Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s “Old” — the newly released follow-up to his breakout 2011 opus of drugs, sex and desperation, “XXX”— has a double meaning to its title.
On one hand it refers to his age and unconventional career arc, only rapping “seriously” since 2007 after serving jail time for charges caught while selling drugs as a teen, and being 30 years old when “XXX” dropped. On the other, it’s a shot at the former fans and rap nerds decrying his post-”XXX” shift in sound from more gritty dopeman narratives to electronic-leaning, molly-popping party rap.
In true hybrid (and old-head) fashion, “Old” is divided into two “sides.” The first finds Brown recounting horrors of his former life selling drugs in one of the country’s toughest, coldest, most impoverished cities over slightly — but only slightly — traditional beats. The second, starting with Rustie-produced “Side B [Dope Song],” is a turnt-up, “trap”d-out, festival-and-club-ready vortex of MDMA and fast women.Though both sides might not appeal to every listener, in terms of lyrics, cadence, voice control, overall creativity and beat selection, there’s no denying that Brown can do multiple styles better than most rappers can do one.
For the first time, at least on his records, Danny Brown seems to be somewhat content with his place in rap. As he taunts in the chorus to “Side A [Old],” Brown says, “They want that old Danny Brown/ To bag up and sell a whole pound/ Might have to go and get my braids back/ Matter fact, go and bring them A.K.’s back.”
Understandably, “they” are the only ones who probably want this – as for Brown no amount of “artistic integrity” seems worth giving up rapping on stages around the world and doing designer drugs (and plenty of other graphically-detailed acts) with legions of ladies to go back to the kind of horrors he describes in the album’s first half (and on much of his older material). And though his music is still as raw and unhinged as ever, it no longer possesses a dark, underlying death wish.