Album review: Danny Brown’s “Uknowhatimsayin?” is full of highs and lows
Danny Brown has always been the weird uncle of the rap community. Not necessarily the cool uncle (that would probably be someone like Jay-Z nowadays). Danny Brown is the weird uncle that everyone loves wants to hang out with when he comes to town.
Brown, a Detroit native with an iconic nasally voice, recently released his fourth studio album titled “Uknowhatimsayin?” It is a short and sweet collection of his recent work, with many high profile features from the underground rap community including Jpegmafia and Run the Jewels.
The album starts off with a series of guitar chords that set the tone for the rest of the album: reflective yet somewhat ominous. Danny Brown is unforgiving on this album, not ashamed of who he is or who he will become in the coming years.
This unforgiving quality, however, stabs the album in the back to a certain extent. There are many tracks on this album which are simply not up to the caliber of quality that hip-hop fans are used to with Brown’s previous records. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is different or disappointing about Brown’s most recent album. His lyrics are, for the most part, typical of his usual subject matter in the last few years with themes of struggles growing up and his interpretation of the world around him. This lack of change is disappointing for the rapper who is typically not predictable in his craft.
The best quality about this album is the honesty Danny Brown gives the listeners. He is up front about his mental health, which has improved from the harrowing odyssey that was his last album “Atrocity Exhibition,” and he is unafraid to describe how he sees the world. This honesty extends into verbal assaults on his opponents. His best bars on the album come from insulting an imaginary competitor, saying clever disses such as “You’re a Stevie Wonder blink,” or “I take a piss in the same sink you wash dishes with.”
The highs on this record are extremely high. The best song is undeniably “Dirty Laundry,” which was produced by hip-hop legend Q-Tip who is famous from his involvement in A Tribe Called Quest. The production is perfect for Brown’s maniac style of rap while Brown makes 3 minutes worth of laundry similes and double entendres. It is one of the biggest testaments to Brown’s impressive lyrical prowess.
On the other hand, the lows are extremely low for a plethora of tracks. Many tracks on “Uknowhatimsayin?” simply lack any attention-grabbing quality. One of the best examples of this is “Theme Song,” where Brown raps over a bare-bones beat with little in the way of anything interesting to say or hear from the instrumental.
The Run the Jewels collaboration “3 Tearz” is another example of Brown coming up short of his potential as a rapper. The instrumental from Jpegmafia sounds underdone, and the verses from El-P and Danny Brown sound like afterthoughts once Killer Mike spits one of the best verses that hip-hop has had to offer in 2019.
The pinnacle of “Uknowhatimsayin?” comes in the closing half of the album in the form of another Danny Brown and Jpegmafia collaboration. The track “Negro Spiritual” is subversive, inspirational, and creepy all at once.
The song sounds somewhat threatening, with bars from Brown such as “I’m on par like Tiger with two white broads / Off three Xanax, drunk driving in the rental car.”
Production from Flying Lotus is equally impressive with a quick guitar melody haunting the listener in the background.
All in all, Danny Brown was trying his hand at a different kind of hip-hop on many different points on this album and simply came up short. Many of the best tracks are Brown sticking to what he does best, his own brand of hip-hop. His ventures outside of his comfort zone fall flat and are not worth revisiting. Compared to his previous efforts, “Uknowhatimsayin?” is more accessible and straightforward, but not as satisfying or challenging.