Danny Brown - Old | Album Review | By Volume

The kid that went down isn't dead; he just can't find his phone. The Hold Steady - Almost Everything
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Danny Brown

Old

“I’ll not get old if I dig with my knees, if I grind on my teeth.”

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Author: on October 7, 2013
9.5
Fool's Gold
October 8, 2013

Well, maybe the bird…the bird sleeping inside each of us, will rise up.

The above quote is roughly translated from the intro of “Lonely”, a primo cut from Danny Brown’s exceptional new album Old. I couldn’t find the source of the sample for the life of me, I imagine it’s some obscure old film or song, but that line, delivered in French, is worth talking about. Perhaps more so than any of the deeply pensive lyrics scattered throughout Old, these words seem to fully encompass the message of the album and yet it is hidden from casual listeners by being in another language. It’s almost as if Danny Brown feels like his fans ought to do some real digging if they want to arrive at this hopeful metaphor for life’s struggle, as he did himself during his years living in poverty and addiction. It’s more optimistic than virtually all of his own lyrics and yet it seems to come from the same place as most of the twisted thoughts typically found within Brown’s bi-polar catalogue of songs. These exact words, translated through the mind of a successful rapper that rose from the ashes of a crime filled life on the cold streets of Detroit, would read something like this excerpt from “Red 2 Go”: “So I got my ass up, fuck dependin on luck / Greyhound to New York about three-hundred bucks / Kept my hopes up but my confidence was low / Now my self-esteem is astral, lookin at this cash flow.” It’s a bit less poetic than the soft-spoken words of the anonymous French woman, but it paints a picture of Brown’s realization of his dreams. It’s more along the lines of the narrative common throughout a lot of rap: the drug-dealer-turned-superstar, rags-to-riches story that we all know so well, but the message is identical: the struggle lasts only as long as the individual lets their demons control their life, as long as the bird is kept in its cage.

On Side B, he takes us off the deep end into his world of over-indulgent success. Danny Brown goes off the rails here, describing his life of luxury and endless drugs. Blunts are smoked and molly is popped as he paints the picture of his rockstar lifestyle. It’s a non-stop party which holds its guests captive, an endless spiral of mind-bending bass and huge beats. There’s another point in Brown’s favour: just as the nostalgic lyrics of the album’s first half were matched by production that recalled his early days, the tone set by his hedonistic rhymes on the second half of the album is wonderfully matched by obtrusive, larger-than-life beats and face-melting bass. The best example of this is the track “Smokin and Drinkin” which pairs an assault of deep bass and an ass-shaking groove with lines like: “I don’t know what y’all be thinking / Spaced out, rolling up that stinky / Big big blunts the size of pinkies / Pour one out, we still be leaning.” But amongst all this madness lie flickers of the thoughtful Danny Brown. He drops the nasally delivery, if only for a moment, a signal that something serious is about to be said, and shouts  “Stress party, get away, hope that these problems just go away / Right there in my face, I ignore it every day.” Nearly all of Side B plays out this way, each track more of a bonafide banger than the last, so that by the time we get to “Kush Coma”, the indulgence begins to become overwhelming. It is here that the thoughtful Danny Brown returns for more than just a fleeting moment, in a track which brings his excessive lifestyle into focus and analysis. On the surface, this song could be heard as yet another chapter in the story of Brown’s excess, its hook proclaiming: I am in a kush coma, multiple times in a row.

But with some deeper listening, it becomes apparent that this song is something of a plea for help. He realizes that drugs can’t get to the root of his problems, his demons are still ever-present — “Gotta get away from all this bullshit in my way / Knowin goddamn well when the high go away / Same shit gonna be still in my way /  I’m a slave to the icky icky / So nigga roll something with me / Been smoking blunts since high school / Now look at all the bullshit I been through.” The final track, much like XXX’s closing number, brings us full circle, and re-introduces us to the calm, collected philosopher attempting to piece his life together. “Float On” is a sombre track delivered in such a serious vocal tone that I didn’t believe it was Danny Brown rapping the first verse until I re-listened a number of times. XXX closed with a rushed cry, a plea from someone chasing death and desperately afraid of failure. Remember the final lyrics of “30”:  “The last ten years I’ve been so fucking stressed / tears in my eyes let me get this off my chest / The thoughts of no success got a nigga chasin death / doin all these drugs, hope I’m OD-ing next, triple X.” This  time around, it seems he has matured, if only to the point that he is no longer naively afraid of the unknown, instead content to let the chips fall where they may during Old’s final moments: “And no matter how it gets, I hold on. / Rollin up this dope to cope I float on.

The album as a whole can only be seen as the complete package. The two halves of Old will please fans old and new as it pays homage to his roots. Side A, sounding more similar to The Hybrid than it does to XXX and still manages to expand on that record’s experimental sounds thanks to Side B in which this new and loud Danny Brown is let out of his cage while  futuristic bass-heavy beats explode from the speakers. With Old, Danny has delivered the soundtrack to both a sweaty late-night party and a quiet night in alone with one’s thoughts. It evokes emotions on both extremes of the spectrum and yet skilfully brings it all together into one shockingly relatable piece of self-exploration. Though our backgrounds may be different, Brown struggles with the same human fears that we all do. He is driven by his dread of growing old before he has made his mark on this world, before he has lived up to his true potential. Whether you make your living as a crack dealer or an investment banker, this is something that we all think about and stress over. And that’s precisely why Old is such a wonderful piece of art: because it makes you see the human connection that we share with all walks of life. Perhaps that’s why Danny Brown has Megan Jones of Purity Ring (an artist seemingly in a completely different world) deliver one of the albums most relatable lines on “25 Bucks”, and one that embodies the ethos of the album wholly: “I’ll not get old if I dig with my knees, if I grind on my teeth.” We’re all growing old, getting closer to death every second. This is a sobering truth, and it’s one that we can all be scared of together.

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