At 32 years old Danny Brown raps on Old with the confidence of a young rap prodigy. Brown found his psychological, hedonistic niche on his Fool’s Gold debut, XXX, and his deep catalogue of mixtapes portrays a talent whose well runs deep. The charismatic Brown isn’t afraid to let his freak flag fly with his wild hairdo, diastema, skinny jeans, and a high-pitched vocal delivery. On 2011’s XXX, specifically on “Die Like A Rockstar,” Brown uses eerie electronic minimalistic beats backing him as he takes the listener on a ride through his self-destructive tendencies. His organic approach and frequent references to substance abuse feels more biographical than synthetically cliché. Brown isn’t quite the surrealist Ol’ Dirty Bastard was, but similar to his oddball predecessor, he’s an innovator.
The Detroit native breaks up his magnum opus into two halves, marked by each side’s respective opener, “Side A (Old)” and “Side B (Dope Song).” The album opens with one of his signature minimal beats, setting the scene in a cold apartment in Detroit where the old Danny Brown once lived: “Came a long way takin’ $3 for a nick’/ Cop an 8 ball, trynna stack for the zip/ Now I’m in the rap game, verse worth a brick/ Fiends linin’ up for a hit of this shit.” Rapping about dealing drugs has been beaten to death so frequently, it’s a long way from novel, but Brown’s genuine tendency to come unhinged makes his lyrics terrifying in how convincing they are.
It doesn’t take long to notice Brown’s leap of maturity when writing this album, and the carefully chosen beats fit perfectly. Freddie Gibbs accompanies Brown on “The Return,” in which he brushes off the cries from fans craving “the old Danny Brown.” Half of the Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring produced “25 Bucks,” while the other half, singer Megan James, provides the hook — taking Brown to the foreign high of musical fluidity. In the confessional “Torture,” he spits, “Look in my mind and see all the horrors/ All the shit I’ve seen/ Nigga, it’s torture.” On XXX, the first half of the mixtape felt like the peak of a high, while the second half was an introspective comedown. On Old, there’s a slight reverse — the first half is the grounded Brown acknowledging how far he’s come, and the second half is when the debaucherous, molly-popping sex fiend comes out to party.
“Side B (Dope Song),” while being accurately parenthetically titled could also be his last song about selling drugs. “Long time ago, I don’t’ do that shit no mo’/ This the last time I’mma tell you, wanna hear it? Here it goes!” And with this, the tone changes, the second half of Old predominantly booming with EDM beats. Producer SKYWLKR sets the stage while Scrufizzer uses his squeaky Twista-like speed to steal the show in “Dubstep.” The club-banger “Dip” salutes “Niggas In Paris” while Brown raps about taking too much molly and puking in a hotel bathroom sink. The party rolls on with “Smokin & Drinkin ” followed by the overly sexual raunchy nature of “Break It (Go)” and “Handstand.”
Spanning 19 tracks, Old is a monumental feat. On its final stretch it begins to come to a close with its best song, “Kush Coma.” It’s the longest track on the album, featuring a guest rap from A$AP Rocky, and even though the enormity of drugs ingested, the women, and varying emotions covered on previous tracks would put someone in a coma, the beats throughout the album are excellent. In a recent AMA, Brown told Reddit his single “ODB” would have been the last track had the sample cleared, but “Float On” is still a great conclusion. It ties the whole concept of Old together neatly. “Pray I get old just to hear I been the future/Just to see my influence in this genre of music.” Brown told a blazed A$AP Rocky he still wants to be rapping at 70, so if his body holds up — Keith Richards style — another 38 years, he might be the oldest rap prodigy ever.