When Danny Brown, 32, tweeted “I don't rock Tom Ford, I pop molly” last week, he not only inverted one of the few memorable lines from Jay Z's not-so-memorable offering from earlier this year, he underlined his already-established lack of interest in mainstream success. The Detroit rapper's 2012 debut, “XXX,” was lean and menacing, hardly fit for radio play or remixing, and his style itself seems far too nasal, prickly and unpredictable to guest on anything intended for sale (like say, Kendrick Lamar's appearance in the middle of Drake's “Take Care”).
Time will tell whether Detroit rapper Danny Brown ultimately gets absorbed into the aging glut of mediocrity that mainstream hip-hop has become, but it's unlikely his second record, “Old,” will pave the path to such a fate. “Old” is definitely split into halves and immediately presents itself as less angry than his 2012 debut “XXX,” which comes as a relief considering how convinced he seemed then that he would die an early death.
The first half is more conceptually ambitious and vulnerable in subject matter. Soft guitars gently swirl like clouds in “Lonely,” while he evokes a much more profound type of loneliness, the kind you choose: “Don't need your help homie / 'cause nobody really know me.” There's some dark stuff here: The shame Brown felt when he had to save money for a woman's abortion, and how his mother braided hair for $25 a head to pay the electricity bill in crumbling urban Detroit. The bulk of the Production credit belongs to Paul White, who keeps it stark but also casts Brown as sympathetic when the wrong instrument could signal pure evil.