Danny Brown – Uknowhatimsayin¿
Danny Brown October 24, 2019
By: Logan Flesch
Danny Brown is an outsider in hip-hop. Though he has had a critically successful career dating back to his 2011 break-out project, The Hybrid, he has rarely seen commercial success. His highest charting album to date is 2013’s Old, which peaked at 18 and only held a position on the Billboard 200 for two weeks. It’s not like Danny has intentionally distanced himself from popular hip-hop artists; he’s collaborated with big names like Mac Miller, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem. However, Danny’s career is significantly different than the careers of the listed collaborators: Danny is not signed to a major label. Without the overwhelming marketing resources and connections afforded to the big names, Danny has not been able to find a foothold in the mainstream market. That’s not to say that Danny’s music isn’t fantastic, three years later and I still play Atrocity Exhibition routinely. “Really Doe”, a posse-cut featuring Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and Ab-Soul, is one of my favorite songs from 2016. And who could dislike Danny rhyming about adolescent mischief over a laid-back beat in “Grown Up”? As great as this art has been, standing the test of time, it hasn’t been exceptionally profitable. In 2018, Danny revealed that he went into debt after spending over $70,000 on samples for Atrocity Exhibition. The logical question to ask after hearing that news is, “will Danny change his style to make money?” Danny’s answer? “Never look back, I will never change up.”
Uknowhatimsayin¿ is the fifth studio album from the thirty-eight-year-old Detroit native. The album consists of eleven tracks and clocks in at just under thirty-four minutes. When I originally read that album was a half hour long, I was disappointed. I’m typically a believer that a great album that warrants multiple playthroughs falls in the forty-five minutes to hour long timeslot. Boy was I wrong. Danny managed to keep me on the edge of my seat for every second of the album, but the shorter runtime allowed me to keep the album on repeat without it feeling like a chore to get through all of the tracks. Uknowhatimsayin¿ deserves to be listened through at least twice by every listener before they dismiss it because it isn’t “their style of music.” I have been listening to the album at the gym, walking to class, and just chilling at home. This album fits every one of these settings with ease.
The physical transformation of Danny Brown from having a chipped front tooth and half-shaved head to a clean-cut guy with fixed teeth reflects much of his musical growth from Old to Atrocity Exhibition to uknowhatimsayin¿. Danny doesn’t go off on tangents about drug addiction and dope sickness over noisy, industrial beats now. There are still plenty of drug references in this album, but Danny seems to be in a much better space mentally than when he was working on Atrocity Exhibition. This album is much more mature, a refined piece of work where Brown seems to be at peace with position in the hip-hop sphere. Danny remains a fantastic player in the alternative/experimental hip-hop scene. Whereas artists like Death Grips and JPEGMAFIA can dismissed as “noise rap” or “internet rap,” Danny Brown can be enjoyed by hip-hop purists and experimentalists alike.
I don’t want to reduce Danny to a punchline rapper, his flow is ridiculous on most of these tracks, but these are the bars where he really shines on this album. Known for off-the-wall lyrics, Danny exceeds his fans expectations. Take the beginning of “Negro Spiritual”: “I’m on par like Tiger with two white broads, off three xanax, drunk driving in the rental car.” Or how about “Savage Nomad”: “I ignore a wh*re like an email from LinkedIn.” Now, when have you ever heard a rapper reference the top professional networking site? Especially when the verse is comparing a message from a woman to spam mail from said networking site. The album is filled with gems like these.
If I could only say one thing about this project, I’d say that Brown’s collaborators are top-tier and they come together to create an even better record. Here’s a shortlist of artists making guest appearances on the album: Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, JPEGMAFIA (production and vocals), Blood Orange, and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. Every feature and production credit on this album feels calculated. Danny didn’t go out and get a Travis Scott feature so he could have a hit single to sell more records, he worked closely with artists that have similar styles and/or backgrounds in the hopes that he would have a cohesive project that resonated with his fan base. The result is an amazing project with bounce, intricate flow and wordplay, unreal production, and punchlines that make you grimace. Go listen to this album.
Favorite Songs: “Negro Spiritual”, “Theme Song”, “Combat”