Sometimes I feel like if Danny Brown were in the middle of getting his appendix removed, and someone asked him to do something, he might just tell the doc to hold up. He seems like he’s always down to please people. Not that I blame him; he’s not the Danny Brown who traded verses with Black Milk in 2011 or who spat fire on his Detroit State Of Mind mixtape series anymore. He’s the Danny Brown who collaborates with Canadian goth-electro duo Purity Ring. And he’s got a lot more people to please.
But that is what Old, Brown’s follow-up to 2011’s label-creamer XXX, is all about. The album’s first track, Side A (Old), has the Detroit rapper reminiscing from the perspective of early-days fans, about wanting “that old Danny Brown.” You know, the one who’s less of a comedic hype-man (as we saw on XXX) and more of a wordsmith of Detroit strife. Stuck in the middle of evolution and loyalty, Brown stretches his 6’3″ limbs to find a balance on Old. And for the majority of the album, he comes down like a feathery Olympic gymnast sticking a land, without really breaking a sweat.
Side B (Dope Song) is an explicably dope song that opens with an instrumental knocked out by a screeching sound not unlike the one in the Psycho shower scene. Dubstep features Brown dragging his feet in bass and Scrufizzer spitting rhymes so rapidly it’s exhausting but thrilling—like a ride in a decaying amusement park where the Scrambler operator looks like he just injected THC intravenously. Album single Dip is a snotty, slowed-down ode to the 1996 Freak Nasty hit, while Wonderbread is a nightmarish nursery rhyme. Brown is at the peak of his groove in Red 2 Go, where he’s fighting with himself, coughing and spitting at every end of the beat and forcing out bars with nerdy, dusty gasps of breath.
But Old isn’t just an exercise in seeing how artificially stimulated Brown can sound, it also shows moments of painful self-awareness. Clean Up is a thick lament of being too high to talk to his daughter. Lonely has Brown smoothing his wrinkled vocals and recalling the languid, hash-fueled hip-hop of the ‘90s as he notes that he can, and often must, do things without anyone’s help. This is Brown at his most personal and confessional yet; and it makes his moments of MDMA wackiness even more interesting.
There are also a lot of guest appearances on this album, all of which result in impressively solid tracks. Like that aforementioned Purity Ring jam, 25 Bucks, which finds an unshakable juxtaposition between Brown’s hacked-up flow and Megan James’s silky auto-tuned vox. And what about Kush Koma, where A$AP Rocky might just say the best thing anyone has said ever: “So many numbers in my phonebook, I could start a motherfuckin’ phonebook.” Uh huh. Float On, featuring Charli XCX, closes the album smoothly with Brown sounding like he’s juuuust about to pass out. I’d be tired too.
At 19 tracks, Old can get a little taxing, as if Brown, in an effort to be expansive, just decided to be everything all at once. You might feel less than enthused when, at 16 tracks in, you get the expected juxtaposition of yalps and baritones in Handstand that you already got in Gremlins and Dip. But you’ll forget about that once you realize that Handstand‘s beat is a dizzying tornado of synth and buzz that’s unlike anything you’ve heard before. That’s what Old is: a chance to remember why you love Danny Brown, and forget why you don’t. Because really, he’s not giving you many reasons not to.