A year after the release of Detroit resident Danny Brown’s fifth studio album, “uknowhatimsayin¿” the time has come to revisit a true master closing the loop on his hall of fame career. Especially timely is the album’s core theme: feeling misery for so long that it no longer has any power over you.
If you are a Danny Brown fan, chances are your mental health could use some work. He is a titan of misery and mental conditions as yet undiagnosed, a claim justified by a single listen to any song linked here. A heavy drug user, Brown has been through the ringer with his own psyche, a pain uneased by success, which only came after over a decade of toil and self-doubt.
Before anything else, Danny Brown is an iconoclast. In 2019, while the masses were expecting another soul crushing “Atrocity Exhibition,” Danny was already 50 miles down a completely different route. The Adderall Admiral’s “uknowhatimsayin¿” is, dare I say, fun? It isn’t Dababy 100 mph fun, nor is it Drake Tiktok-dance-challenge fun, but a more dignified version of fun, the type only a scarred veteran can produce.
Executively produced by veritable legend Q-Tip, the album defies succinct explanation. The beats are pointedly diverse and impossible to rap over. Whereas any other rapper would sound like a child wailing during a hurricane, Brown is smoking a blunt in an armchair, arm-wrestling the hurricane.
Brown is so good at what he does that it no longer interests him, so he uses these challenging sonic backdrops as mini-games. He has to give 100% effort to pull it off, and by God he does. This is Michael Jordan bullying Toni Kukoč in the 1992 Olympics, Garry Kasparov playing chess against himself while blindfolded and Serena Williams viciously battling a wall with half a net: a master creating competition for themself.
The lyrical content does not hit you on the first listen. In fact, some of the words are so contorted and mangled to fit into these beats that their meaning may never present itself as he intended. However, there is a strong identity throughout, one that proclaims the indomitable resilience of the human spirit.
At his lowest, Brown was mixing drugs that by any measure should have killed him. He was drugging himself to death, and rap fans were entertained. They wanted more, they wanted him to die, forgetting that he was a real person and not just a character. It must have been a torturous existence, to be so morosely ill and watch the masses congratulate you for it.
The physical and mental toll from this dancing addict routine was immense, yet he survived. As he approached 40, the age when only the best rappers can stay relevant to a Gen Z-dominated genre, he finally acknowledged his worth beyond just a cautionary tale. He became the wise old man on top of the mountain, a testament to the strength found in defeating torment.
That is where we find him on “uknowhatimsayin¿” — victorious over his own self-destruction. He found the light at the end of the tunnel and now radiates those crude rays to all his fans that are going through the universal ills of drug addiction, depression and hatred of the world.
That lasting damage comes through in every bar, but more powerful is that Brown refuses to dwell on it. In place of this sadistic rumination is a funny, dirty old man pleasantly recalling sexual deviancy in a Burger King bathroom and giving the kind of advice you would expect: everything sucks, so tell the world to go to hell and be yourself.
This is perhaps the first truly absurd rap album (absurd in the literary sense). Like Sisyphus, Brown found himself in an endless cycle of pushing himself to the brink of collapse, only to start all over again the next day. But, unlike that misery fetishist of Greek mythology, Brown now refuses to push the boulder, instead sitting at the top of the hill and laughing at the toils of the damned, especially those of his past self.
In these days of stagnant misery, this album is a guide to survival. The point of the album is never more clearly stated than on “3 Tearz” in the line, “Every day another episode/I’m just tryna hear the beat like a stethoscope.” Nothing changes, nothing is ever inherently good, but as long as you have your heartbeat and passions, you can claim mastery over your existence.
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I will admit, I did not understand this album at first. Embarrassingly, I was among those who wanted to see Brown die, even if I did not consciously know it. I thought the only way for his story to end was in tragedy. But, in these songs, he showed me that everyone’s first and only obligation is to themself, that one's story should never be influenced by others.
There is no such blatant philosophy on the album, but to see a man once defeated by the pressures and miseries of this world overcome them is empowering beyond measure. When I feel myself sinking into dark spaces, I listen to this album and remind myself that if he can survive, I can as well.