At no point during Danny Brown’s critically acclaimed Atrocity Exhibition could he reasonably ask: uknowwhatimsayin? That’s because, frankly, very few people (if any) could relate to the disturbing drug-filled and deranged sex-obsessed trip he shared via his last album. What might be reality for Danny Brown is merely vicarious fantasy for the vast majority of his listeners. Atrocity Exhibition was a cringeworthy wild ride that was simultaneously jarring and thrilling; it was like the musical equivalent of a haunted house. And that’s why people loved it.
His new album is more definitively hip hop and indubitably more approachable. The neat haircut he shows off on the album cover foreshadows this relative return to musical sobriety. The title track, uknowhatimsayin¿, best showcases Danny Brown’s ability to make more casual music without sacrificing originality. The song is all about perseverance, and thanks to its wholesomeness it might be the only song in his discography that could be considered parent-approved. This radio-friendliness isn’t usually when Danny Brown’s at his best, but Paul White, Brown’s producer-in-crime, provides golden-age hip hop nostalgia behind the boards to accompany some life lessons Brown serves as lyrics – and it’s smashing.
Although the album is more moderate than Atrocity Exhibition or XXX, uknowhatimsayin¿ still delivers its fair share of vintage Danny Brown. Absurd and grotesque punchlines are plentiful, including an apology to his penis and a story about paying a prostitute with coins he was saving in his car that he had intended to use at the laundromat. The latter story comes from the lead single, Dirty Laundry, which was produced by the legendary A Tribe Called Quest member and hip hop icon Q-Tip. So yes, despite toning it down, the hilarious and hedonistic wackiness of Danny Brown is still front and center. But what makes this album great is how gracefully it conforms to and expands upon a traditional 90’s New York hip hop aesthetic. It’s proof that Brown doesn’t need to go insane to attract an audience.
The lineup of producers here is top-notch. Q-Tip executive-produced the album, as well as three individual songs, which include the two lead singles Dirty Laundry and Best Life. Q-Tip’s production style is known for its jazzy loops and soul samples, largely reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest’s signature New York beats from the early 90’s. The result is an overarching neo-soul influence across the album.
Paul White, Brown’s producer-in-crime, who almost exclusively produced Atrocity Exhibition, is another major contributor on the album, getting production credit for 6 songs. Emerging as one of the top producers in the genre, he remains a creative expert at making multi-dimensional and experimental beats. And then there’s rising star JPEGMAFIA who provides two beats, the all-time great El-P (who also puts down one of the best verses of the year), and a collaboration between contemporary funk masters Flying Lotus and Thundercat.
From a music perspective, Danny Brown woke up from the destructive hangover-inducing binge that took place on his last album, and has found the time to cherish how far he’s come. On the chorus of Best Life, his gratitude is front and center, as he mentions he’s ‘living his best life.’ While it remains unclear if he can do things like ‘talk a cat off the back of a fish truck,’ as he suggests in Combat, it is clear Danny Brown can make dazzling music that rivals the best in the genre. 🍑