Danny Brown is a singularity. I’m also pretty sure he’s insane. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve never heard a rapper quite like him. This is a man who relishes in his own depravity, his music acting as expositional therapy sessions detailing a pretty serious pill problem, a particularly dark sexual appetite, and the inner-workings of a frantic, manically creative mind. Something interesting preceded XXX. On March 16th, 2011, Danny Brown turned 30. Danny had some questioning to do, certainly—30-years old is a landmark for anyone. But there was one question that kept nagging and nagging and nagging. What happens when a gangster rapper turns 30? Danny Brown wasn’t sure of the answer, so he created his own: They act out.
XXX is technically a mixtape (whatever the hell mixtape means anymore). 22-tracks clock in at just over an hour. The songs move at a rapid clip, coming and going as quickly as the squeal of Brown’s voice, all strangled yaps and yells. For as fast as XXX‘s tracks flip from one to the next, most of the beats sound like they’re stuck in sludge. A grimy-electro vibe dominates the soundscape, highlighted in tracks such as “Die Like A Rockstar,” which sounds like someone spilled maple syrup on a Daft Punk track. Brown apathetically exclaims “I got that Kurt Cobain kind of mind,” then proceeds to reference Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jimi Hendrix, Anna-Nicole Smith, River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy—scores and scores of celebrities whose lives were lost to drug addiction. Drugs populate Brown’s universe, both that of his music and his reality. There’s something to be said about this sort of candidness, as though Brown gets a kick out of making you uncomfortable by shoving these brutal truths in your face and not allowing you to turn away. In the track that follows, “Pac Blood,” Brown squawks in the quasi-chorus “Rhymes that make the Pope wanna get his dick sucked/Had Virgin Mary doing lines in the pick-up/Make Sarah Palin deepthroat till she hiccup.” Ladies and gentlemen, you are not in Kansas anymore. Welcome to Danny’s world.
And what a fascinating world it is. Brown has a unique way of starkly contrasting songs that play one after the other. The tongue-in-cheek “Adderall Admiral” (guess what that’s about) is followed by “DNA,” a song whose chorus rings “It’s in my D-N-A/’cause my fam likes to get fucked up the same way.” Both songs are delivered with the same degree of frankness, delivered as casually as a fact in a high school research paper. The next track, “Nosebleeds,” sees Brown chasing a darker vein, describing a woman’s cocaine addiction with the intimate knowledge only a fellow addict could impart. It’s an amazing artistic choice, this juxtaposition of jokey metaphor with the cruelty of addiction. But perhaps it isn’t a choice at all. Brown speaks with alarming directness, a means of communication that cuts through bullshit and gets to the point. It’s just who he is, unapologetically blunt. That’s not to say Brown’s songs can’t be layered and complex (quite the opposite), simply that he knows what he wants to say and he’s going to find a creative and easy way to say it.
The latter half of XXX sees Brown work out some demons. His family scraps metal for cash in a song which bastardizes Jeezy’s iconic “Trap Or Die” chorus (“Scrap Or Die”) and imitates the Motown sound of his hometown Detroit while taking an east-side/west-side roll call (“EWNESW”). Of all XXX‘s second-half gems, “30” is the culmination of the mixtape, both in theme and in spirit. No bar is squandered. Brown starts by boasting, “Sent ya bitch a dick pic and now she need glasses.” What follows are Brown’s hopes and fears, obstacles he’s faced and dreams for his future. “30” sees Brown at his most passionate, aggressively yelling lines like “Bitch I’m still up in this bitch” and “But I always tell myself that it’s gonna get better/You know who you is, you the greatest rapper ever.” He isn’t bragging—he’s encouraging. Danny Brown has lived many lives in his 30-years, and as he describes, “The thought of no success got a nigga chasing death/Doing all these drugs in hopes of OD’ing next, Triple X.” Brown, for all his panicked chirping and wrenching metaphors and penchant for violent imagery, craves success more than he craves life itself. He has to succeed—otherwise, what’s the point?
One line in “30” hits me harder than anything else on XXX: “I never learned to rap, always knew how/Ever since a nigga 8, knew what I would do now.” I don’t think there’s any intended reference to Danny Brown’s particularly rough childhood in Detroit or some other starry metaphor about life, no. I think it’s Danny Brown once again speaking his mind. This is what he’s known his whole life and he refuses to turn away from it. He’s going to describe every microbe to you, every tiny, ugly detail. And damn if anyone thinks they’re gonna change that.
Favorite tracks: “XXX,” “Die Like A Rockstar,” “Lie4,” “Monopoly,” “DNA,” “30”