Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿ (Warp, 2019)
Hardcore Hip Hop / Abstract Hip Hop / Boom Bap | USA
When dealing with an artist of Danny Brown’s calibre -especially after he dropped a classic such as Atrocity Exhibition (Warp, 2016) -, it is nearly inevitable to look for parallels amongst his work. It is also reasonable to wonder whether his output will remain consistent or just generally ask oneself in which direction is his creativity going to expand. Therefore, it is not surprising that uknowhatimsayin¿ arose so much controversy amongst fans, because with high quality come plenty of expectations.
The Good, The Bad, The Danny Brown
In this case, the first noticeable thing is that this record is certainly not like AE; one can tell from the first western-esque chords of “Change up” that the album is not meant to be a follow-up of its highly-praised, direct ancestor in any way. However, both the overall vibe and lyrics of the entry track seem to convey that, despite his new image -both physical and musical-, Danny Brown is still a force to be reckoned with, and he’s not about to start taking shit from anyone. From the quasi martial drumming to the clipped tone in which Danny raps, one can almost feel transported to a scene built by Sergio Leone himself, with the rapper as the daring protagonist who spits out his disdain for approval in rhymes.
This same i-don’t-care attitude is transported to the immediately following track, “Theme song”, but with a more old-school beat, which will be one of the constants throughout the entire record, both in instrumentation as well as in themes and references. “Dirty Laundry”, for example, is a highly referential track that somehow manages to maintain a decent amount of storytelling amongst all the nods Danny makes towards both some classic figures of the scene as well as his own previous output.
Another one of the most interesting tracks is “Savage Nomad”. Irrespective of the interesting allusion of the title to the 60s South African gang -or rather, in addition to it-, the song features one of the catchiest beats of the entire album, and the jazzy drumming solo at the end can’t be described as anything but charming.
Perhaps one of the weakest points of the record are the features, which ended up being way too watered-down, even generic at times. This resulted in a couple of somewhat disappointing performances delivered by otherwise highly qualified rappers, such as the members of Run the Jewels and JPEGMAFIA, who ended up not contributing much to the tracks at best or being almost entirely forgettable at worst. In a similar vein, some of the nods that Brown makes to his own work seem virtually forced at times, as if trying to draw a coherent parallel to AE but ultimately resisting.
All in all, the record has a very urban feel to it. In a similar way as AE, uknowhatimsayin¿ portrays the decadence of the urban life in all its crudeness and spelling every letter of it -as is Brown’s trademark-, yet it lacks the bleakness, just as if such hardships were merely a thing to laugh about with irony before moving on, most likely in accordance to the artist’s personal progression. And although things don’t have to necessarily lose nuance when they’re not as broody or aggressive, whether Danny Brown achieves this subtle distinction is up to the listener to decide.
Favourite tracks: Change Up; Dirty Laundry; Savage Nomad
Least favourite tracks: uknowhatimsayin¿; Negro Spiritual