In the two years following the release of his breakthrough XXX, Danny Brown’s released a smattering of new material, but “Grown Up,” a warm, boom-bap, near-nostalgic account of overcoming the poverty of his youth, was the most well-known, complete with an actually-adorable video in which a young actor walks through the city lip-syncing Brown’s lyrics. Although Old opens with a full side of tunes mostly concerned with depicting the effects of that poverty, “Grown Up” is notably absent, replaced by songs like “Wonderbread,” a post-industrial Detroit “Little Red Riding Hood” about the people Brown crosses on a childhood grocery run; “Red 2 Go,” which describes mismatched meals of “corned beef and some fuckin’ Apple Jacks” with the detail of an A.D.D. Ghostface; and “Torture,” about how these experiences still keep him up at night. Three things you’ll notice right away: This LP isn’t warm, it isn’t boom-bap and it is never, under any circumstances, nostalgic.
The first time through, Old sounds as if it’s flipped conventional notions of rap-album sequencing, where you frontload the party songs and sneak the personal ones in the back (also the sequencing of XXX, incidentally). But as you listen closer, that distinction crumbles, and those party songs start to sound more and more like the events they describe — hazy affairs filled with both uppers and downers, anxiety and exuberance. The title of the A$AP Rocky-featuring “Kush Coma” says it all.
With beats from SKYWLKR, Rustie and Darq E Freaker, the sound of the album’s “Side B” matches the discord in the lyrics, incorporating elements of both the trap music that is currently trending in global dance scenes as well as the kind rooted in the struggle of life in the Dirty South. Opener “Dope Song” is more EDM than East Atlanta, but its squealing MacBook strings are a perfect counterpart to Brown’s nasal delivery. “Handstand,” meanwhile, features a rising, off-key loop that recalls the scratching of vinyl pants more than that of vinyl records, while the rapper (whose father once DJed house and ghettotech) explains his sexual exploits in terms any young partygoer can understand: “Throw it back to that A-Trak/ Went an hour/ to that Baauer.”
In the hook to “Grown Up,” Brown asks “whoever thought I’d be the greatest?,” awarding himself as high a superlative as there is, but the line hardly feels like a boast — the tone is too contemplative, the beat too mellow. Old, meanwhile, as good a follow-up to XXX as one could have hoped for, makes the case that he was just stating facts.