By the time Danny Brown’s third studio album, Old, came around, he was already fielding suggestions from fans and peers that he should return to his original form. “They want that Old Danny Brown/ To bag up and sell a whole pound/ Might have to go and bring the braids back” he raps viciously over a gutter boom-bap instrumental on 2013’s “Side A.” The follow-up Atrocity Exhibition, was even more daring production-wise but even as he pushed the boundaries with maniacal psychedelia, he never compromised his pen nor the fundamentals of hip-hop.
Q-Tip, however, forced Danny Brown into his original form on the Detroit rapper’s fifth studio album, Uknowhatimsayin¿. Danny Brown doesn’t stray away from the obscure samples and electronic influence per se, but with Q-Tip serving as the executive producer of the project, Danny’s focus is solely on rapping while the ATCQ member found a middle-ground between his own unorthodox approach to jazz-based production and Danny Brown’s penchant for obscurity. Danny’s always been a student of the game, first and foremost. As much as he’s been championed for his left-field approach, he’s littered breadcrumbs of a hip-hop purist through his penmanship. Q-Tip’s assistance on this project makes Danny’s vision as a writer on uknowhatimsayin¿ effortlessly clear.
Danny’s carefully witted punchlines and sense of dark humor mixed with social commentary and vulnerable lyrics makes Uknowhatimsayin¿ feel like a culmination of all of the work he’s put in over the past twelve years, and then some. The stories that were once told from a first-person perspective — his days in the trap to his drug-fueled sexcapades — are recounted with bits of humor and charm that only he could pull off. His penmanship is better, his storytelling is tighter, and his punchlines still draws from ridiculous pop culture references like when he pays homage to Lil B and Roy Orbison in the same breath on “Savage Nomad.”
Returning to the fundamentals of art doesn’t mean Danny Brown comfortable. He even admitted to us in our recent interview that he had to re-learn how to rap, in a sense. However, he isn’t playing it safe more so than he emits confidence, rapping as he kicks his feet up and looking back on the darker days with a grin. There’s a comfort in the tone of his voice, even as he stretches it, something that wasn’t present on previous projects. “Came from the sewer where hot dogs were boiled/ Up in the same spot, unc’ cooked the rock,” he raps poetically on “Best Life,” the second single released off of Uknowhatimsayin¿ Q-Tip’s dreamy soul sample sits above a grimy bassline. Danny gruff voice heard from The Hybrid returns as he reflects on losing his childhood purity to the streets, admitting, “Jumpin’ off the porch, really, I wasn’t ready for it.”
Even as Danny inches towards the age of 40, nearly a decade after breaking out with XXX, he sounds at ease telling these stories in the form of lessons learned rather than regrets. He’s rubbed shoulders with comedians like Joey Diaz and Hannibal Burress in the three-year gap since his last album, and, as a master of punchlines, he’s refined his timing and cadences to embrace a stand-up approach to his storytelling. When he defecates on the new generation of rappers, claiming his title as hip-hop’s quintessential oddball, he cracks a dad joke with crude humor simultaneously. “Yeah he dance good, but guess where he got the moves?/ But compared to me, he look like he wear two left shoes/ Boy, I treat them lil’ virgins like the restroom/ Take my hand and dance with the devil,” he raps on “Theme Song.”
Each album marks a new era in Danny Brown’s career — both in his look and in his sound. Uknowhatimsayin¿ isn’t about Danny Brown reinventing himself or his sound in any way. Q-Tip’s consistency since the 90s has made him one of the most trustworthy producers and rappers in hip-hop. So, who better than to guide Danny Brown back to his roots as an MC? With Tip driving the boat, Danny Brown finds himself returning to his original form with wisdom, humor, and comfort.