[23 September 2011]
Danny Brown is probably—no, definitely—the most divisive MC to emerge from Detroit’s new millennium hip-hop scene. For the past few years he’s been exercising an elastic, high-pitched vocal delivery that’s very obviously not his natural cadence. It bears similarities to Lil’ Boosie in its strange inflections, Lil’ Wayne in its monster-from-the-closet tone, Kool Keith in its awkward confidence and any number of Internet MCs such as Spaceghostpurpp and Lil’ B in its total disregard for static flow. Of these reference points, Kool Keith is probably the most easily used as a root base, particularly his Black Elvis/Dr. Dooom period. Like that pioneer of rap abstraction, Danny Brown is equal parts hilarious, creative and indifferent to consumer expectations, resulting in music that is as basely entertaining as it is deeply challenging.
The first six songs on Brown’s latest, XXX are loaded with punchlines and concepts both high- and low-brow: rhymes so nice the pope would be convinced to get his dick sucked, radio artist mockery, anticipation of a Jimi Hendrix-style death, inversion of swag through the prism of waiting on income tax returns and a three minute ode to cunnilingus. The rest of the record follows these topics through a number of different focuses, such as Brown’s family lineage of drug addicts (“DNA”, on which he displays his “normal” rap voice) and his affinities for marijuana (“Blunt After Blunt”, obviously) and adderall (“Adderall Admiral” most blatantly, though nearly half the songs reference the drug). Detroit is also a constant theme throughout the record as it is with most Detroit MCs. There’s even the gansta-rap outlier “Bruiser Brigade” featuring a Lex Luger-cum-Three Six Mafia production courtesy of the album’s main producer, Skywlkr, to lighten the mood a little.
But if there’s one thing working against XXX in comparison to Brown’s coming out party, last year’s bandcamp release The Hybrid, it’s the consistently darker atmosphere throughout XXX. Gone are the drug-rap diversions like “Re-Up” and “Shootin’ Moves”, and songs that are more calm and lifestyle based like “Nowhere 2 Go” and “I’m Out” are nowhere to be found. XXX is also more personal, as Brown doesn’t spend much time addressing the problems of others as he did on the previous album. Instead we get claustrophobic work like “Detroit 187” which is reminiscent of his collaboration LP with Tony Yayo on a bad hit of acid, or depressing odes to self-destruction like “Monopoly” and “Fields”. Brown even attacks metal-hoarding for heroin money on “Scrap or Die”. All of which is to say that XXX, between its darker, more challenging production and Danny’s heavier reliance on his affected vocal and personal tribulations, XXX without a doubt is more of a struggle to listen to than The Hybrid.
For those who’ve had experience with previous sanity-compromising hip-hop acts such as Company Flow or the aforementioned Kool Keith, however, it should be obvious from the first track that XXX‘s sound is one with which hip-hop fans should give a chance to become more comfortable to the ear. Beyond its confrontational veneer lies a 19 track collection of a good number of 2011’s hardest, freshest, most concrete bars imaginable. Brown’s ability to manipulate pop culture to suit the needs of his imagery is masterful, and he consistently keeps his topics from feeling rote. In the face of a somewhat dire lifestyle, Brown is able to draw the humor from it at every turn, and when he can’t he’s able to describe his sadness and/or drug-induced high in such a clever way that you might just end up laughing at sorrow anyway.XXX is pretty harsh, but it’s also pretty daring, and while I wouldn’t expect everyone who comes across it to become a fan (for those of you, I most definitely recommend The Hybrid) I’d be lying if I said I don’t think less of those who don’t at least give it a chance.