Defying all sense of normalcy while glamorizing dysfunction, Danny Brown strives to maintain balance between style (his trademark ad-lib) and substance. One of modern culture’s most engaging freak shows, he casts a net that reels in opposing demographics: progressive “Hypebeasts” who accept his brash character as gospel and Rap nerds generally appreciative of his technical ability to push the envelope. The outlandish calculated means of separating himself from the fray have included odes to copious drug abuse and unkempt hair—tricks which have paid off in spades as a younger following finds a hero figure in his lack of decorum. Aiming to please both of these crowds, Danny Brown’s latest initiatives are sure to shock and awe timid onlookers with his second Fool’s Gold release Old.
Shaping and shifting the genre at his will, Danny Brown’s design for Old is that of an autobiographical Bible split into two sections: one describing hardships encountered before his professional career, and another where he exorcises his demons through partying with reckless abandon. The first portion is more in tune with his earlier releases such as 2008’s Hot Soup and the “Detroit State Of Mind” mixtape series, telling a tale that strays from the typical glorification of street life to give the other side of the coin.Toning down his beloved yelp and the comedic presence of previous lines such as “No not Superman, you can call it X-Clan / Black red and green, sissy / and all my bitches eat pussy like Missy,” this concept further fleshes out the notion that Danny’s humor was birthed from his city’s grim conditions.
Danny Brown has a knack for extreme imagery and a dead serious conviction, both facets that serve to remind his audience he can captivate with more than shiny objects. “The Return” does away with his jokey demeanor, as the cold couplet “Fuck a hipster, squeezing triggers / You got me fucked up, I’m a hood ass nigga” renders a guest spot from the usually outstanding Freddie Gibbs unforgettable this go round. Imagining himself a tour guide for the universal ghettos of his city and similar metropolitan jungles, “Gremlins” explores the lives of those prone to evil after midnight. Here Danny starts, “I know some little niggas that thirst cream / That popped a bitch on cam and we ain’t talking ‘bout Twerk Team,” as he muses towards the end, “Listening to 2 Chainz ain’t thinking bout college / I wonder if he knew that 2 Chainz went to college…” Functioning as a bridge between Old’s polarizing ends, “Dubstep” has a sound that is inspired by the genre of the same name, with its chorus cleverly repeating, “I had them dubs on the step.” The backdrop of this flashback to marijuana peddling makes it possible for Danny’s stories of dwelling within urban decay to transition into adventure that is more fun, yet potentially just as dangerous.
The double-edged sword of fame has brought Danny Brown into a world of inescapable demands and a “turned up” lifestyle that ultimately risks being detrimental despite boosting his creativity. As true fans have come to revere his transparent penchant for getting wasted, he is rarely concerned with judgmental naysayers easily made to feel discomforted by his antics. Blending the newer wave of EDM with Hip Hop, he channels the delivery of Triple 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul on the intense “Smokin’ And Drinkin’,” also paying homage to one-hit wonder Freaknasty’s memorable dance hook on the molly anthem “Dip.” Proving himself one of today’s most flexible emcees, Old’s back end is Brown’s furthest departure from straightforward Rap to date, with him successfully adapting to faster 4/4 tempos reflective of the more erratic subject matter.
Simultaneously targeting fanatics who believe Danny Brown can do no wrong and traditionalist skeptics who show up for highlights like the Oh No produced “Red 2 Go,” Old requires the patience and empathy one would lend to a friend suffering from a bipolar disorder. Its primary shortcomings stem from ambition gone awry (examples include the pop flair of Purity Ring on the off kilter “25 Bucks”) and experimental beats that don’t necessarily bring the best collaborative efforts out of ScHoolboy Q (“Dope Fiend Rental”), Ab-Soul and A$AP Rocky (“Kush Coma”) to no fault of their own. Notable attempts to unmask Danny’s conflicted facade, “Clean Up” finds him detailing the tolls that being on the road so often have taken on his well being and “Float On” rationalizes his psychosis as the result of pressure to create compelling art. Whether the enigma of Danny’s ongoing identity complex is an elaborate ruse he controls in efforts of not being boxed in has yet to be determined, but the most exhausting aspects of his routine manage to convey an occasionally exciting tale of instability.