Review Summary: They want that old Danny Brown.
I don't think anybody expected Danny Brown's last album, XXX
, to blow up the way it did. It was a darkly comical trip through Brown's mind: nineteen tracks and fifty-eight minutes of comedy, tragedy, poverty, drugs, and sex, concisely packed into songs that rarely went beyond three minutes. XXX
was more contained than a Wicker Man, every track there to bolster the narrative of Brown coming to realize that his hedonistic lifestyle is little more than a distraction from his depression and the overwhelming poverty of his native Detroit. Of course, the journey was tremendously fun as well, thanks to Brown's skill with vulgar punchlines, and his stylistic cadences - deep and relatively normal for when he's conveying the tragic, and his trademark squeal for detailing exploits absent of remorse. And that's all without mentioning the beats, which were stark grimy affairs that were astonishingly interesting and strange, especially with the yawps and sneers about cunnilingus and infidelity layered atop them. There is truly no album quite like it.
is Brown's attempt to replicate the success of XXX
with more commercial viability. The songs are relatively longer (not by much, mind you) and the hooks are more emphasized than quotables (see "25 Bucks", which features a poppy chorus from a member of Purity Ring that would have been at home on Magna Carta Holy Grail
), but the same themes of self-destruction in the wake of societal decay remain, and in fact are largely unchanged.
If anything has been altered, it's that Brown decided to kick the album off with heavy amounts of introspection rather than concluding with it. XXX
went: mixed intro, comedic party songs, tragic commentary songs, mixed outro. Old
basically follows this same formula with the partying and the limited social commentary having swapped places. "Side A (Old)" through "Red 2 Go" is mostly Danny waxing about his old life selling drugs and dodging bullets, and as such he mostly uses his lower register. “Torture” is about witnessing awful events involving dope fiends and baseheads and trying to dull the visions, and “Wonderbread” is one of two songs in the first half where he uses his high-pitched voice, giving a manic edge to the pipe-driven tale of being mugged over literal bread. And he takes a lot of songs to talk about his depression and personal issues, especially on “Lonely” and “Clean Up”. But by the time we reach “Red 2 Go”, the concept has worn thin, and it’s at this breaking point that he transitions into the other half of the record.
Brown is far more recognized for his “party” tracks like “Monopoly” and “Die Like a Rockstar” than he is for depressing songs like “Fields” or “Nosebleeds”, and that’s what “Side B (Dope Song)” through “Kush Coma” represent. It’s also in the second half that the beats get stranger, delving into industrial (“Handstand”), grime (“Dubstep”), EDM (“Side B (Dope Song)”). But the beats are only part of the equation for Brown – what makes him interesting besides his good ear for production and his vocal variance is his seemingly unending supply of wisecracks and zany cultural references, and these are largely absent. Occasionally, he’ll drop a decently funny line – “Like Lieutenant Dan, I’m rollin’” or “so many lines thought this *** was Bush Garden” – but his comedic aspects are otherwise gone. Perhaps that’s a sign of intentional maturation, as he removes the humor from the otherwise disastrous situations in which he’s taking part, but the songs are still fun and tremendously catchy, especially “Dip” and “Smokin’ & Drinkin’”.
is really just more of the same in terms of lyrical topics, but in the way of beats it’s a departure. Many of them are certainly more accessible, with nothing quite as weird as “Adderall Admiral” or “Radio Song”, but they’re still interesting. There’s a lot of diversity in how they sound, but they tend to follow a similar pattern – dark and introspective on Side A, high-energy and quirky on Side B. As for guest features, they’re not terrible but nobody, except perhaps Freddie Gibbs, outshines Brown. Two members of Black Hippy, Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q, make appearances, and deliver horrible and tolerable verses, respectively. Scrufizzer crams a lot of small words into a small space. ASAP Rocky’s verse, makes “Kush Coma” unnecessarily long and undoes the biting point that song had in the first place, and as for the hooks from Charli XCX and Purity Ring, they’re weak and airy.
But don’t allow my criticisms of Old
to imply any disdain for the album. If it were in a kinder and less difficult position, I’d be so far knelt in worship that I would fall through the Earth’s core. But Old
is in an unfortunate situation, needing
to be compared to XXX
, and when they’re both absorbed, they don’t have anywhere near the same level of focus or power.