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REVIEW: Danny Brown – ‘uknowhatimsayin¿’ (Warp Records)


In a sentence:

Although perhaps not as cutting-edge as ‘Atrocity Exhibition’, ‘uknowhatimsayin¿’ is Danny Brown’s most consistent effort.

In the current scope of the hip-hop landscape the pacing of album releases is more frantic than ever. With such a saturation of the scene occurring we’ve become accustomed to a fast food era of rap where regularly amped releases, and in conjunction relevancy, dictates the success of a rapper’s career. Brutal and unrepentant, the artistic exploration of a rapper may be stunted in wake of a feverish fanbase. Despite this, there exists a portion of artists that can dwell and tamper with their art at the leisure of a reassured critic and fanbase. Danny Brown exists within this artistic sphere.

With always one foot firmly rooted in the alternative side of hip-hop, Danny Brown has often fronted punk-like attitudes tinged in deeper personal commentary and comedic endeavours. The dualism of Danny’s persona presented over his last couple of projects has seen the artist investigate the inner workings of Daniel Dewan Sewell put against the larger-than-life tales he’s endured.

READ MORE: An Introduction to Warp Records

With three years since his last effort, the brilliant Atrocity Exhibition, Danny has had time to widen his creative scope. From acting, to hosting a hit Viceland show called ‘Danny’s House’ as well as friendships with creatives outside hip-hop, most notably working with Jonah Hill and getting Dave Chappelle too high before a performance, the rapper has bolstered his already outlandish persona to include elements normally out of reach for most musicians.

On the lead single ‘Dirty Laundry’, Danny Brown flips a mundane household task into a story of bizarre sexual escapades interwoven between more sincere social commentary. Employing a slew of raunchy wordplay, highlights including fucking a stripper for a change-up in women but also paying her in change and using the Arm and Hammer cleaning brand to simultaneously infer the process of chopping up bricks, Danny brings you into a world without structure or normality. During this track his persona reaches its most flamboyant, as Danny’s exploits, which in the past have included having “licked the clit” of a woman making her “do the macarena” become almost absurdist in nature. Over weird calls, bouncy bass and sludgy drums produced by Q-Tip (a relationship established by Brown’s mentor Ali Shaheed), the song reflects its video in feeling like a crazed tour ride with an urban legend.

Music video for ‘Dirty Laundry’

Though this theme comedic theme is still quite central in songs like ‘Best Life’ where Danny details why he isn’t cautious in life over a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place in the background of a ‘50s suburban sitcom or the triumphant, roaring guitar loops on ‘Savage Nomad’ where his bars are so sweet they dole out “tooth decay”, we also see Danny in a more matured place in his career.

The first two songs highlight the events that make up Danny Brown. From battles with the ‘devil and angel’ on his shoulders to finding himself “on a beat” on ‘Change Up’ to becoming a “devil” himself and asserting his dominance on the game on ‘Theme Song’, Danny paints hardened ideals which no longer effect his punk attitudes. Both songs also play on the dualism of his nature he normally projects through their mellow and leisurely tones.  The refrain on ‘Theme Song’ also comes of interest. Where other middle generation contemporaries like J. Cole have tried to educate the newer school of rappers on songs like ‘1985’, Danny brazenly ridicules what he sees as their short-lived success. Vetted in the rap game, he has little time for those he believes aren’t serious in their craft. A notable change that seems to have come with this redefined view is an absence of the trademark yelpiness Danny Brown has become known for. Traditionally used for rowdier topics, he uses a more serious tone in general onuknowhatimsayin¿.

On jazzy stomper ‘Combat’, Danny raps us through the grinding and the gritty street narratives the slick talker was built by.  He goes on to the warnings of being in this “combat zone” which include seeing horrors similar to Wes Craven’s works. On the title track, ‘uknowhatimsayin¿’, he uses these tones to project a loose kind of philosophy. Using the title as a response, Danny raps about various troubling situations that should be powered through. Relatable for the most part, the ‘you get me’ sentiment is very much apparent.

Music video for ‘3 Tearz’

Another aspect on the project that’s notable are its guest features. On ‘3 Tearz’, El-P and Killer Mike match and almost outshine Danny’s punk bravado. From enduring a troubled childhood to giving death a rough ride, El-P’s apathy is unparalleled. Killer Mike then rounds the song off with a no-bars-held onslaught of celebratory so whats. The chorus, a reference to George Clinton in House Party, works well as a continuation of this so what mentality. Obangjayar helps create moments of elevation especially on ‘Belly Of The Beast’ where he adds a sense of empowerment to the already spiritual and otherworldly beat. Contributions from JPEGMAFIA and Blood Orange also help the project venture into soundscapes not normally associated with the rapper.

With top tier wordplay, colourful production and a wide range of outlooks that reflect the off the wall mentalities of Danny Brown, uknowhatimsayin¿ stands as one of his most consistent and best efforts. Though not as experimental as Atrocity Exhibition or memorable as XXX, the multi-dimensional feel of this album makes it a clear standout in contemporary hip-hop. (9/10) (Daniel Antunes)

Listen to uknowhatimsayin¿ by Danny Brown here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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