Review Summary: Alternately over-the-top, terrifying, unhinged, disgusting, and exhilarating, sometimes all five at once, with appropriately oppressive production and even a story of sorts. A couple duds or painful tracks can't keep it from being an overwhelming success.
I first noticed Danny Brown in his guest verse on Das Racist's "Power," where he became the highlight of the song for me despite my prior strong preference for the DR duo over most any of their guests. It didn't take me long to discover that he had a new free mixtape out; only a little later I discovered it rivaled the "Power" verse in filthiness and excess; and then, well, it took several listens to realize how cohesive and ambitious it is for what could have been a toss-off.
is, true to its name, an album of three parts: setup, Bacchanalian excess spiraling into derangement, comedown. Also true to its name, each of the three parts is somewhere between obscene and nihilistic, but Brown's unique sense of humor runs through it all and makes it more enjoyable than it might sound from my description thus far. And love it or hate it, Brown's voice is one-of-a-kind and more expressive than any other I've heard in my (admittedly somewhat limited) experience of hip hop.
Take the first track "XXX" as the intro and statement of intent, in which Brown makes it clear how much he has invested in the game when he bleats, "If this shit don't work, nigga, I failed at life!" Then the setup runs from "Die Like A Rockstar" to "I Will" and introduces our antihero, who consumes drugs of every stripe so avidly that he himself muses, "Experiment so much, it's a miracle I'm livin." Of course, this won't stop him from proclaiming his ability to spit fire on "Pac Blood" and his ability to give cunnilingus in "I Will," which is so thoroughly explicit and filthy that I'm not even going to try to excerpt it here. It's also probably the most romantic track on here, to give you an idea.
"Bruiser Brigade" announces the beginning of XXX
's descent into madness. The beats get more abrasive ("Blunt after Blunt") or ominously sparse ("Adderall Admiral") and the lyrics more abusive and manic -- check the twisted glee with which Brown exclaims "These bitches suck my dick like it was moral incentive!!" on "Detroit 187" -- until, at the end of "Adderall Admiral", comes the foreboding line, "Rewind this and just smoke to it." Hear this album a few times and you'll recognize that what this means is, Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,
because Brown's about to come down off the high he's been on, and you're coming along for the ride.
It's recognizable almost immediately in the slower tempo and mournful horns of "DNA," but even more in the huge change in Brown's voice. The first time I listened to this album, I thought it was a completely different guy rapping until "30," where... but I'm getting ahead of myself. I don't know for sure why Brown calls himself "the Hybrid," but the huge contrast here gives me a pretty strong suspicion. Suddenly, instead of--well, in addition to
--bragging about his MCing and the amount of poon he gets, Brown's pontificating on the hereditary nature of his drug addiction. What does this portend" The terrifying "Nosebleeds" makes it clear that Brown's well aware of the dark side of his subject matter: "Every time she do it, she says this her last time... Sniffing till it drip, back of the class, blood running down her lips." All this is utterly sedate, with no trace of the mania that made "Die Like a Rockstar" so exhilarating; instead, it's nightmarish and chilling.
If "Nosebleeds" and "Party All The Time" show the consequences of living this way, "EWNESW" through "Scrap or Die" maybe make it clear how someone ends up there. Hint: having no hope for the future helps, as on "EWNESW": "I'm living in the city where the weak get swallowed / Belly of the beast, we don't care about tomorrow." And just when "Scrap or Die," with its beat halfway between jungle and industrial, sees our antihero at rock bottom, tearing out walls of abandoned buildings to sell the wiring for scrap (and using the proceeds for, you guessed it, drugs)...
"30" brings us full circle. Danny Brown signed to Fool's Gold! Everything is gnarly! Sure, he's imagining the cops finding him OD'd on prescription drugs, but right now he feels like Billy Corgan! In a church playing organ! Guess what bitch, he's coming back! Guess what bitch, he's coming back!!!
Nowhere, even in the album's unhinged middle stretch, has Brown sounded this crazy, and honestly it makes me scared for his future, because I want him to live long enough to keep making more albums that are this fucking good.
This thing is a crazy ride like no other album I've ever heard.