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Danny Brown Goes Dark on New Album “Quaranta”

Be it the podcast he hosts under Tom Segura’s imprint, the off-the-wall guest appearances on songs like A$AP Rocky’s “1Train,” or even the title of his collab album with JPEGMAFIA, Scaring the Hoes, it’s easy to mistake Danny Brown as being all smiles. He’s effortlessly charming in public appearances and has had a claim to “funniest rapper alive” the whole way through. But, those dedicated to all of his releases will know that there’s a darker side to the XXX rapper. It bubbled under the surface of much of his work, but Atrocity Exhibition from 2017 was a full embrace of anxiety-ridden themes. The project itself took its title from a Joy Division song about lead singer Ian Curtis’ mixed feelings about public performance.

After the aforementioned divergence to explore the underground crossover between him and JPEGMAFIA, the rapper wasted no time getting back into the swing of things in his own solo career. Danny Brown is back for Quaranta just under seven months later, his first solo album in four years.

How Danny Brown’s Quaranta Compares to His Catalog So Far

I’ll say it once more to avoid repeating it later—from start to finish, Brown’s sixth album is dismal and depressive from start to finish. That’s no indictment of the quality of it, but it’s a challenging listen to say the least—perhaps a conscious choice given the wintertime release of the project.

Two pairs of bars from the opening title track are illustrative in that way. After a vocal sample explains the name of the album, he spits: “This rap s*** done saved my life / And f***ed it up at the same time.” Then on the chorus: “N****, you 40, still doing this s***? / When you gon’ stop? But God gon’ make you quit.” Over a surf rock guitar line and languid drums, the yelpy, high-octane tones that defined Danny Brown’s on-mic presence are gone. In its place, a far more restrained cadence. Though, it doesn’t stay away for long. The stretch from “Tantor,” Quaranta’s lead single, to “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation” reminds that he can still easily reach into that bag. The former song (with some help from The Alchemist) is endlessly replayable in vintage fashion.

The latter illustrates the conceptual focus that Danny Brown finds so often up and down the tracklist. It’s a 3-minute long essay on gentrification. “Rent due when I’m ’bout to stack dough / Eviction notice on the front door / Across the street built new condos / Talking about 3 Gs for a two-bedroom.” The frantic, seemingly overnight process that the rapper describes is compounded by the feature on the track. Jazz drummer Kassa Overall’s production work is as panicked as it is masterful.

Real Life Reflections, Fears & Anxieties

Taken from @xdannyxbrownx on Instagram.

But, undoubtedly, the central mission statements come in the latter half. That stretch begins with “Down Wit It,” which almost feels like a conversation you shouldn’t be hearing. The rapper is brutally transparent about his ups and downs in the spotlight. Particularly, he references a relationship he felt could’ve gone the distance if not for mistakes he made that led to its demise. He lays that entirely bare on the chorus. “I had a woman down with me, but to me, she was down to get me / Helped me out in this s***, now I’m realizing that I love her.”

“Celibate,” which carries guest vocals from MIKE and production from Samiyam, is half-brag, half-penance. It comes with some of the best wordplay on the album, but in the same breath decries the way of life that he’s flexing—”Jesus Shuttlesworth with butterworth / Used to call me Mr. Get What Your Money Worth” versus “I used to sell a bit / But I don’t f*** around no more, I’m celibate.” The moral of “Hanami” is similar but somehow even more blunt. “Rap a young man game, and ya missed ya mark / Probably never win a Grammy or chart on the charts.”

Transparency Makes For Maybe Danny Brown’s Best Album Yet with Quaranta

We close with the uncanny track “Bass Jam.” “Remember back when it was hard for me to sleep / Mama played them old school jams on repeat / A little Sade sent me on way / Dreamin’ bout the s*** that I’m doing today.” It’s bittersweet during those verses, rife with imagery of Brown’s childhood home and the sounds that filled it. But right alongside those nostalgic allusions, he equally admits the hurdles he had to overcome, culminating in the hook. “Play another song, let the music talk for us / Have us sheddin’ tears ‘fore we get through the chorus.”

The inclusion of so many lyrical highlights here shouldn’t imply that the other aspects aren’t impressive. But what makes Quaranta so spectacular is what Danny Brown does on the mic. Clearly, he’s weathered by what he’s endured during his career so far. However, those trials have made for some extremely refined and focused music. It caps off a banner 2023 for Danny Brown. He will no doubt have both of his projects crop up on plenty of “best of” lists as we near the end of the year. You can find both Quaranta and Scaring the Hoes with JPEGMAFIA on streaming platforms everywhere.

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