More than three years after the release of his last album, Atrocity Exhibition, Detroit rapper Danny Brown dropped his newest project, uknowwhatimsayin¿ on Oct. 4 of this year.
At almost forty years old, what continues to separate Brown from other rappers is not only his distinct, high–pitched voice, but also his witty punchlines and storytelling skills. With 11 tracks and features from Run the Jewels, JPEGMAFIA, and Blood Orange, uknowwhatimsayin¿ is Danny Brown’s most succinct album.
Danny Brown’s style has evolved since the release of his first studio album, Hybrid, almost ten years ago. Even then, he was already 30 years old. While albums like XXX and Old were extremely fast paced, uknowwhatimsayin¿ is much more carefully curated, with Danny Brown’s personality teased through overlaid rap tracks on slower samples.
The new sophistication of his beats is largely attributed to the expertise of A Tribe Called Quest’s Q–Tip, who is the executive producer of the album. Artists Flying Lotus, Paul White, and Standing in the Corner were producers as well.
In an interview with Billboard, Brown said that enlisting Q–Tip was strategic because he wanted to change up his rapping formula. Q–Tip's old–school vibe is prevalent on uknowwhatimsayin¿, especially on his single, "Best Life," which was released two weeks before the album.
The album starts with a steady syncopated drum beat on the song “Change Up,” which already sets the tone for upcoming tracks. Danny Brown’s voice emerges from the rhythm, rapping “People thought I was gone, back from the grave / Mind of a master, blood of slave.” The cadence of his lyrics on the album is well–measured and poetic. Even on “3 Tears,” the featured artists Run the Jewels, El–P and Killer Mike are steady in their raps, with Brown coming in on the chorus saying “Two tears in a bucket / Fuck it, I don’t care about nothing, nothing.” The trio takes shots at Trump, rapping “I don’t give a fuck about Trump, who got Dump?”
The highlight of songs like "Theme Song" and “Shine,” are the versatile instrumentals. In "Shine," Devonteé Hynes, otherwise known as Blood Orange, perfectly complements the ominous synthesizers as he weaves in and out seamlessly, repeating the phrase “Break down, lock down, run up on a ball.” Meanwhile, in “Theme Song,” a shimmering string melody is played on a loop, grounding the track and taking the listener to a different place. Although the sample is minimal, Brown brings his own jittery energy to the track.
“Dirty Laundry,” following “Theme Song,” is also stripped down, grounded in an electronic video–game–esque loop. The track is painted with irony, as Brown recalls his racy public sex stories, from doing the “humpty hump in a Burger King bathroom” to going into a “peep show” booth over a seemingly innocent, stripped–down melody. Acting as one of his more playful songs, Brown reveals another side to his character with “Dirty Laundry.”
Unlike in Brown's previous albums, the tracks on uknowwhatimsayin¿ are much more comedic and politically charged, rather than an emotional journey through themes of depression and drug abuse.
From a musical standpoint, uknowwhatimsayin¿ is a perfect culmination of Danny Brown’s maturation as an artist. The album is still recognizable as Danny Brown, but distinct from his previous albums in its use of samples and melodic rhythms. uknowwhatimsayin¿ proves Brown’s ability to adapt to new styles, and provides a promising outlook for his future projects.