“The return of the gangsta” is what Danny Brown boldly declares two tracks into his new 19-track epic, Old. These words imply the album to be a return to his earlier, more traditional form; whilst simultaneously commenting on the wider hip-hop landscape.
Unlike many of the previous year’s most acclaimed hip-hop albums, such as Yeezus, Old‘s focus is undoubtedly on Danny’s lyrics and not the album’s production. Spanning from his usual hyperactive rapping to the De La Soul-style smooth flow on ‘Lonely‘, Danny’s rapping is the backbone of every song on here.
Whether intentional or not, this results in Old becoming a much more traditional rap album. It’s more about life in the ghetto and personal issues than abstract concepts and a life of success. In many ways, the album embodies Danny’s home city of Detroit, from its socioeconomic problems to its warehouse rave culture.
Old is an album of gritty realism. In ‘Dip’, a fairly to the point song about getting high, Danny raps, “I’m sweating but I’m cold, mouth all dry but I got a runny nose”. There’s nothing glorified about the track’s imagery; you just get pictures of teenagers off there faces on MDMA and looking like idiots. However, it’s an accurate depiction of what party culture is actually like.
If viewed simply, it would therefore seem the album is Danny Brown keeping things gangsta. Sticking his middle finger up at how distanced hip-hop has become from its ghetto roots whilst also trying to distance himself from the ‘hipster rapper’ reputation he has gained in recent years. However, to take this view of the album would be to completely oversimplify.
Despite Old‘s realist tone and suggestions on The Return that Danny is attempting to confirm a gangsta image instead of that of an ‘alternative rapper’, other aspects of the album suggest otherwise. For example, in ‘Lonely’, Brown lays out a complex reference to Radiohead alongside his description of drug-dealing in Detroit, “See that’s going on a limb/ And I used to sell trees, and I used to rock Timbs/ Radiohead shit, fiends with The Bends”.
Furthermore, whilst Old is traditional in many ways, this does not mean it’s not complex. The album is divided into a darker and more experimental Side 1 and a more energetic and party-orientated Side 2. Side 1 leads us on a dark and multi-layered inquisition into Danny’s life, and whilst Side 2 is generally less thoughtful, it still finishes on the astute ‘Float On’.
As said before, Danny’s rapping does take centre stage on the album, however, it cannot go without notice that the collaborations are both prestigious and impressive. Highlights including Rustie‘s production on ‘Way Up Here’ and Oh No‘s on ‘Gremlins’. Danny raps over tracks which are not conventional and they’re most certainly not easy.
Somehow, Danny has managed to hold together an album full of contradictions. It’s an album that vividly describes his life growing up in the Detroit ghetto, whilst poetically referencing alternative music acts. It sharply focuses on Danny’s rapping, whilst by no means neglecting the production side. Perhaps most interestingly, alongside all this, Danny manages to maintain an album with a variety of party-friendly songs. What defines Old, and demands it acclaim, is its diversity.
…Ian is listening to Eagulls – ‘Nerve Endings’…