danny brown’s new record ‘old’ is finally here. it’s explosive and conflicted and worth the wait. #soundcheck

October 2, 2013

Backstage this summer at Afropunk fest, I asked Danny Brown when we’d get to hear his long-awaited (and long-delayed) follow-up to XXX, Old. He sighed. Tired of answering a question he was asking himself. Shrugged. Rolled his eyes a little and said “Who knows. We’re waiting for samples to clear.” The pre-fame Danny Brown didn’t give a shit about any of that. He didn’t need to. He rapped over borrowed J Dilla beats without permission. Who needs permission? He might not be a household name right now, but he’s still probably the biggest name in the underground. That conflict of being not-quite successful and still trying to be Danny; suddenly having the money and influence, but also responsibility of success dominates Old.

The conflict plays out between tracks about the Adderall Admiral’s famed drug use. “The Return” mutates an Outkast hook into a song about wanting to quit rap and return to his early days dealing. While “Clean Up” shows an introspective Danny Brown we rarely get to see. “That’s why I feel bad, popping Givenchy tags / Knowing that this tee could feed my nephew for a week.” He knows success has changed him, and he’s not sure he wants to do anything about it. On the album’s clear hit “Kush Koma,” though he returns to the celebrated hedonism of XXX.

The joke at the heart of Old is that the title plays like a reference to his age, (at 32, Danny is the oldest by a decade of underground hip-hops rising stars), but it’s actually about the conflict between wanting to be the Old Danny Brown who rapped over uncleared samples about the struggles of trying to survive in Detroit, and being a rising star and fashion icon known for his goofy rhymes about molly and eating pussy. The conflict is everywhere, down to the production. “They want that old Danny Brown” he spits on the opening track over an oldschool breakbeat with newschool synths. On Old, we get to see both Dannys. Side A is the Old Danny. Side B is the new. It’s the rare artist who can present the conflict at the heart of budding success as compelling and not that faux 90’s Eminem “woe is me, I have so much money…” But when an artist can balance club bangers and Death Grips influenced noise-rap like the aggressive team-up with Ab-Soul “Way Up Here,” when they can make the conflict between where they came from and where they are compelling, and when they can still make music on their own terms despite their success, they’re far from Old, they’re doing something radically and refreshingly new.

– Words by Nathan Leigh