Danny Brown’s Achilles’ heel: himself

Xavier Cullen

It’s been three years since Danny Brown released his critically-acclaimed album “Atrocity Exhibition,” ranked 19th by The Rolling Stones and 12th by Complex in the top albums from 2016. “Atrocity Exhibition” talked about Brown’s difficulty with drug addiction and the downward spiral that it can become. The album’s mix of aggressive bangers like “Really Doe” and depressing ballads like “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” made for a well-rounded experience through the twisted mind of Danny Brown.

That’s what I expected coming into his latest project, “uknowhatimsayin?,” and the first few tracks seemed like a promising start.

The opening track, “Change Up,” continued the themes of drug and alcohol abuse that have been a staple in Brown’s songs for years, but they are secondary to the main message of the song: Brown isn’t going to stop. “I’ma keep goin’, you cannot blame us / Never look back, I would never change up.” It’s that “can’t tell me nothing” mentality that really made this song impactful.

And the good songs kept coming, with “Dirty Laundry,” the album’s lead single produced by Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, having raunchy verse after raunchy verse. No doubt, Q-Tip’s excellent production helped Brown flow almost perfectly, and Brown somehow made several double-entendres with laundry detergents and cleaning supplies to sex and drug dealing.

The height of the album, though, comes in the fourth song of the album, “3 Tearz,” produced by JPEGMAFIA. In this track, which was the third and final single for the album, Brown, along with features from El-P and Killer Mike from Run The Jewels, bring in the sick rhymes that I was hoping for, with lines too nasty and profane to be in a newspaper.

However, the album still has seven songs after that, and nothing ever lived up to the expectations I gave it. None of the songs on this album are bad, but nothing ever got to the level that I thought I was going to hear. In fact, all the songs were all decent at worst, good at best, but once they are put together in an album, they all seem to dip a bit in quality. 

What’s most ironic, though, is that I would listen to none of these songs, except for “3 Tearz” and “Dirty Laundry,”  by itself, apart from the album. Maybe that’s a contradiction, but not a lot of the songs really stuck out to me, and they won’t be making it into my playlist anytime soon. Songs like the title track “uknowhatimsayin?” seem like they would be the songs left out of a much better album.

I feel that some of the blame can be put on the similar flows heard throughout the album. It seems that they sound too recycled, and nothing ever changes up drastically. This entire album sounded like an 11-song lead up to a drastic switch in tone that would take a hardcore approach to the topics he raps about on every song, but that never came, leaving me wanting more.

Or maybe it’s because Brown, now 38 years old, has matured and begun to focus more on lighter songs, separating himself from the fast-paced frenzies like “Ain’t It Funny” or “25 Bucks.” In fact, the fatal flaw in Brown’s newest project could be that it will undoubtedly be compared to those songs that put him in the spotlight. 

Nothing in this album has as much hype as the posse song “Really Doe,” featuring the great minds of Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. Nothing in this album is as grim and hopeless as “30,” with powerful lines like “The thoughts of no success got a n**** chasing death / Doing all these drugs, hope for OD’ing next, Triple X.” Nothing in this album is as dark or heavy as any other song he has released, and that’s a shame.

It’s possible Danny Brown was too good in the past to ever keep up with that high bar, which is understandable for a lot of people in the music industry. At times, many artists fail to live up to the hype that has come from their previous excellence because excellence will never live forever.

I applaud Brown for taking a new step that he feels comfortable with. Anything an artist can do to avoid burnout, especially for the 12 years since Brown’s debut mixtape, “Detroit State of Mind,” should be applauded, and I hope he still continues to make music he likes to make because I have no right to tell him what to do — he’s made that very clear in his lyrics.

While “uknowhatimsayin?” might be seen by many newcomers to Brown as a raunchy, no-holds-barred album that delivers some hilariously quotable bars, it’s a step back from his past albums that have done everything he did in this project, just better.

I suggest everyone listen to “Atrocity Exhibition.” It still holds up as one of my favorite albums of all-time, and it’s even more over the top than his latest record. Danny Brown will also be performing at Toad’s Place on Nov. 19 this year, for all those interested.

If I had no previous knowledge of Brown before listening to this album, I probably would have given it a higher score, but there’s no avoiding being compared to your best work, and this album is definitely not his.

3 out of 5 stars