Detroit rapper Danny Brown has been described by MTV as “one of rap’s most unique figures in recent memory,” and it’s safe to say he’s lived up to this complement. His critically acclaimed albums — such as “XXX” and “Atrocity Exhibition” — display Brown as a rapper unlike any other. His zany flows, outstanding wordplay and distinct voice have earned him the attention of underground rap fans everywhere. Brown’s lyrics deal heavily with the ups and downs of drug addiction, and he continues to be a revered figure in hip-hop music.
Last April, Brown revealed that his fifth studio album would be released later in the year. Fans were treated to “uknowhatimsayin¿” Friday, and it isn’t what anyone was expecting. At a runtime of 33 minutes, this record is somewhat on the short side, but it doesn’t fail to convey the fact that Brown is a changed man.
Much of Brown’s past work deals with the darkness and hardships that come with drug addiction. It’s this concept that made “XXX” such a successful record. Eight years have passed since that album’s release, and “uknowhatimsayin¿” is a record that not only shows that Brown is a better artist on a technical level, but he’s a better and healthier human being.
“uknowhatimsayin¿”s title track contains the line, “My guy, don't stop now; keep moving.” This single line on the chorus, delivered by Nigerian artist Obongjayar, sums up the general theme of this record: sheer persistence and growth. The production on this song is upbeat with its kickdrums and shimmering synths, and Brown’s lyrics regarding the hardships of life only add to the tone of the album.
For those looking for a more wacked-out Brown, look no further than “Dirty Laundry.” This highlight on the tracklist features a glitchy, haunting beat serving as a backdrop for lyrics regarding Brown’s disturbing past escapades. Lines such as, “Head was nasty; you’d think she had head lice,” are just some of what makes this unsettling song enjoyable.
This album’s sound palette is sure to keep listeners on their toes. What makes this record so special is that it’s difficult to pin down the tone of its production. While elements of jazz are apparent in songs such as “Combat” and “Best Life,” the tracklist is sonically diverse. “Combat,” in particular, is a confrontational song that touches on subjects such as violence in inner cities and getting out of these dangerous environments. “Shine” is an ethereal, somewhat ballad-like song that features a heavenly performance from Blood Orange. Its lyrics contain hints of the idea of Brown holding onto his newfound clarity while deeply hoping that he does not relapse into his old habits. On the flipside, “Belly of the Beast” has downright bizarre and creepy production that nonetheless has a gratifying and heart-racing ending. While Brown may bounce between tones on this record, his talent and message remain consistent.
On a technical level, Brown’s voice and flow are top-notch. His voice isn’t nearly as high-strung and wild as it’s been on previous records, but it’s right on the line of digestible and unlike any other rapper one will hear these days. His flow can be a little repetitive at times, but his genius wordplay and unbeatable delivery immediately excuse any flaws his flow may have.
Brown has always been somewhat of an enigma in the music industry, and after listening through this record, one may still view him this way. However, “uknowhatimsayin¿” is by far his most clear-headed and lyrically focused album to date. It’s reflective of Brown’s self-growth journey over the past few years, which has led him to make music that’s evolved along with him. Each song on this record brings something new to the table, giving it infinite replay value.
Contact Julian Denizard at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.