It was 1988 and I was in junior high when my friends and I got into hip hop in a serious way. I had been into breakdancing and the “Beat Street” soundtrack as a fourth-grader, but it was seventh grade before my friends and I started going to the Santa Cruz flea market and buying bootleg hip hop tapes. My brother was two years older and could drive, so we’d ride around in his VW Bug listening to Big Daddy Kane, Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Swass,” and Ice-T’s “Power” over the rattling engine as we drove around looking for surf or somewhere to skateboard. Our favorite artist, hands down, was Eazy-E. He had the combination of killer beats backed with crazy lyrics with an even crazier delivery. He’d deliver tales of robberies gone wrong in his high-pitched voice, sounding like a menacing clown. He was foul-mouthed, vulgar as hell, and we loved him.
I don’t want to say that Danny Brown is the Detroit reincarnation of Eazy-E, but he does have some of the same energy and craziness. Brown has a similarly high-pitched voice, something like an unhinged B-Real. He shares Lil Wayne’s love of drugs, and there is some Weezy in Brown’s delivery, especially his clearly annunciated non-sequiturs. Mostly, though, this is straight up late-80s-style hardcore rap.
Brown has a knack for saying some truly offensive things in a way that is so funny it makes it acceptable. He complains about a greedy baby momma on “Re-up,” rapping “Bitch talkin’ pampers/Know she’s fulla shit/Impossible for babies to take THAT many shits!” Women exist to give him brains, and he reciprocates to the point that none of his girlfriends want to kiss him on the mouth. His drops rhymes that are racist, sexist, homophobic, and totally ignorant, but gets away with it by being skilled enough to make even his most offensive lines funny, and by being smarter than he looks. I have a low tolerance for homophobia and sexism in hip hop, but I was on board with Brown simply because he’s so damn talented. He doesn’t spit, he rants, rapping as if he had done one line too many and/or had stopped taking his bipolar meds. He goes all out, never missing a beat, and rarely dropping a bar that is anything less than stellar.
Brown is backed by production that matches his lyrical talents. Most of the beats are fat-bottom boom bap, old school production done with a contemporary sensibility. The majority of the album is produced by Quelle, who offers up a nice piano beat on “Re-Up,” and then samples 80s R&B on “Guitar Solo,” complete with squealing axe. Juno slows it down on “Thank God,” sampling an acoustic guitar to set the perfect mood for the introspective lyrics. Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids drops a slow, hissing beat on “I’m Out,” and Danny! Swain produces two tracks, with Mainframe, Denmark Vessey, Frank Fukes, 14KT, and Slopfunkdust offering a beat apiece. There’s not a bad beat out of the 16 songs.
As producer Mosel said in a recent interview about Brown on Passion of the Weiss.com, “My mans Brown be getting conscious, he just gives it to you in a different package.” Brown isn’t all crazy all the time. Beneath his blunted out, wacked out persona, there lies a man who has a deep understanding of the struggles and problems of life in inner-city Detroit. The latter half of the album is mostly slower songs that deal with the problems of street living. “Guitar Solo” lays out sad story after sad story, including 14-year old knocked up by a loser with no dreams beyond getting a tricked out car.
“Is that the kind of nigga you want raping your kids?
So now you ditch class cuz your belly’s gettin’ bigger
And every other day your momma fuck another nigga
So what she wanna do is find herself a drug dealer
Her goal in life is to be saved by a nigga
And will she get far? I really don’t know bro
I hope I find out at the guitar solo”
Keep in mind, on several tracks Brown brags about the tricked out cars he’s going to ride once he’s sold enough coke. That moral complexity and ambiguity makes “The Hybrid” a stronger album. Like Biggie or Cube, there is a lot wrong with Brown’s persona, but he has an awareness and insight into how he’s living that you don’t find too often.
On “Drinks On Me,” he picks up on a woman at a bar. He understands the desperate position she’s in, but still exploits it to get some ass. He delivers the lines in a subdued, almost sad way as if he is as depressed by the situation as she is.
“You got your niece to babysit your baby
Toes looking right cuz early you got a pedi
You ain’t got a man but you got a baby daddy
Go out your way to get drunk at a party every Saturday
But who am I to judge, baby want another drink?
Tonight give me your brain, you ain’t gotta think
Let your self go, tomorrow blame it on the alcohol
You ain’t got a job, it ain’t like you got class tomorrow
I tell you that you’re beautiful
Your pops never did
Probably why there ain’t a pop around for none of your kids
Sorry for putting out your biz
But right now I can’t stop from looking at them tits
And grabbing on that ass
Filling up that glass
Get you drunk and fuck you that’s a part of my task”
“The Hybrid” is being offered as a free download, so you have no excuse to not at least take a listen. It reminded me of what got me into hip hop in the first place: strong beats, strong lyrics, and the juxtaposition between thoughtful rhymes and lyrics about partying and bullshit. It’s easily one of my favorite records of the year so far, and I’ve been evangelizing all my friends about Danny Brown. Don’t sleep on “The Hybrid.”