Review | Danny Brown - uknowhatimsayin¿
Enigmatic Detroit native Danny Brown has had a rollercoaster life filled with lows and highs as portrayed through his music. Will his recent album uknowhatimsayin¿ musically match his personal crescendo, or provide a thudding trough to Danny’s impeccable discography?
Danny Brown has a history stereotypical of many underprivileged American kids turned rappers. Think A$AP Rocky, Pusha T and Freddie Gibbs. Peddling drugs around their respective neighbourhoods and having multiple run-ins with not only the law but personal tragedy. However, that’s where the stereotypes end with Danny. After amassing multiple mixtapes and a debut studio album The Hybrid in 2010, Danny had the means for success and a good foundation for what was to come. In 2012, he released his second studio album XXX to critical and commercial success, as well as landing a spot of the XXL Freshman List for 2012. Through these accolades, Danny blew up on the scene as a larger-than-life character with a unique visual appearance and vocal delivery. This unique vocal delivery became synonymous with Danny and even appeared to grant the rapper abilities to unlock unique flows and inflections that weren’t commonly implemented in modern hip-hop. At the age of 38, seven years after the groundbreaking XXX and three years after the gritty and confronting third studio album Atrocity Exhibition, can Danny continue to evolve with uknowhatimsayin¿ and avoid leaning on his unique attributes as merely a novelty crutch for his career?
The answer is a resounding yes. Atrocity Exhibition was masterpiece of grim and horrifying proportions. Harrowing accounts of drug abuse and mental illness flowed through the haunting instrumentals and commanded the attention of the listener. Uknowhatimsayin¿ possesses the same entrancing effect, however, it’s through expressions of Danny’s personal growth that the listener is invited to continue forward. Gone is “I’ma wash away my problems with this bottle of Henny… might need rehab but to me that shit pussy.” from Atrocity Exhibition. Instead, Danny replaces it with “Ain’t no next life so now I'm tryna live my best life” on uknowhatimsayin¿ The beats of the album reflect Danny’s personal triumph just as well as his lyrics. “Best Life” features a bouncy and expressive sample from '80s soul artist Tommy McGee, and Danny brings forth to spit bars about his rougher upbringing that eventually led to his satisfying life, all in a smooth and humble tone. “Dirty Laundry”, a single for the album alongside “Best Life” and “3 Tearz” is also another emphatic high point on the album. Upon first inspection, the instrumental seems unexciting and without a clear hook or melodic flow, Danny’s verses too seem forgettable. However, give the track more than one listen and the subtle intricacies invade your auditory system and set up home. The vocal runs and background harmonica added by Q-Tip alongside an infectious and evolving flow from Danny make this a worthy lead single for the album.
It’s not all roses however. “Belly of the Beast” has one of Danny’s most unsettling beats, complete with a vocal sample that manages to whisper and scream at the same time. Ironically, this track possesses some of Danny’s funniest bars, including him calling someone a “Stevie Wonder blink.” The penultimate track “Shine” also provides a moodier background for Danny to lay down his trademark flows. Driving drum lines and atmospheric synths pair perfectly with Danny and also his feature, Blood Orange, who gives a rare yet welcome example of a melodic hook on the album.
When critiquing the album, any criticism possible instead reverts to praise. For example,
the only negatives on this album are simply that some tracks are more forgettable than the standouts. Even though “Combat” and “Change Up” are solid tracks, they pale in comparison to the albums highlights and thus are hard to return to when experiences like “Shine”, “Dirty Laundry” or “Best Life” are literally a tap away. Needless to say, Danny Brown has managed to retain an aura of speciality and importance of uknowhatimsayin¿ despite noticeable lyrical and instrumental differences compared to previous projects. Such a feat is only achievable by uniquely skilled artists.
Best Track - Shine feat Blood Orange
Worst Track - Change Up