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Danny Brown Grows Up with ‘Old’

John Darr | Wednesday, October 2, 2013

“Start acting your age.”
It’s something we’ve all heard at some point. On the great road to adulthood, we find ourselves running into as many limits as new opportunities.
When I turned 10, my mom finally let me chew gum more than, say, once per year. But I couldn’t pull it out of my mouth and wrap it around my finger anymore or I’d lose it. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
For a while it seemed like Danny Brown would never start acting his age. The 32-year-old rapper’s ridiculous energy, eccentric haircut, and crazy gap tooth grin echoes his teenage contemporaries (think Odd Future) rather than those his age. His rap voice skirts the edge of maniacal laughter; most of his raps are best described as hysterical, taunting rants.
His rhymes are clever, defiant, and boast enough drug references to make three new seasons of “Breaking Bad.”
His breakout album “XXX,” released when Brown was 30, sounded as if some prodigious child rapper and some prodigious child producer had teamed up to make a record during their stay in a mental hospital.
That youthful energy fit perfectly in today’s concert culture, where many people attend concerts hoping to get crazy in the safest way possible. With the release of “XXX,” Brown ascended from an obscure oddity into an indie-rap sensation. The album earned Danny an album-of-the-year award from “SPIN Magazine,” a spot at Coachella Music Festival, and over a hundred thousand fans on Facebook.
Danny Brown’s “forever young” persona earned him immense success. As a matter of course, many fans assumed that Danny Brown would be forever young – forever.
In December 2012, Danny announced that his new album would be titled “Old.” At the time, the implications of the title were unclear.
Was Danny being ironic? Was he hinting at a concept album built around his then-recently released single “Grown Up?” Or did it indicate that Danny was changing his sound completely?
It turns out that “Old” is a bit of everything. The beats on “Old” are toned down from his previous record, consistently cleaner and more focused. Danny’s rap voice is more diverse and sometimes veers into unrecognizably calm territory. On tracks like “Torture” and “Clean Up,” Danny becomes almost unrecognizable as he raps about his difficult childhood. The Danny that we used to know who only rapped sex and drugs spits lines like “Gunshots outside was sorta like fireworks/we know they ain’t fireworks, it’s December 21st” and “I’m tired of seein’ my family ****** up and hungry.”
Thankfully, Danny doesn’t give up his old style completely. He’s still full of brilliantly ridiculous lines, most memorably “Like Lieutenant Dan, I’m rollin'” on “Dip.” The beats on “Old” still veer away from standard boom-bap, filled with mischievously goofy synth lines and monstrous drum beats. Additionally, “Old” features array of artists from rappers like A$AP Rocky and SchoolboyQ to indie-pop phenoms Purity Ring and Charli XCX that diversify the album’s sound without breaking its cohesion.
At the end of the day, “Old” is a strong record with a host of interesting beats headed by a talented lyricist. Danny’s exploring new territory; his efforts aren’t quite as exciting as before but they are more focused. He’s changing and coming to terms with his age and it will be a while before he really grows into it. Overall, “Old” may be a new Danny, but it’s still Danny, and that’s a relief.
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