A vast change of pace and direction from 2016’s maniacal Atrocity Exhibition, Danny Brown’s fifth studio album uknowhatimsayin¿ sees the Detroit rapper in a more content state than ever. There’s still that same old quirk and comedy to his lyrics, but this time they’re reflective, progressive and hopeful rather than brash and unnerving.
Danny Brown has one of the most consistently brilliant discographies of this era in hip-hop, dropping instant classics like it’s going out of fashion (XXX, Atrocity Exhibition) and genre-bending like a mercurial shapeshifter (Old). So when it was announced that he would be returning this year, natural eagerness and anticipation took charge; this was only amplified by the news that Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest fame would be executive producing the album.
The album is, as expected, one of the most tightly produced and richly enjoyable projects of 2019; with each unwinding beat taking you on another Danny Brown journey (as he says on 3 Tearz “everyday another episode”). I likened the production to that of an 80s gameshow or a sitcom, something which also happens to fit into the aesthetic of Danny’s songwriting, as he uses this project to flex his comedic muscles.
Lead single Dirty Laundry is perhaps Danny’s finest satirical hour ever; an anecdotal anthem which likens the activity of laundry with sexual exploits. His one-line punchlines are absolutely hilarious and the build towards a roaring joke at the end is synonymous of stand-up comedy; an art form that Danny would fit right in to if he weren’t so damn good at rapping.
The album’s highlight comes in the form of the star-studded Negro Spiritual, an off-the-wall track that features man of the hour JPEGMAFIA and is produced by untouchable duo Flying Lotus and Thundercat. The song is typically frantic with choppy flows from Danny, impossibly slick bass riffs by Thundercat, wonky drum patterns by FlyLo and a sticky hook from JPEG; it was always going to be great but it really is one of the best songs of 2019.
There’s a truly impressive list of credited names behind this project, both on production and in features; with all of them bringing a fresh sound to the table. JPEGMAFIA does double duty by featuring on Negro Spiritual and producing on 3 Tearz, as does Q-Tip with a smooth cameo at the end of Combat, the album closer, and production on numerous songs. Blood Orange, Run The Jewels and Obongjayar are the other credited features and all of which bring their A-game; ESPECIALLY Run The Jewels in the aforementioned back-and-forth bar fest 3 Tearz.
Danny himself takes on slightly different lyrical context on this album, perhaps adopting the wisdom he is finding with age to teach not just himself a lesson but also to guide the future generations. His lyrics on uknowhatimsayin¿ are more introspective than before, opting against consistent drug messages and now going for the life guidance approach, a role he suits brilliantly on here. Best Life, the project’s second single, sees Danny walk down his life timeline and proclaim now that he is here to live life to the full. The “ain’t no next life so now I’m tryna live my best life” hook is silky smooth and one of the catchiest of his career; spitting over a Tommy McGee sampled beat that sounds fresh off a cult classic family sitcom.
The album’s consistency was never in question, this is Danny Brown we are talking about, but there genuinely isn’t a weak song on here. It’s trimmed to perfection in terms of runtime, blends bangers (Savage Nomad) with conscious anthems (Shine) and shows Danny off in the best way possible. On uknowhatimsayin¿ he is, pardon the pun, living his Best Life.
Best Tracks: Change Up, Theme Song, Dirty Laundry, 3 Tearz, Savage Nomad, Negro Spiritual, Combat