Danny Brown - “uknowwhatimsayin¿” Album Review
Danny Brown released his fifth studio album, “uknowhatimsayin¿” and despite it being a strong album, it does little to put it in the conversation of the year’s best albums.
Perhaps the issue with Brown’s new album is his reputation. The Detroit rapper, who has already released four studio albums since 2010, has rightfully put his name amongst the best artists of the decade. It is a run that started with underground favorite “The Hybrid,” before hitting mainstream success on “XXX” and “Old,” then solidifying his place amongst the best with 2016’s “Atrocity Exhibition.”
These were albums as grimy as the city Brown comes from. Hard hitting beats blend well with the rapper’s quirky delivery and lyrics filled with drugs, depravity, and his dangerous upbringing in one of America’s most violent cities. Brown's upbringing has likely influenced his rather solemn outlook on life.
Believe it or not, Brown is now 38 and his latest album “uknowhatimsayin¿” is toned down, if only a little, on his usual hedonistic themes for his fifth studio album. Brown also called in some big names to assist him on his most recent project. The biggest of those is rapper and producer Q-Tip from the legendary hip hop trio A Tribe Called Quest. Q-Tip serves as executive producer and produced the first two singles for the album on his own, “Dirty Laundry” and “Best Life.”
“Dirty Laundry” is a hard hitting beat which fits right into Brown’s glovebox over which Brown raps about his past sexual escapades, sometimes giving a bit too much detail. The second track “Best Life” is a more upbeat song, sampling a 70s soul instrumental, Brown raps about how he’s going to enjoy his life in spite of his dark past.
Another artist Brown brought in was rapper and producer JPEGMAFIA, who features in the song “Negro Spritual.” Providing an infectious hook, Brown again reflects on how far he’s come in his career, while still making references to some of the depraved behavior Brown’s fans have come to expect from his lyrics. Unfortunately, these three tracks served as the clear pinnacles of the album.
JPEGMAFIA’s second contribution to the album was in production, creating the beat to “3 Tearz” featuring Run The Jewels, but it’s a beat that better suited for the featuring artists. Killer Mike and El-P both sound better than Brown on the track. While the Detroit rapper toned down on this album, he did not replace it with anything as enticing. Brown can sound a little more mature, but there is no particular theme that takes over the album.
When the tracks don’t feature an all star producer or a feature, the album falls a bit flat. Brown’s flow and lyrical quality keeps the album interesting, but compared to his past work “uknowhatimsayin¿” does little to distinguish itself. The humourous and hedonistic lyrics from albums like “Old” gave the music an energy that is not replicated here. When Brown does delve into subjects like drugs, sex, and money, as he does in tracks like “Belly of the Beast,” he does so without it sounding nearly as much fun or interesting as “Atrocity Exibition’s,” “Aint it Funny,” or “Torture” and “Gremlins” from “Old.”
“I feel like I'm talking to people more so than just rapping about what I'm doing or what's going on," Brown said in an interview on "All Things Considered," an NPR radio program. "I'm more so giving people advice, to up-and-comers, people that been through what I've been through, stuff like that.”
This is a commendable ambition to have, and while Brown does clearly and successfully deliver this message on “Theme Song,” it’s not a message that is prominent enough in the album. Sometimes he vaguely and somewhat unsuccessfully mentions it in tracks, but mostly recounting his now famous party lifestyle. The message comes up short.
“uknowhatimsayin¿” is overall a good album and Brown delivers some of his catchiest and most well written tracks of his career, but there is not enough consistency to make it one of the top rap albums of the year. It’s an album that does not have the immaculate production or fascinating theme like “IGOR,” it’s not an album that produces consistent anthems like “Cuz I Love You,” and it’s not an album that produces underground appeal like JPEGMAFIA’s “All My Heroes Are Cornballs.”
In a year that has featured a number of immaculate rap albums, “uknowhatimsayin¿” does not have enough to separate itself from neither the best albums of the year nor the best albums in Brown’s catalogue.
Reviewer’s Favorite Song: “Best Life,” “Negro Spiritual”
Reviewer’s Least Favorite Song: “Belly of The Beast”
Jim Krueger is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.