The Lowdown: Danny Brown is a breath of fresh air. In a time where the average age of rappers seems to be trending towards driving age, Brown breaks the mold, not having released his breakthrough album until 30. Rather than unleash an endless list of streamable singles, the Detroit rapper, now almost 40, gives us time to ruminate on his albums, leaving about three years between each. And, most notably … he’s also extremely weird. Or at least, he was. In addition to dialogue about the album itself, there has been another topic that seems to be on everyone’s mind: the development of (read: drastic change in) Danny Brown’s look. He’s traded in his signature tooth-gap for a set of veneers, his unruly side-flipped hair for a close trim, and his mismatched outfits for a sleek style. And clothes just might make the rapper because this aesthetic shift is paralleled in his latest album, uknowwhatimsayin¿.
The Good: Whereas his 2012 album, XXX, was incessant and purposeful in its awkwardness, uknowwhatimsayin¿ sees Brown in a more controlled light. The first track, “Change Up”, sounds like 2012 hit “Grown Up” if it were to have, well, grown up. The two tracks operate like before and after photos: While “Grown Up” is full of optimism and excitement, looking back at how far he came, “Change Up” is slow and solemn, with Brown meditating on moving forward. “Never look back, I would never change up/ I’ma keep goin’, you cannot blame us,” Brown says over Paul White production.
Brown is at his best without features: After “Change Up” comes “Theme Song”, a Cartie Curt-produced track that sounds like the theme song to Succession if it were mixed with the soundtrack to a movie about the mob. On it, Brown delivers his signature dissonant flow and proves he still excels at enunciation. And unsurprisingly, the strongest tracks on the record are those produced by Brown’s longtime collaborator and executive producer of the album, Q-tip. On “Best Life”, Brown is exuberant, finding his footing easily in the nooks and crannies of the beat laid out perfectly for him. “Combat” is equally as polished, with instrumentals that sound straight from a 1940’s jazz track.
The Bad: The first speed bump on uknowwhatimsayin¿ comes after the initial three tracks, when we’re presented with El-P who has somehow found his way onto “3 Tearz”. The flatness of listening to him chant, “Three tears in a bucket, fuck it/ I don’t care about nothin’” is matched only by the drabness of the beat, unwavering in an entirely dismal way. So, by the time you make it to Killer Mike harping on Trump again, one thing is clear: the album could’ve done without the Run the Jewels feature. And perhaps this is a larger flaw in Brown’s strategy. No one else really sounds great next to Brown’s inherent sharpness. While some beats work for Brown, other rappers struggle to stay afloat on them (See JPEGMAFIA’s feature on “Negro Spiritual”). It’s worth noting, though, that the best addition on the album comes from Blood Orange, whose dreaminess melts into the chorus on “Shine”.
The Verdict: He might’ve gotten a later start in his career, but uknowwhatimsayin¿ proves that Brown is far from slowing down. Brown’s music can sometimes be harsh; he doesn’t create harmonious masterpieces that are always pleasant. However, while other artists struggle to translate personal development into their music (see: Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day) Brown does it with ease, navigating growth in a way that’s not only deeply personal but also extremely honest.
Essential Tracks: “Combat”, “Best Life,” and “Shine”