On the fifth studio album from Detroit rapper Danny Brown, he cements his veteran status as an imaginative hip hop kingpin. His shortest project yet, reaching a concise thirty-three minutes, portrays Brown at his lightest and most lively, a stark contrast from the macabre themes of drug addiction and depression that are sincerely confided on his previous album from 2016, Atrocity Exhibition.
While Atrocity Exhibition is hailed as a landmark 2010s hip-hop album for its daring experimentation with jarring samples and genuine portrayal of a downward spiral into drug dependency, Brown simply couldn’t make another similar album, as it wouldn’t be authentic to him. Since the release of Atrocity, Brown quit drugs, had his instantly recognizable missing teeth fixed, began to sport a clean haircut, and even earned himself a television show on Viceland.
Now 38 years old and much more content with his healthier lifestyle, Brown’s new album is one that celebrates his survival. Over constrained (yet still poignantly unique and subtle) instrumentals, Brown is rapping at his most humorous and entertaining. Brown previously referred to U Know What I’m Sayin? as his “standup comedy” album, and it shows. On the track “Dirty Laundry,” he airs out an outrageous description of his past sex life, although clarified on his verified genius.com commentary that he’s just being silly. “I ain’t no public freak like that. I’m intimate. I’m romantic with my shit. That shit be uncomfortable anyway.”
The sonic palette of the album is much brighter and more optimistic than his previous albums, while still maintaining a sense of the ethereal. This, of course, is thanks to the eclectic list of producers who contributed to the album’s beats. Legendary A Tribe Called Quest rapper and producer Q Tip has fingerprints all over, as he executive produced the album (and directly produced some of the tracks, including “Dirty Laundry,” “Best Life,” and “Combat”). Fresh from releasing his excellent album All My Heroes Are Cornballs just last month, rapper and producer JPEGMAFIA produced the playful boom-bap beat for “3 Tearz,” a major change of pace from his usual glitchy and futuristic aesthetic.
While the featured artists on Atrocity Exhibition contribute to the album’s sense of claustrophobia, those featured on U Know What I’m Sayin? instead provide a more playful tone. On “3 Tearz,” Run the Jewels duo Killer Mike and El-P provide humorous and intricate wordplay, referencing abstract hip-hop legend MF DOOM, and sounding a bit like him too. JPEGMAFIA has a sugary Pharrell-ish verse on “Negro Spiritual,” and alternative R&B artist Blood Orange and Nigerian vocalist Obongjayar both contribute soul-filled vocals on the album.
There is no doubt that U Know What I’m Sayin? is a solid addition to Danny Brown’s discography. Still encompassing Brown’s innovative spark as much as his previous work, while simultaneously relieving fans with a genuine display of emotional contentedness, it’s clear that Danny Brown has entered his next artistic phase. Even if the album isn’t as stand out as some of his previous albums, it is still an inviting, welcoming work.
Best Tracks: “Theme Song,” “Best Life,” “Combat”
Worst Track: “Belly of the Beast”
Review By: A.J. Frigoletto