Photo courtesy of Danny Brown

Danny Brown: U Know What I’m Sayin?

Brown's latest album, uknowhatimsayin¿, stylizes manic energy and strives for greatness.
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uknowhatimsayin¿ stylizes manic energy and strives for greatness

The last time we heard a full-length project from Danny Brown, it was 2016’s spiraling ode to excess and insanity, “Atrocity Exhibition.” The album used off-the-wall production, manic vocal inflections and harrowing subject matter to paint Brown’s life as a descent into chaos.

Now with 2019’s “uknowhatimsayin¿,” Brown leaves the coked-up, hyperactive energy of his last project behind and replaces it with motivational tracks focused around striving for your goals and never giving up. Of course, there’s still a healthy dose of bizarre punchlines, drug and sex-related content and enough eclectic beat choices to leave your head spinning after a full listen.

The introductory “Change Up,” lays out the thematic groundwork of the album. Organs, synths and a steady, understated drumbeat flesh out the track as Brown laments, “Up all night, toss and turn when I sleep; Pacing around, drowning sorrows in my drink; Can’t even think, got my mind wrapped up; But I still bite down, clench my teeth, knuckle up.”

Resiliency is a common theme in Brown’s projects, but this album embraces self-reliance and motivation as the central theme of the work. Rather than basking in the highs and lows of overindulgence and addiction like previous works, Brown finds a nice middle ground where he acknowledges the darker moments of his life while committing to forward motion.

The best example of this is on an early single for the project, called “Best Life.” The tracks verses detail Brown’s origin as a dope dealer, but pairs an uplifting chorus about living your best life now, because it’s the only one you’ve got.

This cut is followed in the tracklist by the title song, which has Brown spitting life lessons and motivational advice, with the refrain, “Know what I’m sayin’?” A chorus from Obongjayar and smooth, jazzy drums contribute to the uplifting vibe of this song.

One of the hallmarks of a Danny Brown project is wildly creative wordplay, and this album delivers that in spades. Brown sums up his writing style succinctly on the track “Savage Nomad,” which features looped electric guitar over a thumping beat. “It’s quite simple, I’m mental, all over instrumentals; Detrimental to health, lyrics is quintessential,” Brown spits.

Brown is no stranger to bizarre instrumentals, but the beats on this project deserve special praise. From the spacey, reverbed A$AP Ferg adlibs on “Theme Song” to the hectic basslines of “Negro Spiritual” and the atmospheric, synthed-out breathing on “Belly of the Beast,” the album provides a wide range of vibes and moods that have been lacking from the current rap climate with its affinity for loud, hi-hat-heavy trap production.

Features from Run The Jewels, JPEGMafia, Obongjayar and Blood Orange are sprinkled throughout the album to provide variety. Special praise must be lauded to Killer Mike of RTJ, who comes through with some of his coldest bars to date in the song, “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.”

If there’s one thing missing from this new album, it’s the staggering emotional highs and lows felt on “Atrocity Exhibition.” Because this new project is more laid-back, it never reaches these heights. Regardless, “uknowhatimsayin¿” is confirmation of Brown’s place as one of the most creative and consistent rappers working today.

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