Vince Carter is forty-two years old and has been in the NBA mainstay since 1998. (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s twenty-one going on twenty-two seasons, an all-time league record.) He’s an old man still making waves in a young man’s game. Carter has perfectly transitioned from his high-flying acrobatic style of play, defined by insane slam dunks, to a mentor and a sharpshooter. He’s twentieth on the all-time scoring list, sixth on the all-time 3-point field goals made list and fifth on the all-time games played list (1,477 games and still going!).
Here’s another fun fact: Danny Brown is thirty-eight years old and has only been in the rap scene since 2010, when he released his first solo album The Hybrid (for those of you keeping track at home, that’s a mere nine years. As a reference, Schoolboy Q, age 32 and Danny’s friend and collaborator, has been signed to TDE since 2009). He’s an old man who has only recently started making serious waves in today’s rap game. However, in that brief time, he’s released a critically-lauded and fan-adored mixtape XXX, a commercially and critically successful album Old and a critical darling and experimental strung-out rap masterpiece Atrocity Exhibition.
Somehow, Danny Brown continues to make some of the most inventive music of any mainstream artist today. He’s constantly changing aspects of his sound and selecting beats that would make other rappers wince. Yet, for some reason, he decided to go back to basics with his latest release uknowhatimsayin¿. That is, he’s going back to his basics.
On uknowhatimsayin¿, Danny Brown finds himself doing what he does best: rapping. Gone (mostly) is the yelp of a voice that he’s known for, and in its place is a new, low register growl. Gone too are the challenging, abstract Paul White beats that have defined Brown’s music for the past few years. Paul White is still around as Danny’s main producer, but he gets some help from the likes of Flying Lotus, Standing on the Corner and the legendary Q-Tip, who also serves as the album’s executive producer. He’s rapping for the sake of rapping, and that’s a beautiful thing because he’s damn good at it.
Danny comes out the gates swinging with “Change Up,” a murky track highlighted by pulsing drum breaks and multiple guitar licks. It would be a subdued song for a lot of rappers, but for him, it’s really subdued. It doesn’t matter though, because he still raps his ass off, spitting ominous, jarring things like, “They thought I was gone, back from the grave / Mind of a master, blood of a slave” and “Lord, have mercy, pray for me / Need to calm down, so pass me weed / Got me stressed out, situation looking bleak / Time’s runnin out, how’d my days turn to weeks?”
Despite the bleak opener, uknowhatimsayin¿ might be Danny Brown’s most vibrant sounding album yet. The beats are absolutely wild, the most prominent example being the JPEGMAFIA-produced “3 Tearz.” The track is a modern take on boom-bap, defined by organ blasts, fat drums and strange bursts of abstract noise. The production throughout is a blast, to say the least.
Most importantly, Danny is having fun on this album, making it a joy to listen to, and at 33 minutes in length, it begs for repeat listens. His rapping is loose, but he’s always in control, never straying far from each beat’s pocket. uknowhatimsayin¿ is filled with little tidbits, including a quick shout out to Pat Benatar and a reference to Elvis Presley’s supposed death on the toilet. It’s the first album in his discography in which listeners don’t have to be worried about Danny’s well-being; he just sounds like he’s in good health and good spirits.
Despite his turn away from experimentalism, uknowhatimsayin¿ has cemented Danny Brown’s status as a legendary figure in hip hop. He’s making the music he wants to make, and he’s not compromising his artistic vision for the sake of commercial success. This album marks a new era in Danny’s life. He’s making music that accurately represents who he is, and he should. As he says in “Best Life,” “‘Cause ain’t no next life, so now I’m tryna live my best life / I’m livin’ my best life,” and uknowhatimsayin¿ is a good representation of that.