wonderbread, plays out like the result of a weed-induced in-joke, though much of the humour hits the spot, with lines such as the Forest Gump referencing 'Like Lieutenant Dan I'm rolling' , having always been a large part of Brown's appeal. Still, if Old is Danny Brown showing his age then I'm all for it, with his more contemplative moments being the one that stick with you once the album is over. Despite being put into two halves it works as one complete whole, a testament to the talent of one of the most interesting and forward-thinking rappers in modern hip hop.
Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk.