Danny Brown Believes In His Future, Finally

Danny Brown is free. We examine his growth from ‘XXX’’s “30” to ‘uknowhatimsayin?’’s “Change Up.”
Author:
Publish date:

Time moves like water. It’s haptic, and it flows to the path of least resistance when you let it. But we are complex animals, and we have been damned by the ability to dwell. As a people, we are rewarded for being stuck to the past. Nostalgia sells, and the future is too random to be anything but terrifying. For the unlucky, the present is where our woes live. When life gets bleak, it’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing “back then.” But “back then” had its own problems.

There is no clear timeline. Thorns line every step of every path. No matter how scary, we are forced to look forward.

On his fifth studio album, uknowhatimsayin?, Danny Brown opens with this sentiment. He uses “Change Up” to paint a portrait of a wrought present while resisting the urge to dip the past in a rose tint. For all the pain of “Change Up”—for all the pain of Danny’s career—there is hope on the hook. We get the sense he has accepted his present to unlock a brighter future.

Moreover, Danny Brown accepts his past as dead and gone. He staves off the human tendency to dwell. Instead of falling into his past, regardless of how troubled his present, Danny finds it within himself to believe in the future. Considering his previous themes, “Change Up” feels like a monumental step forward. It sounds like Brown’s pursuit of freedom.

Wrestling with the future has been the kingpin of Danny’s career. With a decade in the game, his anxiety over his age and timeline permeate projects like XXX and Old. XXX closer “30,” Danny’s best song to date, illustrates the anxiety he feels attempting to carve out a rap career while battling addiction and depression:

Ever since a n***a eight, knew what I would do now / When I turned 28, they like, ‘What you gon’ do now?’ / And now a n***a 30, so I don’t think they heard me / That the last ten years, I been so fucking stressed / Tears in my eyes, let me get this off my chest / The thoughts of no success got a n***a chasing death / Doing all these drugs, hope for OD’ing next, triple X”—Danny Brown, “30.”

On “30,” Danny doesn’t believe in his future. He is chasing down an imagined fate, hoping it comes to fruition; otherwise, he’ll be in his grave. In one of the most heartfelt performances of his career, he admits he’d rather die of an overdose than fail. It is wrenching, but we believe him.

This dire energy haunts XXX, Old, and Atrocity Exhibition. Every album following “30” carries with it the weight of Danny Brown’s life. Think AE opener “Downward Spiral.” The title of the track says it all: Danny Brown was unwell. Now, we are living in a post-“Downward” world on uknowhatimsayin?.

Meaning, thankfully, Danny did not OD. He did not have to weigh his life versus his success any longer. XXX became critically acclaimed. Danny Brown is a media darling. Across “30,” we get the sense Danny has not had a single moment of reprieve in his life. Again, this is why “Change Up” and uknowhatimsayin? are achievements in his catalog: this is his reprieve.

On “30,” Danny Brown is like us—terrified of the future and burdened by the present. Danny’s looks into the past do not provide him with sweet memories or salve. He is not moving like water. He does not accept himself nor his circumstances; he is drug-addled and swimming upstream. For this reason, we feel for Danny. We root for him. We soldier into the time war together. And on uknowhatimsayin?, we fucking make it:

“Drugs will always be a theme of my albums, but on [uknowhatimsayin?] I am talking more about hustling than actually taking them. I want to show people you can make it out of being caught up in them and come out winning.”—Danny Brown, “Danny Brown is tired of you putting him in a box

I’m the underdog, but I’m never over it,” Danny raps on the second verse of “Change Up.” There is a fresh resolve to the song. Danny Brown sounds unstoppable, despite the first verse and pre-chorus of the track being riddled with the same fear and tension as “30.” Images of Danny tossing and turning and drinking away his anxieties bring us right back to the dogged nature of “30,” but there’s more to “Change Up” than present misfortune. 

Just tryna keep my legacy, I’m legend in the end,” Danny adds, proving to us he firmly believes in his future. It’s not just a chant for a catchy hook (“Never look back, I would never change up”); Danny Brown has stepped into his light. 

Danny Brown suffered through the trials of “30” to make it to “Change Up.” When he promises never to look back, it’s a different energy than “30”’s admission that the past is solely bleak. Now, Danny has no interest in the past because he’s made his peace with it. In doing so, Danny’s brought himself closer to his all-the-better future. He doesn’t need the past, and he need not sink into the darkness of his present. Danny sees the light, and he is striding toward it in style.

Rap, inherently, asks artists to go back into their past. Fans ask artists to return to the past, either by way of remaking old content or by reaching back into their old struggles and repurposing them. On “Change Up,” Danny decides he’s not looking back. He makes a concerted effort to look forward, which is a novel concept for hip-hop. “I’m at a different point in my life,” he told Pigeons and Planes. “People talkin about ‘I like the old Danny with the broken tooth.’ Like, what the fuck is wrong with you, man?”

In that breath, uknowhatimsaying? remains weird, as only Danny could be, because he is so forthright and direct. That pointedness brings us right into his future—the future we had hoped for on “30.” This is the future for which Danny Brown risked his life.

All of uknowhatimsayin? boasts the energy of a rapper coming into their own, emotionally. Danny’s struggles have paid off. As a result, this album is his most pure rap record to date. Danny wouldn’t change his past, nor would he change who he is. He doesn’t need his past to access his future. Danny Brown is Danny Brown, and Danny Brown is free. 

Related