Gravity is a bitch. It works in the obvious, apple-falling-on-Isaac-Newton’s-head way, of course: If you’re a kid riding a bike in the street and you get hit by a car, gravity is the thing that’s slamming your little ass on the hard concrete. Gravity works in less obvious ways, though, too. It can tear down families, and lure kids into the streets. The gravitational pull of life brings people into and out of your circle with a brutal quickness. Sometimes it can make you feel like you’re in a free fall.
It can also keep you grounded, a reminder that the best way to make the world come to you is by staying true to yourself. Danny Brown’s in no danger of falling these days. He’s just completed a world tour and drops his debut album, Old, next week. Coming on the heels of his breakthrough release XXX, Old is the biggest record of Danny Brown’s long-time-coming career in hip-hop—the culmination of an arduous trek through depression, doubt, and despair.
Over the course of a decade making mixtapes in both Detroit and New York, he’s taken his time perfecting a sound—aggressively high-pitched vocals over hypnotic electro beats—unlike anything ever heard in hip-hop. His persona—the voracious sexual appetite, the fond friendship with molly and Adderall—is a part of his art. Yet he never seems to be putting on a show. (Has anybody in rap ever been more comfortable in his own skin?) Danny‘s signature pose—tongue sticking out between a wide gap in his front teeth, conked hair slid over his forehead—has become iconic because it embodies what he’s all about: being himself.
“I’m just a dirty old man, with a pill in my mouth and my dick in my hand,” he says on his recent single, “ODB.” That title—not merely a nod to Danny’s wild-style predecessor Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but also an acronym for Old Danny Brown—works on two levels. First, he’s 32 years old, an elder statesman by rap standards. Second, fans are always telling him they want “the old Danny Brown.”
“When you change, everybody else doesn’t always change with you,” he says with a touch of irritation in his voice. “There’s people that don’t want to hear me do double-time over electronic beats. They want me to rap over J. Dilla beats about selling dope. I haven’t sold drugs in over 10 years. I’m not about to be rapping about that shit no more.”
If the criticism fazes him, it doesn’t show. He’s supporting himself and his loved ones doing what he’s been dreaming about since he was able to talk. Old is a testament to that—a body of work looking back at every step of his life.
Art imitates life, but it works the other way, too. Old is a trip down the rabbit hole of one man’s memories, a mission to quash all the erroneous assumptions about his life. On songs like “Torture,” the album’s most personal moment, Danny describes the terrifying life of an ’80s baby from Detroit who grew up seeing his uncle smoking rocks over the kitchen stove.
“No matter where you’re at in your life, your past can still haunt you and make it hard for you to sleep,” says Danny. “‘Torture’ is about how I can’t sleep at the end of the day because of all the shit I’ve been through. No matter where I’m at, I can still close my eyes and see baseheads.”
So here, in Danny’s own words, is the story of his life. Ready to take a trip down the rabbit hole? As he says on “Kush Coma”:
“Close my eyes, feel like I’m going down in an elevator 90 miles an hour.”