131001-danny-brown-old-review

Ok, so the first thing I should say before I procede with this review is that I have mixed feelings about the album and Danny Brown as a lyricist. On the one hand this album features a lot of tracks backing Brown’s raps and he isn’t your standard street rapper, his lyrics aren’t all about ho’s and drugs. However, he does use the word ‘ho’ and talk about drugs (albeit with a moral bent on the first half of album) and it so I feel I can’t endorse some of the lyrical content of “Old”.

I first heard about Danny Brown his “XXX” album popped up in a lot of end of the year polls in 2011, the way the album was written about gave me the impression that he was a one note “pill-popping, pussy-eating squawk-box” gangsta rapper. Since then there’s been some hints that this was a short sighted evaluation of Brown’s lyrical content and artistic image, his guest spot on ‘Oh Hail No’ on El-P’s “Cancer4Cure” (2012) and “Black & Brown” his collaborative album with Black Milk started to open my mind to what he was all about and “Old” opens it even further as well as confirming his one of the most talented rapper’s currently releasing music.

The album opens with ‘Side A’ which combines an  arching synth drone, head nodding beat and Brown’s tough flow with a deep bass that feels like depth charges in the background. Synths swarm and surround Brown in the hook filled chorus. Next up is ‘The Return’ featuring Freddie Gibbs it brings with crowd noise and deep spoken word, then Brown cuts in shortly followed by deep simple bass guitar line and head nodding drum beat and sitar melody. In second verse a G-Funk style synth riff plays over the top of everything. Gibbs takes the third veres which also features a flute melody and signing female vocal sample. I like the variety of the track a good example of album’s own variety squeezed into a 3 minute song. On ‘Gremlins’ Brown explores his inner demons utilising a urgent delivery atop a funky rhythm below which a cool slippy analogue synth melody slips and slides. The track has a psychedelic yet paranoid feel and great production from Oh No. ‘Torture’ and ‘Lonely’ continue Brown’s exploration of a multitude of emotions and experience’s the former combines a huge beat with very busy hats, huge stabs and what sounds like some sort of Gregorian chant or Gospel choir sample. Brown uses a more considered, slower flow with very dark and filthy lyrics. The latter opens with jangly guitars and spoken word sample that may be in Japanese, then the rolling beat drops and brings Brown’s urgent rap with it. It’s another psychedelic track but is much lighter with hints of A Tribe Called Quest in the production.

The second half of the album kicks off with ‘Side B (Dope Song)’ which is introduced by “synth strings reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s Psycho score.” Then high pitched synth stabs and Brown in full nasal mode kick in. There swiftly followed by a a pounding 808 beat. The single ‘Dip’ is another highlight with an 808 beat skidding around under the pitched down vocal samples and hyperactive flow of Brown and a synth arpeggio that seems to move both with an against everything else. ‘Break It (Go)’ begins with a high pitched arpeggio, swiftly followed by marching snare drums, deep gutteral vocal samples and Brown’s adlibs, the tension builds and 808 snare rolls in bringing in the first verse proper. An urgent and hyper Brown rapping over a tough rolling 808 beat. The marching beat is definetly different and something I haven’t heard in a hip-hop track for a long time. The album goes out on a high with ‘Float On’ featuring Charli XCX its opens with an organ figure and bell like synth playing out a melody and an reverb coated beat underpinning Brown’s rap. Charli XCX comes in for the simple almost plainative bridge and chorus. The track feels like a dreamy G-Funk track.

Though it doesn’t quite live up the huge media hype that has lead up to its release “Old” is one still one of the best and most original hip-hop albums of the year.  

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