XXX, Danny Brown’s 2011 magnum opus and one of the most critically acclaimed rap albums in recent memory, made Danny Brown a rich and successful rapper, but if you ask him that wasn’t the goal. The great lie music as long as one can remember has been that your favorite artist “is only concerned with making great music” not with ratings, reviews, and most importantly not with something as absurd as making money. However, Danny Brown’s intentions with Old were clearly just to make an album as good as 2011’s XXX, and he succeeded.
OLD is split into two sides, Side A chronicling Danny Brown’s journey from Detroit crack dealer to world famous rapper, and Side B giving listeners a taste of the wild character that Danny Brown created throughout XXX. All of the “substance” is contained on Side A for the most part as we find Danny Brown spending 10 tracks chronicling his difficult past. ’25 Bucks’ details his personal struggles he faced as a black youth and his mother’s struggle to keep the lights on by charging ’25 bucks’ to braid hair. On the other end ‘Gremlins’ tells the story of a young black male in Detroit in current day and the ruthlessness of his existence. The behavior being almost justified by Brown due to the lack of a father figure in the lives on many young black males, “Hard to give advice behind the mind of the call. So his limits have ceilings cause his pop behind walls.” He touches on the irony that these “gremlins” are committing crimes while listening to 2 Chainz and not thinking about college even though 2 Chainz went to college. “I wonder if he knew that, would that change his mind? Guess that’s somethin’ we’ll find in due time.” Side A closes beautifully with ‘Red 2 Go’ which is 3 minutes of Danny Brown’s trademark flow on steroids. He goes into the themes of the previous 9 songs on the second verse, rhyming about the hardships he faced and not allowing that to prevent from making his own fate, and there’s a message in there for his fan base full of millennial’s that expects things to be done for them: “So I got my ass up, fuck dependin’ on luck. Greyhound to NY bout 300 bucks.” The overarching message of the song is that Danny Brown has blown up and will only continue to get bigger, all on his own terms. “Did it my way, I ain’t nobody ho. I’m bout to pimp the rap game Bitch I’m red to go.”
The substance of Side A makes the overall lack thereof on Side B all the more refreshing. An album with 19 tracks echoing the sentiments of ‘Lonely’ and ‘Torture’ would have been too much and honestly unnecessary. Danny Brown said what he needed to say on Side A; Side B is him only saying what he wants. All of the beautiful nihilism of XXX is found in a more concentrated and focused form on the second half of Old. Danny Brown isn’t happy about MDMA being a part of commercial rap, but not for the noble reason you think. Danny Brown just doesn’t like rappers talking about the drug without knowing about it; whereas, he has been referencing the pure form of ecstasy in his lyrics since 2010. ‘Dip’ is Danny Brown showing that he REALLY does it, and he’s adamant that other rappers are playing dress up. “Now all these rappers talkin’ bout that molly Bet a million dollars these niggas ain’t dippin.’” It’s doubtful this song will have any profound impact on the content of rap lyrics, but at least he tried. Side B of OLD touches, whether it briefly or in detail, on the same themes as XXX “Handstand” is Old’s version of XXX’s “I Will.” “Kush Coma” resembles the themes of “Blunt After Blunt.” While “Break It” and “Smokin’ and Drinkin’” both are party songs par excellence in the same vein as XXX’s “Wit It”. The albums finale ‘Float On’ with a great vocal feature from Charli XCX is Danny Brown’s only temporary lapse back into the themes of Side A, but it’s a welcomed one. Danny Brown closes out the album talking about the struggles in making this album better than his last, his desire to cement his place in rap music, and all of these problems being compounded by the drugs. “Pray I get Old just to hear I been the future Just to see my influence in this genre of music. And might make it to see somehow If it wasn’t for these pills here now.” Closing Old in this way does an exceptional job of bringing Side and Side B of the album together. On Side A Danny Brown is flawless and Side B is close to the same. The song “Way Up Here” is out of place and the only place Danny Brown seems to be forcing his hand, trying to remake the magic him and Ab-Soul created with “Terrorist Threats,” but the song just does what “Kush Coma” does on the very next track but not near as well. However, outside of including one track too many and the absence of brandun Deshay, you’re hard pressed to find anything wrong with Side B or Old as a whole. All things considered it would have been very easy for this album to feel like a forced attempt to recreate XXX insofar as Side B touches on a lot of the same subjects that XXX did, but as Danny Brown shows, there are so many different ways to talk about cunnilingus and he’s got the recipe.
With the success of XXX Danny Brown had the ability to bring in the biggest producers and rappers in the world to assist with Old, but he passed, and it pays off. All of the albums features are limited to artists he’s worked with in the past choosing chemistry over commercial recognition. The majority of production is handled by producers who also worked on XXX with the rest of the tracks still maintaining the minimalist vibe where Danny Brown flourishes most. The reason Old succeeds in following up XXX is because he didn’t switch up the formula, he just got much better at it.