Danny Brown is a paradox. Musically and persona-wise he stands out but also never quite fits in. When he came into the rap scene in 2010 with his modest debut album The Hybrid, you could hear an artist with a great amount of potential. He was raw, hungry, and most importantly, he had a lot to say.
Danny wasn’t just some guy making music for the sake of trying to catch a quick buck in the bustling cultural shift into viral marketing and speed run success. In many ways though, Danny could’ve come off as the archetype of a “wannabe-viral” act with his Sideshow Bob-esque hairstyle, manic delivery, and the iconic dental work of his absentee front teeth. But Danny was just being Danny and unlike other “for the ‘Gram” types, Danny’s talent as a rapper outshone his aesthetics.
In 2011 he would begin to carve out his position in Hip-Hop with his critically acclaimed XXX — a double entendre for the explicitness of the content and Danny’s age at the time of its creation. The album, for me, is like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but replace the mansion and MTX Tatra V8 with a trap house and matte black ‘98 Honda Civic. Danny articulated the most taboo concepts of living in such a way that instead of reviling him you encouraged him to tell you more.
Despite the acclaim from critics and peers, Danny didn’t lurch to the forefront of the Hip-Hop news feed. He remained a bit of an anomaly and with his unique delivery, he’s often considered an acquired taste for even the most open-minded rap audiences. In retrospect, this probably all played into Danny’s favor because it allowed him to retain his creative freedom and more importantly, it would likely contribute to his gradual pursuit for tranquility in his life. He had nobody to answer to but himself.
As animated and entertaining Danny is, his music carried with it a presence of Hell. Where one might hear a high-pitched party monster yelping on thumping beats, a more tuned-in listener captures the screams for help through the drug-fueled cacophony. The music of Danny Brown was never about the high, it was always about the hangover. A concept that has essentially ruled through the majority of his career in this decade.
Brown would follow-up with Old which he explained as a party album that’s dark. It was presented with a Side A that focused on songs that touched on subjects of poverty, paranoia, and demons that grasp for Danny’s soul while he’s trapped in the ghetto. Side B was a release of tension, a turn-up, an exercise of those demons. It’s loud and relentless with a seemingly endless supply of pills, weed, alcohol, and pussy. Danny said the album may seem random and with no real direction but when it’s all said and done, it comes together in the end. In retrospect, Old is less akin to a Side A/Side B and more like a Mobius strip — a strip that would ultimately come unraveled with Atrocity Exhibition.
The Downward Spiral
Considered to be Danny’s best output, Atrocity Exhibition in ironic fashion is one that first presented the clearest visage of Danny Brown despite its discord. The production is designed to either feel as if the gears are falling apart or someone is desperately trying to reassemble something with pieces missing. It’s an experience that a listener is forced into, once again, like a hangover and one with no remedy except enduring the onslaught till the end. It’s unpleasant in the most positive context.
Atrocity Exhibition is also utterly fascinating in its brutality. As I listen to it more and more I become numb to the elements that originally overwhelmed me. It was like Danny pumped me full of narcotics until I built up a tolerance. When I would go months between listens, I would overdose on the relapse. Atrocity Exhibition in many ways for me is a work of art that should be placed in The Louvre — dead serious.
Danny’s fourth installment was also the first time that some of his fans developed real concerns for his well-being. Though many were always keen on his struggles, Atrocity Exhibition carried a different effect and if the music itself wasn’t enough, the music videos would support the feeling. In particular, the visual for “Ain’t It Funny” was undeniably clear on its desperate plea for help. The disturbing content contained a laugh track while Danny directly asked a family of white people for help which ultimately led to him murdering them all in the presence of a cheering white audience.
And with that, Danny would kind of disappeared. Not necessarily in the Keyzor Soze way as he was still active on social media and whatnot, but he kept a rather low-key profile. He wasn’t concerned with making many headlines on the Hip-hop circuit as the culture was bombarded with controversies, deaths, and antics. All during this, one of the most unique voices in rap remained casually on the perimeter.
Escaping The Void
The announcement for Danny’s uknowhatimsayin¿ was modest but still conjured excitement from fans and peers. Over the weeks that led to the release, Danny would drop little breadcrumbs of hype. Music videos, producer lists, features, et cetera. For me personally, I avoided most of these details and made it one-minute into “Dirty Laundry” before I shut it off. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Danny is that listening to a song by itself versus within the context of the album, it provides two vastly different experiences. The latter of which is more important.
But prior to October 4th, there was another notable thing Danny had done. He cut his hair and fixed his teeth. Brown looked like a new man, a sight that actually provided relief for fans who were worried about his well-being because as “wacky” and eccentric Danny had been in front of the audience, the struggles of his vices were always apparent. Seeing Danny in this new light allowed fans to appreciate the visceral discography more than they could’ve beforehand. Consider the tragedies that riddled the decade with dozens of rappers losing their lives to the traps of keeping it real, Danny kept it real with himself and found an escape. His music avoided becoming a cautionary tale.
uknowhatimsayin¿ hit streaming platforms on October 4th and fans were met with a calm and confident Danny Brown. A Danny Brown that somehow, someway, clawed his way out the depths of Hell and cut loose the ever-strangling lasso that the Devil latched on to him early in his life.
Listening to uknowhatimsayin¿ could be argued as his most jarring album. When you look back at his discography, I for one anticipated the album at some point to ramp up like his previous works. But it never did. It never needed to. uknowhatimsayin¿ was Danny taking advantage of his right to deny the eccentrics of his previous albums and be himself at this moment in his life. Which is what Danny has always done from day one — be himself.
uknowhatimsayin¿ and his career is the underdog story that we always hope to see. After a decade of having to navigate what might be the most volatile era in Hip-Hop, Danny Brown has been able to emerge as one of the most creative and respected artists of our time — uknowhatimsayin¿