25 Bucks feat. Purity Ring
When Danny Brown announced in 2017 that an unnamed hip-hop legend would executive-produce his next album, the internet detonated into frenzied speculation. It could be anyone: DJ Premier or RZA, Alchemist or DJ Muggs, Juicy J or Mannie Fresh. After all, this was The Hybrid, the most innovative rap stylist of the last decade, a one-man bridge between aggressive experimental European dance music and nose-bone shattering street rap. A gap-toothed lothario, higher than Hunter S. Thompson but a serious music scholar equally fluent in David Bowie and boom-bap, esoteric British grime and Detroit techno, Southern trap and stand-up comedy.
Few correctly predicted that Brown’s sophomore album on the legendary U.K. imprint Warp, uknowhatimsayin¿ would be overseen by Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. The reasons were obvious. This is the Abstract, the enigmatic genius behind some of the best music ever imagined, who pops up every half-a-dozen-years to drop a classic album, then recedes back to Mt. Olympus (or his New Jersey studio). The last full-length non-ATCQ or solo album that he lent his post-production mastery and Midas touch to was Mobb Deep’s The Infamous in 1995. But when you really break it down, there may not be a more natural pairing among hip-hop immortals than Q-Tip and Danny Brown.
Over the course of his first four critically revered albums, (The Hybrid, XXX, Old, Atrocity Exhibition), Brown blended the musical omnivorousness of Tribe with the cut-up absurdist humor of De La Soul, the 4/4 club mashups of The Jungle Brothers and the sheer rawness of Chi Ali. As he accurately states it now, “I feel like I’m the newest member of Native Tongues.”
With his latest masterpiece, Brown makes that distinction clear. uknowhatimsayin¿ heralds a new chapter in his career, a marked departure from the intense downward spiral of Atrocity Exhibition towards something that blends the darkness with serrated humor. Who else would rhyme “I eat so many shrimp I got iodine poisoning/bitches on my dick ‘cuz I look like Roy Orbison.” A line to make both Pimp C and The Based God proud.
It all led to uknowhatimsayin¿, which might be the purest distillation of what makes Danny Brown one of the most essential entertainers, storytellers and cultural voices of this generation. It is the uncompromised work of a virtuosic talent who understands how to use comedy as a vicious instrument. There is the lingering sense of paranoia, the requisite survivor’s guilt and anxiety, but also hysterical punchlines and anthems built to cause speakers to crumble into ashes. On the opening song, Brown offers a mantra of sorts, “I will never look back, I will never change up.” His genius is that it could mean anything, but you also know exactly what it means.