Danny Brown uknowhatimsaying¿ Warp Records
A self-styled court jester, Danny Brown’s distinctive yelp, outlandish bars and love for off-kilter flows have lent his music a comedic, almost clownish feel since 2010’s The Hybrid. On his new album, the Detroit rapper enlists some of hip-hop’s finest talents to help him refine that persona.
When he announced the release of uknowhatimsaying¿, Brown referred to it as a comedy album, directly inspired by the work of the stand-ups he now counts as friends. Brown has something of a reputation for conjuring up bars that few other MCs would – “stank pussy smelling like Cool Ranch Doritos” still lives in infamy – and as you’d expect, his latest album is no different. From lyrical tricks like “Papa was a rollin’ stone so I sold rocks to him” to the Lil B-esque “hoes on my dick ‘cuz I look like Roy Orbison”, Brown is on head-spinning form.
Hints of the wild-haired, gap-toothed rapper he once was crop up throughout the record. On lead single Dirty Laundry, a circus theme beat underpins deranged tales of Brown’s days as a drug dealer. Elsewhere, Savage Nomad is punctuated with insane cackles and threats to roll up on you in the playground, Brown adopting the role of a deranged school bully.
However, in the three years since Danny Brown’s last record, hip-hop has been overrun with rainbow-haired clowns and slapstick MCs. Shock value has become almost worthless and now 38, his interest in playing the goofy oddball is clearly waning.
Brown’s choice of collaborators on unknowwhatimsayin¿ reinforces this new mindset. The contributions of JPEGMAFIA, Standing on the Corner and Blood Orange align Danny Brown with the cutting edge of rap music, picking up the experimental threads of 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition. Meanwhile Obongjayar’s pair of contributions lend Belly of the Beast and the album’s title track a netherworld feel, the Nigerian-born singer croaking “I don’t have skin/ I just shine”. However, if there’s a song that defines the shift that’s taken place between that album and this one, it’s Negro Spiritual. Over a Flying Lotus-produced skitter of jazz guitar, Brown becomes increasingly frantic, the manic energy that has defined his career unleashing in frenzied bursts of rhymes.
Despite the comedic influence, uknowhatimsayin¿ might be Brown’s most mature album to date. On tracks like Shine, Brown opens up about his struggles, delivering a solemn verse made especially poignant in contrast to the cartoonish threats and blowjob jokes that open the album. If Atrocity Exhibition, his first album for Warp, saw Brown push at the edges of his sound, unknowwhatimsaying¿ is the result of those experiments, a conclusion to one era of the Detroit rapper’s discography and the start of something new. He might spend his free time with comedians and members of the Insane Clown Posse, but Danny Brown doesn’t need to play hip-hop’s joker anymore.