Published Oct 30, 2013Danny Brown is ready. After a decade of free releases, the Detroit rapper recently released his commercial debut, Old, at the ripe age of 32. Without discounting the reign of ancient rap stars 2 Chainz, Jay Z and Juicy J, 32 still constitutes near senescence in rap years.
Brown has come a long way from the D-town underground. He made his name with free mixtapes, spitting hilarious punch lines about guns, blunts and broads in a cartoonish yelp. His free 2010 studio album The Hybrid brought him to national attention, mixing profane jokes with thoughtful reflection on his environment.
According to Brown, Detroit produces great artists for lack of anything better to do. "Either you gonna do something productive with your time, or you going to do something that's going to get you in jail or in trouble. There's not too many options," he says.
In 2011, Brown signed with Fools Gold Records for XXX, his first label-backed project. The acclaimed gratis release thematically moved from stimulant-fuelled debauchery on its first half to introspective musings on hustling and growing up in gutted, poverty-stricken Detroit.
His retail debut album Old reverses this timeline, turning its narrative explicit by splitting the album into sides. All because he didn't do it on XXX. "If you look at it like my life, the beginning of side A of Old is the beginning, XXX is the middle, and side B would come after XXX," he explains. "So it's almost like I went back and in the future. XXX is the present, it's all about the present. Old is about the past, not necessarily the future but just modern. What I want to do with my life right now. I just want to have fun."
Side A vividly recalls his traumatic history over dusty loops while Brown tries and fails to party his past away over dubstep, EDM and grime on side B. "Side B (Dope Song)" unites both halves with a symbolic kiss-off to Brown's drug-dealing days over an epic trap beat supplied by EDM producer Rustie.
"I had no way to marry the shit together until I got the '[Side B] Dope Song' beat. Because the way the intro was, you didn't know what to expect," he says. "What album do you know that went from underground hip-hop to trap? In hip-hop, that's divided. And I was the guy to marry it together."
Old extends its storyline to include Edmonton electronica duo Purity Ring ("25 Bucks") and UK alt-pop singer Charli XCX ("Float On"). Brown had a plan to avoid the stench of A&R-mandated genre mashups. "I put them in my world instead of doing something that they do. I got Charli XCX singing about riding on 24s," he says.
Old is as well-written and as compellingly rapped as its predecessor but arrives even more deeply felt for its honest introspection on Brown's present and past. But more importantly, does his father like it? "In a sense, but it's a lotta shit he don't like. Like my dad probably likes Side A... he'll like Young Jeezy. He like hearing me talk that shit."