Danny Brown’s an extremely agreeable person.
Earlier this year, Jay Z (the artist formerly known as Jay-Z) revealed that he rarely listens to anything non-hip-hop. It wasn’t exactly shocking per se, when you consider that Jay Z has connections up the wazoo that he’ll never need to go digging through other genres for beats because he has other people doing that for him. Danny Brown might not produce any of these beats, but when he decidedly sets an album up so that it has two sides as if it were the vinyl days; tells A$AP Rocky about the merits of Love’s Forever Changes; namedropsOK Computer and Kid A as a comparison point for XXX and Oldrespectively in an interview with Pitchfork; or works with features and producers that no would one else would think to, you kind of just have to root for him. Then, when you consider how he won’t sacrifice who he is for personal gain – how he wasn’t signed onto G-Unit Records because he wore skinny jeans instead of low-riders or how he manipulates his voice until it’s the most distinctive and thereby divisive in rap music? Then, when you consider how one-sided most musician-listener relationships are and how Danny Brown will be more likely to retweet and follow you on twitter than your actual real life friends? I mean, everyone talks about the “With her hands on the floor and her feet on the wall / And she pop that pussy like she ain’t afraid to fall” hook on “Handstand,” but for me, the infinitely more amusing line on that song is how he can’t seem to decide if he wants to be a “gangster nigger” or a “hipster nigger.”
It pains me to say, then, that Old is a massively flawed enterprise. To start, for whatever reason, there’s a focus here on hooks repeated to form choruses, as if a conscious decision to make Old as acceptable to the mainstream public as a Danny Brown album could be. Like, I’m fine with say, “The Return,” whose hook harkens back to OutKast’s “Return of the ‘G’”; and I’m fine with say, “Dip,” whose hook nods to “Niggas in Paris,” but in Danny Brown’s hands, means something different than Kanye’s braggadocio; and I’m fine with say, “25 Bucks,” where Purity Ring’s Megan James’ airy vocals provide a nice juxtaposition with Danny Brown’s harsher style. But I ask you this: at what instance of hearing “Kush coma, I am in a kush coma” does Zelooperz grab you out of the propulsive rhythm on “Kush Coma” and just beats you with a metaphorical bag of dicks? I’d say the twentieth – and it happens twenty-four fucking times. I’m guessing it was only chosen as a lead single because Zelooperz sings the hook with the most melody on the album; terrible choice – Danny Brown should’ve chosen “Handstand.” Elsewhere, “Dubstep” is likewise ruined by obnoxious repetition where nothing interesting happens musicallyeither underneath to detract from it. It’s a shame, because Scrufizzer provides one of the album’s best verses on the second side of the album (“I’m a Mac Miller, spitting A$AP, rookie”).
Anyway, as mentioned, Old is decidedly divided into two sides. Whereas Danny Brown had touched on his past previously on XXX(see: “Fields,” which is expanded on “Wonderbread”), Side A is entirely devoted to exposing it completely. Despite the track “Side A” being subtitled with the parenthesized “Old,” this is a new side of Danny Brown. There’s no humour here (excepting ScHoolboy Q’s verse); he’s selling drugs to make a living and to provide for his family (“Side A (Old)”; “The Return”; “25 Bucks”; “Clean It Up”) and there’s no glorifying drug use at all – he’s doing them to outrun his demons (“Torture”; “Lonely”). I don’t want to make it seem like the beats aren’t worth talking about either: Paul White injects a wonderful hint of Eastern flavor and another of soul that’s somehow both twisted and sexual on the Freddie Gibbs-aided “The Return”; “25 Bucks” almostmakes me want to give Purity Ring another chance before I realize that half of the charm is Danny Brown rapping over them; Oh No hands in one of his best beats – ever – on first side closer “Red 2 Go.” That being said, it’s not all good. For example, I can’t stand “Wonderbread.” I appreciate its punny quality (“Wonderbread / Want the bread”), and I appreciate the narrative structure wherein Danny Brown details encountering drug addicts of every variety as he runs a simple errand for his mother, but for the first time since I’ve known him, I can’t stand his voice. It sounds like he’s in a self-pitted competition to try and out-high-pitch the flute sample and the results are jarring (that being said, the synths that are introduced in the final quarter were a wonderful addition).
Side B doesn’t bother with the narratives of Side A – it presents Danny Brown’s present – the drugs, the alcohol, the sex, the drugs and many more drugs. Which would be fine, except a lot of the lyrics on Side B flat out suck. “Handstand” is a lyrical abomination (“I will eat on them pajamas / Bite all on it like piranha / When it comes to that vagina / Baby girl, you could be my diner” is how it starts and it never pulls up from there) but thank God for that hurricane of synths to distract us. Others have talked about how unrappable the thing that Rustie cooks up on “Way Up Here” is, and sure, both Danny Brown and Ab-Soul survive it – but at what cost?Elsewhere, I’ve accepted A$AP Rocky’s stupidity, but I’ve also acknowledged that he’ll often get in a clever line (at least) to make up for it. No such thing on “Kush Coma”; “So many numbers in my phone book, I could start a motherfucking phone book” – really? You couldn’t say something like “So many numbers in my phone, look?” – “I’m that one nigga, bumping two pots / Be like three hoes, that’s a foursome” – that’s a twosome, A$AP. That’s regular intercourse by my math – “In a kush coma, finna take a nap” – what contradiction! These songs do still survive based on their beats, but damn, you wish they were smarter.
Old is deliberately set up to be an exhausting listen (Danny Brown does his best to help listeners out by separating it into two sides), as if to emulate a drug-alcohol-sex-fueled Saturday night. In that regard, “Float On” is the Sunday hangover; Danny Brown returning to familiar themes explored on Side A, BBNG’s piano twinkles and Charli XCX’s sweet and atypically restrained voice provides that foggy morning as you walk home, and frankly, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting closer for the record.