Danny Brown doesn’t prefer the spotlight. As far as famous rappers go, he is one of the least visible, on and offline. Brown’s behavior isn’t new, but it’s nevertheless remarkable how the blog era’s most outrageous and polarizing personality became something of a hermit.
The 2011 version of Danny Brown would have the perfect rap identity in 2019. The unruly hair; the Grand Canyon-wide tooth gap; the helium-high voice that poetically rapped, “Still fucking with them freak hoes, stank pussy smelling like Cool Ranch Doritos.” The Detroit-born lyricist was a rockstar: original in style and authentic in soul.
Danny never became a caricature of himself; he never fell victim to his character; he never lost sight of being an artist first. A focus on lyricism, art, and forward-thinking rap music is why the 38-year-old rapper’s growing discography is critically acclaimed.
After three years, Danny Brown returns with uknowhatimsayin?, the long-awaited follow-up to Atrocity Exhibition—one of the best albums of 2016. News of A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip executive producing Danny’s fifth studio album brought a bit of media buzz around the project. A legend and a legend-in-the-making, it’s hard not to be excited by the pair. Let’s find out what they have to offer.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. “Change Up”
Guitar strums? Drums came down like lightning bolts. Moody is the best word to describe this soundscape. It’s heavy in an emotional way. Danny! His voice is cutting through nicely. He’s rapping in a lower register, a good contrast to the production. “Lord have mercy, pray for me.” This is a stressed-out Danny. “I’m going to keep going!” I like “Change Up” a lot. It’s that I’m-not-being-held-down music. Not as motivational as Jeezy, but it’ll do. I love rappers talking about the rent being due. The first of the month is not a fun day, guys. Love the transparency. He’s coming in honest.
2. “Theme Song”
A sample I don’t recognize. This loop is rather minimal. Danny’s voice has a lo-fi quality to it. Think the dirtiness of Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt. He’s rapping rapping. Danny hasn’t lost the sharpness. “Did more for the game than you.” Is he going in on the young rappers? Interesting. He sounds like a veteran. “Theme Song” is I-survived-the-game rapping. Think J. Cole’s “1985 (Intro to The Fall Off)” but without Lil Pump as the target. “I ain’t gotta lie when I say I’m independent.” Oh, that might’ve been a direct shot. I like this energy, though. Elder Statesman raps.
3. “Dirty Laundry”
Things just got quirky. Glitchy beat. Danny is rhyming over the electronic loop. No drums, yet. I like how stripped-down this is. Ah, there go the drums. The animation in his style is stripped away but is focused approach is arresting. “Poppa was a Rolling Stone, so I sold rocks to him.” That is a Danny Brown bar. It’s so whimsical and real. I love the maturity of his delivery without losing what makes him appealing. “Dirty Laundry” is rather strange in comparison to contemporary rap. All the beats have been in a world of their own.
4. “3 Tearz” ft. Run The Jewels
A JPEG tag! It’s nice to hear a rapper tap him for production. Danny is spitting with aggression. The straightforwardness is so nostalgic. Not too many tricks, just straight bars. The hook is a flip of the famous House Party line. El-P! The production is chaotic. It’s a computer tweaking off cocaine. That’s if computers could do cocaine. It’s only a matter of time. El sounds good. His voice is so heavy; every line sits like a swift jab leading up to the knockout. “Hold my beer, I’m about to go get rich.” Killer! Man, he came in talking about Trump, ha. Oh man, he’s talking his shit. I need an EP of JPEG beats with Killer Mike raps.
5. “Belly of The Beast” ft. Obongjayar
What an interesting album. Wild build up. I love this loop. The drums are bizarre, and Danny’s flow is incredible. The words are tumbling out with ease. How is he so calm amidst production this chaotic? Danny makes it sound easy. The humor here is classic Danny. He’s so traditional here. No acrobatics. Man, I never know what he’ll say next. That is what makes Danny Brown so fascinating.
6. “Savage Nomad”
I can’t articulate the rock-influence that I’m hearing in the production, but the atmosphere feels like... Joy Division? Anyway, Danny is rapping! Oh man! The way this beat is building around the flow. It’s so thoughtful and thorough. Danny Brown does not care about rapping like it’s 2019. He’s so removed from the styles and sounds of today. “No ice on my neck but she loves me for my charm.” Gusto. Danny is in a bag. I wonder where this angst comes from? The beat has a nice bounce to it. These drums make a difference. My favorite track thus far. Crazy breakdown!
7. “Best Life”
Soulful and dirty. I like this build-up. Man, there’s not a lot of brightness on uknowhatimsayin?. It’s not dark, just murky; it’s a cool, overcast gray. The production feels like boom bap in 2019. I need Joey Bada$$ rapping over this beat. I also need Future rapping over this. “Ain’t no next life.” Danny had to write these raps. There’s something about them; they’re not free-flowing. Every line has a point. I like “Best Life” a lot.
8. “uknowhatimsayin¿” ft. Obongjayar
The songs aren’t long; the album is keeping a nice pace. Finally, a bit of color. The synths here are light. Danny is aware of time. He seems to be thinking about life a lot. He’s a long way from turning 30. XXX is a classic, arguably his best album, but I’m glad he’s not trying to remake that project. I needed this mature Danny. “To get rich you gotta take a risk.” “uknowhatimsayin¿” is the best Ted Talk I’ve ever heard. Keeper.
9. “Negro Spiritual” ft. JPEGMAFIA
Lol, “Negro Spiritual” sounds nothing like one. What a wild bassline. And these drums! Danny is Harlem shaking in a snowstorm of sounds. “Negro Spiritual” is like the cupid shuffle for robot Martians. Is that JPEG? He sounds like a zero-gravity Pharrell. Don’t ask me what that means. “Every dream I had, I lived it.” I can’t wait to play “Negro Spiritual” again. The line about being a microphone magician burned my eardrum. He’s not playing any games on uknowhatimsayin? It’s so weird. Sonically, every beat is unlike what I come to expect from Danny.
10. “Shine” ft. Blood Orange
I’m loving the sound of Danny’s voice here. His energy is captivating. “Everyday on the line like a free throw.” He is in a world of his own. “The whole world is deceitful.” “Shine” is a lot. Blood Orange sounds good. I love this beat. The rhythm jumps in you. “Kept my head above water.” “Shine black man, shine.” Another keeper.
This loop! The nostalgia is strong. Danny Brown went full traditionalist on “Combat,” but he’s always been this kind of emcee. Stylistically, uknowhatimsayin? is a callback to his Hybrid mixtape. What’s interesting is the production and his delivery, everything is fresh. Danny did not create this album in 2019. Is that Q-Tip? This is so Tribe! Man, imagine a world with Danny and Phife Dawg trading bars? Long live the Five-Foot Assassin. Danny’s second verse isn’t a joke. Wow. Wow.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Danny Brown’s uknowhatimsayin?
The maturation of Danny Brown is fully realized with uknowhatimsayin?. The brash, Detroit emcee doesn’t sound reinvented, but reborn. He’s taking his style back to the basics without time weighing him down.
Danny doesn’t waste a single word across the album’s 11 tracks. Each line is simplistically delivered, keeping the focus on exactly what is said. If he weren’t lyrically at his most loose and thoughtful, Danny’s approach would clash with the unorthodox and tweaking production. But the songs are swift, open and shut performances.
uknowhatimsayin? is Danny Brown growing old without getting old. At his most adult, the whimsical emcee shows he can still find new ways to get weird, stay original in style, and remain authentic in soul.
By Yoh, aka uknowhatimwriting? aka @Yoh31