Evan Luxenbourg reviews Danny Brown's new album, uknowwhatimsayin
A year ago, I couldn’t stand Danny Brown. Every time I heard his squeaky delivery I would immediately skip the song or turn the volume down. I had nothing against the guy, I just really disliked his voice. However, after being bombarded with recommendations to listen to his 2016 project Atrocity Exhibition, I sat down and forced myself to listen through it at least three times. The first time, I hated it. Sure, the beats are experimental and honestly quite brilliant, but again, Danny’s voice distracted me from enjoying his wacky lyrics and the album’s unique production. Round two went better. Maybe I trained my ears to enjoy his delivery a bit more. Once I had done one run-through, I gave myself room to focus on more details of the project. The darkness in the lyrics and production, paired with Danny’s weird delivery, actually got under my skin and stayed with me much longer than I expected. The third time around, I absolutely loved it. Everybody has an album that takes multiple listens to finally “get it,” and Atrocity Exhibition (and Danny Brown as a whole) was that for me.
Throughout 2019, I listened to all of Danny’s projects in reverse order of their release, and, for the most part, I loved them. Within a few months, Danny Brown went from being one of my least favourite voices in hip-hop to one of my favourites, simply because I forced myself to listen to Atrocity Exhibition one rainy Tuesday afternoon.
This brings us to today, where, after 3 long years of inactivity, Danny finally releases his follow-up project uknowhatimsayin. The singles leading up to the album hinted at a much lighter tone than Atrocity, which I was all for. ‘Dirty Laundry’, the first single off of the album, has Danny rapping about past sexual experiences over a wild, jazzy beat, which perfectly matches the hilarious and shocking lyrical content. By the end of the track, I was left smiling, while also feeling like I heard way too much detail about Danny’s sex-life than I needed. This is exactly what I’ve learned to love about Danny Brown: the fact that he raps about whatever he wants to, no matter how personal or inappropriate it may be.
‘Best Life’ was the second single to be released and remains to be one of my favourite tracks on the record. A string section plays a catchy, upbeat tune as Danny raps about his desire to make the most of his existence and live his “best life”. This unabashed positivity is a rare find in Danny Brown’s discography, and it’s a welcome change.
Finally, less than two weeks before his album is released, Danny drops ‘3 Tearz’ featuring prolific rap duo Run the Jewels. Honestly, I think this is the best thing Run the Jewels have done in years. Their playful banter and incredible chemistry with Brown makes this one of the most replayable rap songs of 2019, and made me wish that Run the Jewels would have as much fun in their solo projects as they do here. This song is also produced by JPEGMAFIA, a rapper/producer who released his critically acclaimed album just a few weeks prior. Though his production here is good, Peggy’s best addition to his album is his chorus on ‘Negro Spiritual’, which might be my favourite song on the album. His raspy, playful delivery is unlike anything I’ve heard from him before, and it works marvellously. It would be a crime not to mention Thundercat’s jumpy bass spearheading the Flying Lotus-produced beat. The collaboration between these four artists is something I could have only dreamt of, and it somehow lives up to expectations.
Other highlights on the record include ‘Theme Song’, with yet another happy orchestral beat, and ‘Shine’, featuring Blood Orange on a hard-hitting hook. Really, there isn’t a single bad track on the album, and the 11 tracks make for an air-tight playthrough. This is one of those rare hip-hop albums where every song works by itself while being part of a cohesive whole. It’s a really special album, and I loved it from my first listen.
Even though I love Danny Brown and I’ve been praising this album for 1.5 pages of text, it’s not perfect. For one, ‘Change Up’ is a rather low-key opening track and stands out as one of the weakest songs on the record. It has the same dark atmosphere as Atrocity Exhibition, but the beat and the lyrics aren’t as stand-out as anything on that album. It’s not an awful song, it’s just a disappointing way to start the record.
The title track, ‘uknowhatimsayin,’ proves to be the most forgettable song on the album. Again, it’s not a particularly bad song, but the slow-paced beat and the lyrics are a clear dip in quality compared to the songs on either end of the album. Obongjayar makes two appearances on the record and, though his hooks are impressive, his appearance on this song doesn’t elevate it beyond being just “alright.”
All of this being said, I think uknowhatimsayinis the best hip-hop album of 2019 thus far and shows clear evolution in Danny Brown’s sound. This is a far more enjoyable listen than 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition for me, and I actually prefer this new album to most of his previous work. Upon listening to uknowhatimsayin for what is probably the 25th time, I keep asking myself how 2018 me could have possible disliked Danny Brown, and I look forward to everything he has in store in the coming years.