Review: Danny Brown – UKNOWHATIMSAYIN?

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Uncle Danny overcomes writer's block to bring us his smartest and funniest album to date.

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Detroit rap royalty Danny Brown is back and he still ain’t grown up despite what some reviews out there are saying. Just because his hair is cropped short and his teeth are all accounted for does not mean that he isn’t still the human cartoon many of us rap fans were enraptured by almost a decade ago. With a lot of the pitch-black brooding we got on his Ian Curtis inspired emotional melting-pot of an album Atrocity Exhibition (2016) seemingly out of the way, we finally get Danny at his joyfully expressive peak on UKNOWHATIMSAYIN¿ Although a lot of the tracklisting here is still distinctly dark and chaotic, the overall vibe tells us that Brown is at peace with his life and the music we get as a result is quirky, exciting, invigorating and VERY funny. One look at the cover or key art for this release will tell you that he is here on the mic chiefly to have fun, channelling less Joy Division Post-Punk and more Richard Pryor stand-up.

The brilliant list of both features and production credits for UKNOWHATIMSAYIN¿ made it feel like it was crafted just for me, fulfilling a number of dream collaborations for me all in one great sitting. My personal favourite artist of the year, JPEGMAFIA lends a surprising hook to the song ‘Negro Spiritual’, delivered in a uniquely raspy falsetto and actually providing slight, calm respite from Danny Brown’s incessant and threatening flow. To top it all off the beat was made by Flying Lotus and stars Thundercat on bass throughout. Longtime collaborator of Danny’s, Paul White returns to provide suitably grimy and caustic beats which continue to defy the limits of what hip-hop can sound like. ‘Belly of the Beast’ in particular is completely bizarre and even a little bit sinister. Perhaps the polar opposite of the title-track, where White crafts a shockingly groovy beat with the same lo-fi flair. Young afro-beat, soul-singer Obongjayar appears again on this song to provide an infectious and spirited chorus to contrast with his mad, intoxicating incantation from ‘Belly of the Beast’.

Guest artists I haven’t mentioned include Blood Orange as well as old favourites of mine, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P) who team up with Danny on JPEGMAFIA-produced banger ‘3 Tearz’. All those guys together on a song is honestly a dream combo for me and just being able to say that a wish I had yet to make was fulfilled lifts the whole project up a good couple notches. The credit that was making all the headlines ahead of the album’s release however, was Jazz Rap legend Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest as executive producer. This generated a lot of buzz and it definitely paid off. For me, in particular, with the Abstract-produced album closer: ‘Combat’. Simply put, this is a phenomenal song, packed with funk energy. Even after countless listens, the jazzy, looping saxophone sample puts a smile on my face. It simply has to be one of my favourite instrumentals Q-Tip has ever made. Of course, Danny Brown is still sounding fully switched on and pumped up here and his bars remain funny as hell, I won’t bother with the quotes, you just have to listen and learn for yourself.

Danny Brown’s UKNOWHATIMSAYIN¿ is out now via Warp.

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