Danny Brown – XXX (REVIEW)

August 17, 2011 5 comments


Danny Brown “XXX” by foolsgoldrecs

Danny Brown will not be ignored! Not on his own song, at least. Casual hip-hop listeners have been lulled into a state of sedation lately thanks to too-cool-for-the-room, barely there MC’s half-stepping through tracks. From sweet talking crooners like Drake, to the habitually inebriated delivery of Lil Wayne, to someone I actually enjoy, Curren$y, the human Quaalude; rap has been inundated with artists who seem to embrace their assumed state of intoxication with a listlessness that almost makes you want to hit up your nearest methadone clinic upon first listen. Danny Brown, on the other hand, raps with the feverish mirth of a man three hits into his second Jeffrey, threatening to pull an ODB at the Grammy’s on the entire rap game any moment now… And it’s an absolute pleasure to witness.


Fool’s Gold, the independent label founded by DJ A-Trak, and distributor of high-profile singles ranging from Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘N Night” to early Cool Kids mixtapes, is where we find Detroit’s own Danny Brown. It’s been a long time coming for the arrival at Brown’s new home. At 30, Danny has been trying, and failing, to sell his niche of eccentric, helium-voiced street anthems for nearly a decade now. He’s seen a promising link-up with G-Unit records go awry (reportedly because of his infamously tight jeans and luxurious mane), a resurrection in hype following last years The Hybrid, and the topic of discussion today, a very public drug addiction.

XXX (a play on Roman numerals to signify Brown’s age) doesn’t shy away from that narcotics dependency at all. In many ways, Danny Brown makes it his personal plea to show you every possible side of drug use, and abuse. No more apparent is that then on “Die Like A Rockstar”, a namedrop-athon that achieves Game-quota, paying homage to some of the music industry’s most storied-about fallen victims of the lifestyle. “Basquiat freestyle/feeling like Jimi Hendrix and Anna Nicole mouth/River Phoenix, 93, VIP/with some drugged up porn stars all around me”, Brown snarls over a sinister beat that accentuates the imagery while never burying Danny’s voice.

That voice, of course, is what ties a lot of this album’s subject matter — that of which would typically be difficult to bring light to given its stark connotation and recent attention — into one cohesive venture. I find myself drawing comparisons to the animated articulation of Dizzie Rascal, mixed with an early 90’s squeal, akin to Ahmad or Slim Kid 3 of The Pharcyde. All of this, though, is wrapped in a distinctly Detroit wordsmith, compound-syllable phrasing that recalls some of the hometown legends that frequently passed through places like 7 Mile’s the Hip Hop Shop. I’m not going to ignore the fact that Brown’s vocals take some getting used to, but you’d be remiss not to put that aside when it comes to the journey XXX takes you on.

What I love most about this album (mixtape may be more accurate, but so be it, I’d pay money for this) is exemplified with the snide, one-off ode to commercial rap, “Radio Song”. Amidst a tapping metronome drum kit, bolstered with the type of bass and keyboard accents that, ironically, could probably land Brown on your local radio station; lyrics condemning rappers who play strictly to the needs and desires of record labels and trends shows where Danny gets his aberrant disposition from. What I love even more is that he’ll follow a song as satirically poignant as that with a Lex Luger reminiscent, braggadocios banger like “Lie4″ without missing a beat.

Speaking of beats, these aren’t the slow riding, sample leaning grooves of The Hybrid. These instrumentals, ranging everywhere from in house conductor Skywlkr, to the UK’s Paul White, to Odd Future public enemy #1 Brandun Deshay, bang like what I can only assume Rick Ross grunts to in his sleep. “Bruiser Brigade”, featuring a pure shit-talking verse from Dopehead, goes as far as incorporating Waka Flocka’s “Bow” chants. “Blunt After Blunt” sounds like a late night, lean influenced creep through some of the most foreclosed properties in The D. And closer “30” blares with sporadic horns that layer so densely over each other that you almost feel sympathetic for anyone who has to rap through them. Brown handles it, though. Even if he has to shout at the top of his smoke brazed lungs.

In conjunction with the harder tracks are some more easily ingested indulgences. “I Will” is Danny’s admission that, when it comes to women, “what he won’t do” he has no problem substituting for. Airy interludes like “Outer Space”, “Nosebleeds” and “Adderall Admiral” push the drug-riddled, malcontent character that Danny plays so well while showcasing his potent slow flow on the latter: “Eating on the Adderall/wash it down with alcohol/writing Holy mackerel, actual or factual/Out for the capitol. Matador your capsules/Hassle the bitch in a castle with ill grapples”. If ever there were more subtle syntax. But, as dizzying and convoluted as Brown can get with his rhymes, he’s never as out of control as he may convey himself to be. “Party All The Time”, a title that suggests something more like this, is actually a sullen and somber biography of a young female caught up in the lifestyle that Brown portrays so vividly. It’s a genuine moment right when you thought there might not be a human under all of those pills, powder, and buds.

If you were to tell me, with no prior knowledge to the contrary, that Danny Brown was a Detroit MC (and showed me this picture), I’d probably have my doubts. There are no overt shout outs (“Detroit 187″ acknowledged) and, more noteworthy, no big Detroit names like Black Milk, Gulty Simpson or Finale. XXX is an insular record with personal tales of reckless behavior and revealing confessions. And that comes with the territory with Brown. He’s not indebted to his city in the same way that Eminem or Elzhi are. Danny Brown is indebted to his work ethic, his individuality, and the way he expresses those things. One of those ways is rapping circles around nearly every MC today. Another way is popping a half tab of Ex, downing a round of shots, hitting a blunt, snorting a bump of coke, and seeing where the night takes him. You may not get the full brunt of where he’s coming from, but I can guarantee you’ll catch a contact high.

9.1/10