Review Summary: Joke's on us, and Danny's the one laughing.
Danny Brown raps like he's from the future and burns through formulae like packets of cigs, so it's only natural that at some point he would deliver his most shocking change of style yet: a laidback 90s jazz rap vibe that brings out the hip-hop classicist in his hyper-modern style. From my perspective it's the smart move. It was getting hard not to feel that lyrics and production had become mismatched; Old
's poppier concerns played host to some of Danny's darkest lyrics in a way that was sometimes brilliant and often confusing, whereas Atrocity Exhibition
's aural insanity came at the price of the rapper falling back on simplistic and uninventive rhymes. uknowhatimsayin¿
induces a sea change when The Hybrid and The Abstract connect, and it's the most inspired odd couple pairing since Madlib and Freddie Gibbs.
Brown still raps like he's from the future, it's just a timeline less removed from ours where Tribe Called Quest nostalgia and retro instrumentation is fully in vogue. Of course, this being Danny Brown we're never getting an easy meal, and some of the best moments see him shaking it up once again. "Belly of the Beast" is one of his funniest ever songs, true evidence of the 'stand-up comedy album' he claimed uknowhatimsayin¿
would be, yet the side-splitting rhymes are delivered in a hazed-out murmur over Paul White's most ethereal production. "3 Tearz" is the most surefire crowd-pleaser since "Really Doe", but throws Run The Jewels over a lumpen beat that stumbles along like a three-wheeled shopping trolley; it brings the best out of El-P, no stranger to a weird off-kilter beat, while Killer Mike turns in a lazy and feckless verse. The best song on the album, "Negro Spiritual", has JPEGMAFIA doing his best Pharrell over Flying Lotus and Thundercat and somehow comes together like a dream. While Danny rarely loses his shit in the way longtime fans are hoping for – there's no "Ain't It Funny" in evidence, unfortunately – don't think he's been reigned in by the good-vibes blur of Q-Tip's production. Once career highlight "Combat" rolls around it's evident that the influence was a two-way street; Tip fucks up his production in a way we've never heard, spilling decaying trumpet lines and frazzled electronics like synapses firing all across three-and-a-half minutes of hip-hop royalty. Over this Tribe-from-hell backing track it's only fitting that Q-Tip and Consequence make vocal cameos, functioning as a kind of Greek chorus with a whip-fast back-and-forth, but the final verse rolls around and Danny Brown makes it clear with a wicked double-time flow: this is his song and no mistake.
If you could more than occasionally accuse Brown of being weird for the sake of weirdness – an endearing quirk or fatal flaw, depending on your tolerance for his style – uknowhatimsayin¿
shows how that insanity can be packaged in a more unassuming container without ever losing its fury. Approaching 40 years of age and showing no signs of compromise, it's looking unlikely that Danny Brown will ever be caged, but his newest plan of attack is figuring out ways to shake your hand before he throws you out the window of a moving vehicle.