On Quaranta, Danny Brown packs away the chaos to reflect on his life with a clearer head than ever before.

Release date: November 17, 2023 | Warp Records | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Stream/Purchase

It’s really, really overwhelming to reflect on where Danny Brown‘s been and where he’s taken us in the last decade-plus of his increasingly avant-garde, zooted-out take on hip-hop that always seems to have one foot in space and the other in the ICU room of a dingy hospital. The train has barely stayed on the track at times for better and much worse, but it’s with Quaranta that he’s looking to leave that worse in the rear-view and start anew, at least in the ways that matter most for him as a person.

I did a marathon listen of Brown’s work from the Prince referencing XXX to this new album – every song, no skips – along with a few choice features he’s had over the years (“All My Ni**as” with E-40 and ScHoolboy Q is still a standout with Brown getting a bit more gangsta than he usually does on his LPs). It was a lot, but one thing that was always consistent then and now is how much of a restless personality he is. He has this air of anxiety about him peaking on the psychotic break that was Atrocity Exhibition, but also confidence and cool. It’s truly a mixed bag mood-wise which gives his music such a smacking, arresting quality whether he’s advocating freak sex or poking holes in gentrification as he does here on “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation”.

Back on the song “XXX”, we got the very succinct, ironically sobering lines, ‘’cause if this shit don’t work, ni**a, I failed at life/Turning to these drugs, now these drugs turned my life/And it’s the downward spiral, got me suicidal/But too scared to do it so these pills’ll be the rifle‘, which are coarsely bookended by ‘This rap shit done saved my life/And fucked it up at the same time‘ here on Quaranta‘s opening eponymous track, a literal testament that he’s still here after 13 years despite… everything. Brown sounds tired, but at peace; reflective without losing the prescience of the future he’s set up for himself by choosing to go to rehab earlier in March and make his 40s the best years of his life. Quaranta means 40 in Italian, tying it directly to XXX which of course is representative of 30, the age when he dropped that earth-shattering mixtape in 2011. They are intrinsically linked and even though it’s been teased for a few years (he turned 40 in 2021), it’s actually cool, better even, that it wasn’t released until now because the time gives us additional nuance of what the album means and says about Danny as a person and artist.

Quaranta is special, almost like a comeback album despite Brown being very active in recent years. Hell, we just talked about SCARING THE HOES a few months ago, and uknowhatimsayin¿ was only back in 2019, not to mention his new podcast that sees him take a much more relaxed position without the stress of record label bullshit, something he’s spoken rather candidly on in recent years. The anxiety is mostly gone, or at least transformed into a more digestible and relatable form, but the lyrics are just as wacky and reflective in just about equal parts. It’s his life, and while his music has always been his life, it’s distilled much differently here than before. “Bass Jam” is a wonderful, introspective piece of how the seeds of his love for music and artistic spirit was planted when he was a kid with his family surrounding him with golden hits from r&b and soul’s heyday, linking vivid memories to those songs. As the last song on the album, it’s a full-circle moment of sorts with music being a double-edged sword for his life, but ultimately it’s one of his foundational pillars no matter what.

There’s more broad, and impoverished, reflections on “Y.B.P.” (Young Black Poor) featuring Bruiser Wolf. Brown reflects on his youth in Detroit over a bouncy beat from Skywlkr and Kassa Overall with Bruiser Wolf sounding like a mix of E-40 and Remble enacting some heady bars about his own take on childhood referencing everything from the movie Poetic Justice (one of Tupac Shakur‘s best movies) to OJ Simpson’s notorious murder case. Brown’s last line from verse one is the most poignant to me: ‘Things never fix when we come from broken homes‘. And speaking of cool songs with great features, “Celibate” is the other standout on Quaranta. Featuring indie rap darling MIKE, it’s a somber story on hustling drugs with Brown adopting (one of) his trademark cadence(s) of contemplative monotone. Both rappers show up with tense, dense bars for us which goes to show how well Brown can mesh with such a wide variety of rappers. Snooty hip-hop heads will say MIKE out-rapped Danny here – fine – but the hook is my favorite part because of its wordplay and ease of rhyming: ‘I used to sell a bit/But I don’t fuck around no more, I’m celibate/Had me trapped in that cell a bit/Locked up with some pimps, told me ‘Sell a bitch’‘.

If you want some of that old Danny, well, we’re way past that, but there’s a couple songs that channel a similar energy. “Tantor”, the album’s first official single, has a bombastic beat from The Alchemist and sees Brown get autobiographical once again with some gems of lines like ‘Got a Mexican homie named Chinese Mike‘ which refers to someone he used to hustle with, or ‘This that Black Lives Matter, still sniff cocaine/Paid for a therapist but I still ain’t change‘, all delivered in his higher-pitched inflection he’s most famous for. We also get “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation”, a track with a sparse, haunting jazz beat that could have been on Atrocity Exhibition where Brown laments the causes and effects of hood gentrification. The video is probably the most effective part of the song, showing a house be stripped of its furniture and unique character by white hands until Danny’s left lying on the floor with nothing but what he’s wearing. The production is phenomenal here with the instrumentation dropping out here and there, or looping at key parts signifying the same loss the video portrays, and the title is a great double entendre of sorts with “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation” sounding like ‘gentrification’ and also itself evoking the weekend getaway of a liberal white woman named Jenn who kisses dogs on the mouth and frequents Starbucks and Jamba Juice.

In fact, a big part of what makes Quaranta feel so massive is the production all around. There’s songs produced by Quelle Chris, Chris Keys, and frequent collaborator Paul White among others who all slid Danny some beats that feel fresh and uniquely him. We don’t get the pants-shittingly blaring siren beat of “Ain’t it Funny” or the EDM trap rap that Old reveled in, but we still get 2023 takes on the types of weird beats that he’s always flowed over throughout the last decade-plus. In that regard, Quaranta feels like a greatest hits album filled with original content, a bronze statue monument of/to Danny Brown as an artist, a person, repping Detroit and all its flaws, while also distancing himself from the poisons that kept his life on the edge for so long. In so many songs, some of which on this very album, he’s referred to suicide, death, overdosing, giving up, and just about every other permutation involving his exit from this earth – this album feels like the definitive statement of ‘I lived, motherfucker’ and him being at peace with that.

Quaranta feels enormously celebratory in a lowkey way, like how my friends chose to adjust to an adult life and try to pack some joy and productivity into years they never thought they’d see. Danny Brown‘s achieved so much and endured even more that to still be making music on this high level is near miraculous. Dude has not missed once despite it all, and even as his love and tolerance for the industry and fame wanes more than ever, his art and craft certainly hasn’t suffered for it. That’s the tell of a true artist – someone whose work is representative and sincere regardless of its station in the greater picture of the commodification of the art. He’s one of the realest out right now, and we’d all be smart to take some notes from him as one of rap’s cherished uncle figures.

Artist photos by Peter Beste

David Rodriguez

David Rodriguez

"I came up and so could you, and fuck the boys in blue" - RMR

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