By the time age 30 comes around, many people have deferred their dream careers, love interests, and lifestyle choices for what three decades have shown them. Fortunately, Danny Brown spent his '20s marching to his now tune. When Roc-A-Fella A&Rs urged him to adopt a southern image and sound, he used soulful and/or gritty Detroit sounds to gain fans with his acclaimed Hot Soup and The Hybrid. When G-Unit boss 50 Cent refused to sign him because he wore skinny jeans, he adopted a weird, Japanese-inspired haircut and signed with Fool’s Gold, the powerhouse indie label run by DJ A-Trak and Nick Catchdubs. So though his latest project XXX may seem like a departure from his usual sound, it’s what Danny has done all along. Listeners get that entire experience, for better or for worse.
On his previous albums, Danny Brown saw firsthand how the drugs he sold affected his customers. On XXX, he rhymes from the other side of the handoff, with new career pressures and experimental nature as the catalyst. “I used to turn these drugs, now these drugs turn my life,” he admits over Frank Dukes’ spacey, horn-driven title track. When he’s not enjoying the escapism on “Blunt After Blunt” or “Aderall Admiral,” he uses “DNA” to reflect on how his family’s drug dependences affected his own. The addictions aren’t limited to substances, either: elsewhere, he confides in sex (“I Will”) or a fast lifestyle (“Die Like A Rockstar”). The changes in Danny’s world are also personified in his production choices—he diverts from his previous mix of soul and knock for an experimental palette of electronic minimalism. Just in case listeners get too infatuated with his own admissions, Danny’s sure to point out that he’s not the only one with issues: “Nosebleeds” and “Party All The Time” candidly narrate the woes of women who use cocaine and nightlife to deal with their problems. Danny’s candid laments of “laughing at the world ‘cause her life is a joke” in the latter seem more than observant from an outside perspective.
Thankfully, there’s still enough of the familiar Danny Brown for original fans to enjoy if the new him becomes too much. Songs like “Bruiser Brigade” and “Detroit 187” remind listeners of Danny’s hardnosed, street origins, while “Pac Blood” sees Danny dismantling a gritty Brandun Deshay soundbed with hilarious, punchline-heavy bars like, “rhymes that would make the Pope want to get his dick sucked, have Virgin Mary doing lines in the pickup/make Sarah Palin deep throat till she hiccup, have T.D Jakes in this bitch doing stick-ups.” He also continues to find the smiles and cries with poverty in Detroit: “Lie4” comically celebrates the temporary pleasure of income tax refunds, while “Scrap or Die” recounts scouring through junk yards and abandoned buildings to scrap metal to survive. Also, the satirical “Radio Song” conveys the message of mainstream rap’s formulaic nature too well, as its simplistic beat and singsongy chorus are tough to look past.
To some, Danny Brown’s new beat selection or various voice changes (he switches between somber mumbles and twangy yells) on XXX will be too foreign to enjoy. Regardless, Danny will do what he wants; and if history repeats itself, someone’s going to feel it.
DX Consensus: "Free Album"