Way back when, I snoozed on Danny Brown. Prior to his Atrocity Exhibition album, he was just a name to me. He was that druggy dude with the perm and missing tooth. What a mistake that was. Because his 2012 record XXX is now one of my all-time favorite rap projects. Due to his brash and vulgar lyrics, and adventurous beat choices, Danny Brown separated himself from the pack. His ability to weave in and out of multiple vocal styles impresses me with each subsequent listen. He broke the mold at age 30, birthing a new era of grimy, aggressive hip-hop. I’m all for it, though many newcomers fail to reach the standard Danny set. Three long years have passed since Atrocity Exhibition dropped. Like many others, I heavily anticipated October 4th, 2019. Legendary emcee Q-Tip executive produces uknowhatimsayin¿, which, needless to say, perpetuated my excitement. Finally, it arrives.
Starting things off is “Change Up.” This was one of the few tracks here that I dug immediately. The smooth atmosphere subverted my expectations. While Danny Brown is no stranger to cooled-down, introspective tracks, I thought he would start with something punchier. “Change Up” sets a bleek tone, which doesn’t necessarily help listeners gauge what’s to come. Although I did enjoy the dusty drums and swirling organ elements, this opener became less impactful with multiple listens. On the contrary, “Theme Song” grew on me the more I heard it. I’m still not crazy about the hook but at least it has some humor to it. A$AP Ferg lends his signature howls and “Yeah!” ad-libs in the background. That was a nice touch, I must say. Here we find an irritable Danny, one who raps from his high horse, shaming rookie rappers for their lack of respect for their predecessors.
This side of Brown seldom shows. In a serious manner, that is. Respect is the only tangible theme emitting from this dialed-back offering. Danny wants everyone to know that he has paid his dues. And he most certainly has. He’s been through hell — poverty, prison, poisonous substances. It’s time to ante up, according to him. Looking at him now is quite shocking if you’re familiar with his career up to this point. He looks like a regular dude. He has his own TV show on VICELAND, Danny’s House, and is more marketable than ever before. Mogul mode is in full effect. Y’all should know how I feel about this school of thought from my Post Malone review. Yet Danny’s transition feels natural. He’s damn-near 40 years old; he deserves to gloat just a bit. Nevertheless, as a whole, this album, though undeniably well-made, is a slight disappointment for me.
Despite repeat-worthy tracks such as “Negro Spiritual” with JPEGMAFIA and the single “Best Life,” Brown left me somewhat bored. As I stated, this album checks all the boxes in terms of quality craftsmanship. The beats mostly complement Danny’s rap style, the guests all perform well, layers of contemplation and yesteryear storytelling run to and fro. However, time and time again this album washed over my ears without really hitting my soul. Essentially, everything here is good, but not great. None of the tracks should have been removed, in my opinion. They simply should have been taken to the next level. An air of passivity lives within uknowhatimsayin¿ that I never thought could be on a Danny Brown album. Usually he is an extremely visceral artist, whose love-it-or-hate-it aesthetic forces listeners to form an opinion. Here, conversely, he presents his most functional album yet, choosing agreeableness over idiosyncrasy.