*EDITORS NOTE: Since we don’t review every notable release (which has no bearing on the merit of any album we don’t dickride), the projects we choose to review will now be labeled our “Must Listens”. Basically, if P**chfork only did Best New Music.*
On Danny Brown’s fifth record, he returns to the sound that ignited his career with the wisdom and nuance that can only come from age and growth, two things he has in spades.
uknowwhatimsayin¿ is neither a return to form nor a left turn. For one, you can’t return to form if you never leave it, and how many left turns can you make before you end up where you started? UKWIS solves that equation, delivering brilliant, sparse Q-Tip led production in perfect harmony with XXX, no teeth, hardest-perm-in-the-game Danny Brown raps. While it lacks the avant-gardé unpredictability and peerlessness of Atrocity Exhibition, or the hunger and gravity of XXX, uknowwhatimsayin¿ is the tightest, most confident record Danny has released to date.
In producing the landmark, genre defying Atrocity Exhibition, Danny Brown put himself in debt. Not like, never returning a rental textbook debt. Like, getting a masters in media theory from a University of California school debt. To his credit (or lack thereof, get it?) it was money well spent; the production quality of the project is unlike anything in hip-hop’s brief history. But in the same vein of post-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West, he had to figure out how to make an album after destroying said album as a concept. So he called Q-Tip and went back to the drawing board for two or so years. In fact, he went a couple drawing boards deep, tapping into the vocal dynamism and quotable-heavy verses that catapulted him into the underground’s upper echelon with XXX.
Danny and Tip are markedly deliberate and meticulous in their referential approach to the record. Off the rip, fans familiar with Brown’s discography are cued to the XXX callbacks. The intro track taps into the DNA with break beats so in the pocket it would slide seamlessly into Low End Theory or XXX. The chemistry is instantly palpable, despite “Change Up” (possibly the single worst song on the album). The production is infallibly snappy; it’s a fucking Tip beat, but Danny is subdued. The thrill of hearing him return to the XXX style is equally euphoric as it is nostalgic, but the rapping itself doesn’t rise to the level of the majority of UKWIS, let alone XXX. That’s about it for low points, though.
uknowwhatimsayin¿ immediately jumps to hyperspace with a stunning quintet of songs, going from “Theme Song”, to standout singles “Dirty Laundry” to the Run The Jewels assisted “3 Tearz”, and finally the hypnotizing duo of “Belly of the Beast” and the hauntingly psychedelic bar spree “Savage Nomad” (my personal favorite on the album).
While the album maintains it’s momentum, the overall quality begins to plateau. Admittedly, the plateau is pretty high up the mountain, but it never quite reaches the peaks of “Adderall Admiral” or “Pneumonia”, each occurring at around the halfway point of their respective albums.
It may not have the highs of Danny’s prior classics, but uknowwhatimsayin¿ is his most enticing and engaging to date. Hypnotizing is perhaps the most apropos word to describe this album. The production is information age jazz, endless riffs and drum patterns, synths and samples falling into one another like ripples through water. The sonic palette of the album is saturated equally in past and present, the crackling of vinyl soul samples and dusty horns married to the sheer unpredictably of Danny’s vocal range and lyrical style, with a synth that fits as perfectly in 1989 as it does 2019 acting as the wedding band.
While Q-Tip oversees much of the album and is credited as an executive producer, plenty of guest talent is spread throughout. The wildly entertaining “Negro Spiritual”, featuring a shockingly good Pharrell impression from JPEGMAFIA, comes care of Thundercat and Flying Lotus. Pall White, Danny’s most trusted collaborator, brings his warped, post-everything take on rap to a few tracks as well, and the coolest jazz cats out, “Standing on The Corner,” drive the Dev Hynes assisted title track. The recurrent theme, and with it the underlying brilliance of uknowwhatimsayin¿ is that history is not the past; it’s the present. Danny and Tip set out to remake the cutting edge sounds that launched both of their careers by enlisting the pioneers of today. As much as they dictate the pace and tone of the project, they yield much of its artistic freedom to contemporaries that continue to push the frontiers that they founded. As a result, the album is a vibrant and eclectic tapestry of the history of rap. The staying power and ultimate payoff of the record is that it is a living reminder that hip-hop is only getting better, that real niggas don’t die.
Is uknowwhatimsayin¿ the most daring or innovative Danny Brown record? No. Is it the most compelling or memorable? For most, probably not. But it is undeniably his most accomplished record. It’s the long overdue victory lap for the greatest, most accomplished underground rapper of their generation. It’s fitting that Danny Brown takes us back to the style we fell in love with by linking up with one of the most versatile producers ever, Q-Tip — pioneers in their own right who live on the cutting edge. This album is Danny Brown at his most comfortable, confident and concise, a thirty minute standing ovation for one of rap’s great virtuosos.
Danny Brown – uknowwhatimsayin¿ | 8.8/10
BEST BARS & MOMENTS
“Speak in code so nobody know the lingo
Life like a dice game, ain’t no casino” (Shine)
ASAP Ferg’s adlibs on “Theme Song”
JPEGMAFIA’s hook on “Negro Spiritual”
The entirety of El-P’s verse on “3 Tearz”
“I sip on fine wines, fine dine with dimes and nines
I got an Einstein mind and I still tote iron
I’m a P-I-M-P in my own rhyme
Space-age gorilla pimpin’ out the cage with mine” (Killer Mike on “3 Tearz”)