Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Danny Brown

  • XXX [Fool's Gold, 2011] ***
  • XXX [Fool's Gold, 2011] A-
  • The Hybrid (Deluxe Edition) [Hybrid Music, 2011] ***
  • Old [Fool's Gold, 2013] A-
  • Atrocity Exhibition [Warp, 2016] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

XXX [Fool's Gold, 2011]
"No apologies/For the misogyny," although students of the class system and serious cunnilingus fans might forgive him anyway ("Scrap or Die," "I Will") ***

XXX [Fool's Gold, 2011]
"It's the Adderall admiral writing holy mackerel/Your bitch say my dick long like the strap on a satchel/I took me a capsule with no hassle/Now it's like I dip feathers of ink in a castle." For Brown, these lines are subaverage. But they were playing when I decided to describe his writing, and instantly I realized that his subaverage was 90th percentile at least--vocabulary like "satchel," vernacular like "holy mackerel," arcana like the quill pen, six off-rhymes in four lines, the news that he spun them off on speed. Also, he raps in at least two voices--one higher than his Detroit homeboy Shady's, one so street-manly he sounds like someone else. By changing up the usual fatalistic dope-fiend hedonism with new verbiage and situations--I direct sex fiends to the cunt-lapping relish of "I Will"--Brown's first proper album means to show us he's got a right to "Die Like a Rockstar," meaning rich, high, and verging on bored. But two-thirds in it suddenly turns as bleak as his ruined city. "DNA" blames not his father but his father's genes. A two-song sequence frames the downhill choices of a middle-class groupie as the tragedy they are. And the social-realist "Scrap or Die" gives us the dirt on the hood's heaviest junk--scrap metal stripped from condemned buildings. A-

The Hybrid (Deluxe Edition) [Hybrid Music, 2011]
The cadences and dope tales too pat, the joys of fressing generics and jacking sunglasses far from it ("Thank God," "Cartier," "Guitar Solo") ***

Old [Fool's Gold, 2013]
"They want the old Danny Brown," begins "Side A (Old)." So he executes a straight street-dealing rhyme like the ex-con he is, tells us how seven-year-old Danny got stomped by fiends on a trip to the store, and pairs off two lookbacks as convincing as anything in the hood-life literature--"25 Bucks," where his mom braids hair on the stairs for their supper, only then there's "Torture," where one fiend beats another with a hammer and another has pit bulls loosed on her pussy. "Side B (Dope Song)" begins with his very last, yeah sure, dope song before dealing up some of hip-hop's most detailed porn--Brown is the rare rapper for whom sex is about pleasure not power, flesh not hot air. But the climax is "Kush Coma," which is about what it says it's about and rides an eerie synth sustain to prove it. And the clincher is Ab-Soul's cameo on "Way Up Here," because Ab-Soul is a top-tier rapper who in this context you barely notice. That's how musical Brown's flow has become since the sing-song boilerplate he started out with. A-

Atrocity Exhibition [Warp, 2016]
Brown has reached the point where success deadens more than it animates, conspicuous consumption turns trope turns bore, and copping to your "downward spiral" loses its pedagogical mojo. He's still plenty clever, but saying "Some people say I think too much/I don't think they think enough" only begins to prove it, and blaming his biochemistry as he keeps bitches on rotation is getting "old," as one might say. What saves it more than ever is musicality. Not only does Brown add the voice of a thoughtful struggler to his squealing weirdo and caustic thug, he sees to it that the tracks permute and evolve into something that feels thought through. So when he dubs himself "Coltrane on Soul Plane," Coltrane he earns, sort of. But I read where Soul Plane--never saw it, never will--was an unfunny hip-hop/blaxploitation parody of the already dumbass laff riot Airplane. Right, even bad jokes are better than going on about what a mess your life is. But they don't straighten it up. B+