In about two years, Danny Brown — the Detroit rapper known for his crazy hair, skinny jeans and the wide gap between his front teeth — went from a relative unknown to one of the most exciting and talked-about rappers. Brown initially made waves with his 2011 mixtape XXX, which showcased a high-pitched rapping style and a highly proficient lyrical dexterity alongside subject matter that would probably make parents blush. He followed this with features on tracks by A$AP Rocky and El-P, as well as with electronic dance music-style party singles that made him a favorite act at festivals.
Old, Brown’s first proper album, is a varied collection that improves on its predecessor in nearly every way. The album is smartly split in half between Side A, filled with hard-hitting, personal tracks that fans of old school hip-hop will love, and Side B, which contains nine electrifying jams that will be perfect for the next party.
Of the two sides, the first half contains the more impressive traditional rap songs. On standout tracks such as “Lonely” and “Torture,” Brown lowers the pitch of his voice, slows down the tempo and tells harrowing stories of his former days on the streets selling drugs. Other highlights include “25 Bucks,” another dark and personal rap that features production and vocals from Purity Ring, making for a highly innovative and effective pairing. There are still songs about drugs and women here, but for the most part, Side A is a highly functional showcase of Brown’s rap prowess.
Given that, it’s the second half that provides the most fun and memorable moments. Singles including “Dip” and “Kush Coma,” featuring A$AP Rocky, find Brown showing off his quick tongue as he fluidly and swiftly raps over heavy electronic dance beats.
The best tracks on Side B, “Dope Song” and “Break It (Go),” come from his team-up with the Scottish rap producer Rustie. Brown easily out-raps his peers over intensely rubbery beats that outshine most modern electronic dance music. His stories of sex and drugs are particularly explicit here, and are definitely not for those easily offended by vulgar subject matter.
As a whole, Old is a triumph of a record that showcases Brown’s natural talent, charisma and versatility. Out of 19 tracks, there are probably 10 that could be singles or make a year-end list, an accomplishment for any type of album. People may not know a great deal about him yet, but Brown just put out the most innovative and one of the best rap albums of 2013.