Album Review: “Old” by Danny Brown

Album Review: Old by Danny Brown

Danny-Brown

Danny Brown creates an insidiously dark party record that is catchy, electrifying, and tortured all at once

When Danny Brown performed at the Sun God Festival last year, his act was a sweaty clamor of bouncing beats and over-the-top lyrics. The “molly rap” infusion of trap and EDM-style production fit well with the frantic spitting from the Detroit rapper. This year, he gives us a two-sided album that is at odds with itself: Brown is drowning in party mania for some tracks, but on others, he explores an understated, jaded side of himself that is associated more with his older albums. Brown battles between letting go of his “old” self and trying to enjoy his new life as a (more) accessible rapper and a notorious party monster. He described his sound in a recent Rolling Stone interview: “It’s like hiding a pill in ice cream or something. Give motherfuckers the sweets first before giving them the medicine.” This wild dichotomy makes for quite a maniacal listen.

Side A presents Brown exploring his preoccupied psyche before fame and critical success jettisoned him into online success. His ‘hood in Detroit doesn’t offer many fond childhood memories: “Got rocked in his dome/ Mama picked me up and ran home” he says on “Torture,” a jarring song with a haunting vocal sample backed up against a racing snare. No matter where Danny goes, his childhood isn’t far behind. “I feel like a prisoner of war/ Reacting sporadically to what the mind absorbs.” It’s a sobering reflection that takes place just before the album’s adrenaline kicks in.

However, even the harder molly rap songs on Side B, while displaying unrelenting, thizzed out beats, hit us with lyrics that are less than carefree. “I done drunk too much I might throw up in a hotel bathroom sink,” he croaks over the grimy SKYWLKR-produced single, “Dip.” “I’m blown, I’m zooted/ Can’t believe that I’m even moving.” This hardcore imagery of his life is matched by the booming 808s throughout this side of the album, which could turn any crowd into a mosh pit. Danny’s schizoid shtick is on full display with conflicting themes of fun and horror. His music is as manic as he is, but it’s far from boring.

“Old” is an enthralling project and a solid conceptual follow up to “XXX,” in which Brown gave us a glimpse of a life lived in excess. Listeners got the party and the comedown — in that order. This album accomplishes a similar feat but is even more introspective and candid, laced with drugged-out rhymes and a delivery that ranges from low-key to turned-up. It’s a musical allegory for who he is as a rapper and as a person, appealing to his underground base while creating a colorful, obscure and — at times — mind-bending album. Despite all of its gloom, however, “Old” is catchy, engaging and just plain berserk.

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