Danny Brown is not an easy artist to get into. His voice is high and raspy, and his beats are dark and intense. His subject matter is hedonistic, and his sense of humour is incredibly caustic. His music is very rewarding if one is willing to invest time into it, with his incredible gifts for black comedy and unexpected pathos, but it’s hard to judge someone for being initially wary of Brown.
The obvious solution to this is a more gradual introduction to his style. Between his albums, singles, and guest features, Brown has actually amassed a sizeable number of very accessible tracks. He has party bangers, slinky, soulful numbers, and haunting album cuts. Brown has an incredibly deep well to choose from, but with these ten tracks, any open minded music fan can be ready for the upcoming Atrocity Exhibition.
- Grown Up
Grown Up is the logical introduction to Danny Brown, both sonically and thematically. Instead of his usual EDM-influenced beats, Brown sticks to a fairly standard hip-hop base, mixed in with the sounds of playground chatter for effect. He speaks in a pitch fairly close to his natural tone, instead of the high-pitched yelp he usually deploys. It’s also a remarkably sober and introspective song from an artist who doesn’t have too many. He sounds like he longs for the simplicity of his youth, and even makes his current success sound downright melancholy: “everyday same shit, me getting paid”.
2. Frankie Sinatra (by The Avalanches)
There are two main versions of Danny Brown: the sad-sack from Grown Up, and the hyped-up, over-caffeinated madman from Frankie Sinatra. Guest-rapping on The Avalanches’ comeback single, Brown proves just how much of an energising presence he is. He comfortably rides the track’s swinging beat, giving a masterful lesson in shit-talking throughout his two verses. He brags about mocking a cop that pulls him over, about his cunnilingus skills, about receiving head at a concert, but the whole time, there’s an edge to his braggadocio. He’s partying, but he’s teetering on the edge of a dark abyss too: “I’m so high, you’re so high / if I take another sip then I just might die”.
3. I Will
Nobody makes a sex song the way Danny Brown does. For starters, he almost exclusively talks about giving cunnilingus where other rappers would revel in more selfish acts, but what sets Brown apart is the sheer amount of time and detail he dedicates to it. I Will is literally an entire song about giving head, and besides the smooth, R&B beat, there’s not much to say about it beyond providing choice quotes: “quit playing with me girl and bring that over here / and climb aboard my face, put that pussy on my beard”, “if it’s smelling sweet might lick it for an hour / and even if it’s sour might lick it in the shower”, “that thang so juice imma call it Jamba”.
4. Power (by Das Racist)
His guest verse on Das Racist’s Power is where Danny Brown’s remarkable lyricism really starts to come into play. The sheer density of references during the verse are astounding, including mentioning the dressing on a Big Mac and a notorious Grand Theft Auto hack. He even calls back to Das Racist’s breakout track Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell with the impressively vulgar line “that’s a combination nut lick and dick suck”. He proves himself an able collaborator with the similarly minded rappers from Das Racist, happy to pay tribute to their work.
Okay, now we’re getting into the meat of Brown’s discography. Dip remains Brown’s most streamed song, and with good reason: it’s an irreverent banger. From the endlessly catchy “dip, I dip, you dip” chant to the absurd lyrics (the opening line is “like Lieutenant Dan I’m rolling”, which is both callous and hilarious), Dip is just a blast. However, the track hides a real darkness too. The track is about MDMA, and Brown’s abuse of it. The first verse where he describes his symptoms – “I’m sweating but I’m cold / mouth all dry, but I got a runny nose” – is haunting on later listens, like his mantra from Frankie Sinatra has come true.
6. 1Train (by A$AP Rocky)
Aside from just generally being great (look at that guest list), 1Train is a good showing of what sets Brown apart from his contemporaries. In a song where every other rapper chooses to ride the RZA-style beat with hard-edged, metronomic flows, Brown is playful and manic, switching from a sing-song style in his opening bars to sudden, aggressive shouting midway through his verse. He just has such a different energy to the other rappers, and easily claims the song as his own.
7. 25 Bucks (feat. Purity Ring)
One other thing that sets Brown apart from his fellow rappers, is how often he seems to have little interest in the rap world. Just as his sound is entirely his own, he has created a scene of his own too, collaborating with indie stars like Purity Ring and Charli XCX. 25 Bucks features the former, on both production and vocals, in a gruelling song about trying to survive whilst struggling for money, and the psychological toll that can take.
Given just how dark Danny Brown’s music can be, sometimes it’s just nice to hear the guy having fun. Monopoly is very much that, with Brown penning the flex track to end all flex tracks. Over two lengthy, continuous verses, Brown rambles off a series of boasts and disses so vivid and hilarious that it’s easy to miss the sheer complexity that goes into creating something like this. Monopoly is the kind of song that isn’t experienced properly unless you actually follow it on Genius, just to make sure you can make out every perfect lyric.
9. Smokin & Drinkin
Like Dip before it, Smokin & Drinkin melds comical hedonism with the real-life side effects of such activities. The chorus of the song – “we be smoking and drink, drinking and smoke” – is ridiculous almost to the point of parody, but that’s something Brown is aware of. The second verse included Brown literally praying to God so he stops hearing his own heartbeat. He ever zeroes in on the thesis of Old, the album from which the track comes: that he only consumes substances in such quantities because it’s easier than actually dealing with his issues.
10. When it Rain
It’s telling that the video for When it Rain, the lead single to the upcoming Atrocity Exhibition looks so similar to the one from Monopoly, one of Brown’s most fun songs. They both feature, fast wordy flows, and heavy, danceable beats, but there’s one crucial difference between the two: while Monopoly is all about Brown flexing, When it Rain is about street violence. The track is Brown’s way of announcing that he’s getting serious, and that Atrocity Exhibition is an album worth looking forward to. Plus, how catchy is that “when it rain, when it pour, get your ass on the floor” hook?