Album Review: Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿
★ ★ ★ ★
Danny Brown is an enigma. The Detroit rapper, now 38, has stayed around long enough in the game to be considered a mentor in the same vein as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar despite having a fraction of their commercial success. While Danny's name has yet to transcend into mainstream rap circles, his variance in rap style has made him the darling of music critics everywhere who praise his ability to change the pitch of his voice mid-verse from mellow and low to an energetic scream. Like his vocal tone, Danny also switches up hairstyles rocking half a perm, a green fro-hawk, and free-form dreadlocks. For a long time, the only part of him that remained constant and had become signature to his image was the gap between his front teeth. While Danny's first album The Hybrid connected him with the local Detroit rap scene, it wasn't until he released his sophomore album, XXX, that he began to gain prominence on the internet, and later he would earn his first Billboard chart position with the album Old. From XXX on, his music began to explore topics of depression, drug addiction, and anxiety. This all melted into the very experimental Atrocity Exhibition release which was featured on many "Best of 2016" lists.
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Danny did disappear shortly to take a sabbatical from music. While he was on break he achieved major milestones like quitting his pill-taking habits and fixing his teeth to prevent having dentures by the age of 40. Danny also became more prominent on the screen, with a role in the Motor City based film, White Boy Rick(2018) as well as the show Danny’s House on VICELAND. On his show, Danny enjoys having casual hangout sessions with celebrities and rappers, unlike the traditional weekly talk show. The show’s launch was congruent with the announcement of his first album in three years, uknowhatimsayin¿. For this album, Danny enlisted hip-hop icon Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest to produce and sequence the record, in conjunction with longtime collaborators Paul White, Flying Lotus, and Playa Haze. It’s very clear this is not a concept album like Atrocity Exhibition or Old, but the main theme of the project revolves around the same street rap style Danny debuted on The Hybrid.
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On “Best Life” Danny reflects on his previous life growing up around the drug trade and his stints in prison. Danny raps “Came from the sewer where hot dogs go boiled/ Right up in the same pot uncooked the rock/ Went from flippin’ on mats to flippin’ them stacks/ Hide and seek, send spots to out on, we sell crack, facts/ War on drugs was a chess game/ Was a pawn, guns drawn on my front lawn.” He continues on with stories of the past in “Savage Nomad,” paying homage to the 70’s South Bronx street organization. But where Danny finds pain, he also finds humor, adding multiple references to comedian Joey Diaz. “Who you think ya dealin’ with? My resume is killa, b***h/ Dealt with so much pain that I don’t even know what feelin’ is” and “I ignore a wh*re like a email from LinkedIn” (pronounced “Link-in-din”) lighten the album’s tone. After each verse, we hear Danny’s menacing laugh along with applause from the audience showing amusement from his performance.
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“Dirty Laundry” showcases Danny’s knack for his version of stand-up comedy, with a half rap/half-spoken verse full of punchlines. The track references various detergent brands and relates them to hustling like with the following lines “High Tide, Gain off the Arm and Hammer/ Swim towards the current, system try to drown me/ Stain your record like Clorox ‘n’ darks/ Spin cycle had four tops for one.” These lines lead into a bit he does at the end about sleeping with a dancer for his laundry money. “Belly of the Beast” is made in the same vein, featuring artist Obongjayar and even more wit and humor from Danny. He raps “N***a, I’m anemic with the ink, you a Stevie Wonder blink” and follows up with “I eat so many shrimp I got iodine poison/ H**s on my d*ck ’cause I look like Roy Orbison.” Nobody, and I mean NOBODY else is capable of writing this.
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The featured artists are used remarkably well, especially on “3 Tearz.” Danny raps about his love for the hustle by saying “Used to cut the rock with no glove on/ Shove on, for the block, develop a ‘Love Jones.'” He closes the verse by making a Nas reference with “It was written, but the signature not legible.” He’s joined by El-P and Killer Mike from Run the Jewels and the latter of the two steals the show with the verse “I sip on fine wines, fine dine with dimes and nines/ I got an Einstein mind and I still tote iron/ I’m a P-I-M-P in my own rhyme/ Space age gorilla pimpin’ out the cage with mine/ ‘would you steal for me n***a?’ If it’s god d*mn mine/ ‘Would you kill for me, n***a?’ B***h you out your god d*mn mind.”
Baltimore artist JPEGMAFIA adds production to the album by sampling Yoko Ono, and also contributes vocals to “Negro Spiritual” which sounds almost like a Pharrell impression. Obongjayer makes his second appearance in the title track, “uknowhatimsayin¿” while Dev Hynes, AKA Blood Orange, features on “Shine,” which resembles the sound used in Danny’s album Old.
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“Combat” sees Danny spitting on one of Q-tip’s 90’s era creations complete with a continuous trumpet loop and more jazz-rap elements. Danny sounds like a long lost member of the Native Tongues Collective and you can imagine him showing up in some old video on Yo! MTV Raps with Timberland boots and a Thick Carhartt jacket with The Jungle Brothers and Black Sheep behind him. The track also features uncredited vocals from Q-Tip himself and his cousin, Consequence. a snippet from 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s ends the album to make the audience ponder about what Danny Brown’s life could’ve been like in a previous generation. Overall, with only 34 minutes of run time, Danny Brown delivers an action-packed project in half the time of his previous albums.
Favorite Tracks: “Savage Nomad,” “3 Tearz,” “Dirty Laundry,” “Combat.”
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