Danny Brown mixes classic, innovative sounds on ‘Old’Posted on October 2, 2013 | by Peter Slattery
Since he started rapping as a child, 31-year-old Danny Brown’s rise to fame is a strange story. After announcing his third studio album in December 2012, he changed the name of the album at least once, performed at Coachella, flirted with Kathy Griffin, toured with Bauuer, headlined his own tour, appeared in an Insane Clown Posse video and won a mtvU Woodie Award. Finally, this week, Brown released his newest album, “Old.”
Much of “Old” hearkens back to his two previous albums “The Hybrid” and “XXX.” The first half of “Old” leans heavily toward a more “Hybrid”-sounding old-school vibe with tracks like “Gremlins” and “Torture.” The songs focus on the struggles of life in Detroit, feature gritty soul-sampling beats, with Brown using a deeper voice and simple flow. The second half of the album is far more electronic influenced, à la “XXX,” with ecstatic visions of drugs and women like “Smokin & Drinkin” and “Break It (Go),” which utilize electro-influenced beats mixed with Brown’s signature high-pitched yells.
Both his vintage and experimental songs have their high points. “The Return” rides a shuffling, G-funk beat with a fitting grimy verse from Freddie Gibbs for a haunting, blue-collar feel, while “Dip” is a stimulating, manic drug frenzy with a techno beat from frequent collaborator SKYWLKR. The dichotomy makes for an interesting mix of Brown’s violent reality and trippy drug abuse, but it’s the tracks on which Brown maintains some distance from his previous albums where he finds the most success. For instance, album highlight “Float On” features both a subtly old school and trap-influenced beat with beautiful vocal assists from Charli XCX, while Brown whispers an introspective verse.
Wherever it lands on the sonic spectrum of his work, “Old” contains some of Brown’s most thoughtful music yet. While there are many party songs, “Old” still does an excellent job of providing perspective. Embedded in his most euphoric jams about excess are references to regret and pain, while his songs about the harshness of life are sprinkled with bits of joy. Brown’s lyricism and flow remain idiosyncratic but practiced throughout. There’s humor here and there, but fans uninterested in Brown’s serious side probably won’t enjoy this album.
Even though tracks rarely exceed two or three minutes, a few of the songs from the latter half of the 19-song album should have been cut, as they do little to distinguish themselves. The short songs make the project a stimulating listen, but the downside of Brown allowing songs to feel like they write themselves lends a generally unfocused feeling to the album. “Old” is a cool, well-worded portrait of a man who has grown up tough, and is now trying to make the best of his life.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 2 print edition. Peter Slattery is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.