In the internet era cover art is often glossed over. Yet as cheesy and humorous as the cover to Old is, I believe it pinpoints and provides insight into where Danny Brown is as an artist. Portraiture, in particular before the proliferation of cameras, was seen as a way to capture the regal and wealthy and their legacies. On his cover, Danny Brown is decked out in military garb (an allusion to his Adderall Admiral mic persona), while he stares aloofly into space. The bottom right corner is melting (symbolic of drugs and weariness), and all but the frame and text is in shades of black and white. Danny, a highly talented, former street kid from a deracinated Detroit (the inversion of regal and wealthy), seems to be in repose about his past life and current larger than music persona. He’s worked for the acclaim, received it, and artistically, now where does he go?
Where The Hybrid was a proclamation about Danny’s near unmatched ability to rap counterbalanced by an acute sensibility to capture the vile and tender aspects of inner city Black American life; XXX was a punk rock catharsis of despair for an artist on the edge of not making it, while celebrating all that contributed to his Ultimate Warrior rap flair. Both albums had sonic textures that revolved around gritty and soulful sample-based boom-bap that extended their hand to the more exotic sounds of experimental electro. But where The Hybrid was more bare-bones and straight forward, XXX was full of polluted atmosphere. Both albums are as close to “masterpieces” as the post-2006 rap era has. Therefore the expectations of Old from fans and critics alike are pretty high. Old finds Danny successfully (and unsuccessfully) synthesizing not the sounds, but the content of his previous efforts for the audiences that arrived to his “artistic alters”.
One of the album’s more visceral moments, “Gremlins”, a perfect reference/metaphor, is used here by Danny to speak on the psychological state of a youth in Detroit causing havoc and being a borderline psycho. Oh No’s fuzzy loop (and dusty as old basements kick drum) sounds deranged and ominous, and complements Danny’s content to a tee. Later on the album, “Side B (Dope Song)” comes off like theme music for a riot. Rustie’s pogo-stick synth and elastic bass booms as wide as a packed football stadium while Danny laments fans who want him to stay speaking on his drug dealing past. Brown also clowns old rappers on “Dope Song” who continue to hold on to that part of their life though they’re far removed from it. Oh No and Rustie are also responsible for Old’s other gems “Torture” and “Break It (Go)”, making me feel as though both should’ve been the album’s production anchors.
Yet for as ecstatic as the praise for Old has been, I cannot wrap my head around why. Without a doubt there is quality music throughout, but there is a certain subdued emptiness that envelops the album. Coupled with the fact that “Kush Coma” and “Dip” were meet with pretty lukewarm responses, I feel like critics want this to be Danny’s victory lap, when it really has the exhausted feeling of an album created from life on the road. Where Danny’s past hood narratives had a sense of immediacy and urgency, songs like “Wonderbread” and “Dubstep” seem distant and tied to weak tropes. Furthermore, where Danny explained that fans looking for lines like “pussy stank like Cool Ranch Doritos” would be disappointed, one of Danny’s strengths was always his crude and crass sense of humor. Present since his Hot Soup days, that humor is all but absent on Old. The seamless transitions of sound and content of XXX are also gone and lazily split into these “A” and “B” sides, as though Danny is hyper-cognizant of the dichotomy of his fan base.
Still, Old is a good full length. His reflections are more somber and humanize Danny after such an exuberant and theatrical rise. Danny and Co. could’ve cut some fat, turnt down a bit and not pandered to the tour circuit so much. They could have even found a more cohesive sound from the diverse producers, but songs like “The Return”, “Red To Go”, “Smokin’ and Drinkin’”, and “Float On” more than satisfy. Danny at moments is also just set into such a comfortable and formidable zone of flows and rhyme patterns, we remember and believe his claims to being “the greatest rapper ever” . Every single one of us who downloaded Danny’s free projects over the past three-to-four years should go to the store this week and support not only his grind, but his artistic desire to be original and add to the rich legacy of the craft of releasing quality rap music. When it’s all said and done Danny Brown will be one of a handful of rappers from the new generation to sit comfortably at the table of the old guard. STYLE.
3.5 out of 5
You can buy Old on Amazon.