Danny Brown and His Affect on Music

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Danny Brown's XXX was a concept album about desperation; "If this shit don't work, nigga, I failed at life!" he wailed on the opening song. Old is a concept album about existential confusion. Danny Brown has not failed at life—he's independently successful, with a fervent fan base both inside and out of rap. Now he's got to sort out how to best continue living. It might not be as dramatic a subject as flaming out, but it's more relatable to most of us, and it's maybe no accident that it resulted in the best and most resonant album of Brown's career. In preparing critics and fans, Brown went to great lengths to warn us not to expect another XXX—"If people are just looking for dick-sucking jokes, there isn't too many of them," he said back in January. "I listened to Old every day and thought, ‘I need to make this more entertaining," he told Pitchfork later. When I ran into him at SXSW and introduced myself, he gave me a quizzical smile: "I'm challenging ya'll with the next one," he joked, looking slightly uneasy. The irony of Old, of course, is that Danny Brown's version of a sober, measured, mature album still features plenty of lines about snorting crushed pills, throwing up in hotel sinks, and smoking so much kush you feel yourself falling off of the earth. Some things haven't changed. The album is divided into a "Side A" and a "Side B," an act of aesthetic devotion that signals Danny Brown's unusual investment in the arcana of music fandom. Last year, he famously told a bewildered A$AP Rocky that one of his heroes was Arthur Lee before lecturing him on the merits of Forever Changes. The structure here suggests two LP sides, neatly divided, but one of the best things about Old is how mixed up it is—Brown's past, his present, his deranged side, his reflective side, his party songs and his nightmares. "Problems in my past haunt my future and the present," he moans

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