There is one essential piece of information that all the anti-drug campaigns ignore in their materials: people do drugs because they are fun. If getting high wasn't enjoyable, no one would do it. On the other hand, those who do like to get high are often oblivious to how slippery and steep a slide it is from recreational use to serious problem. For every ten people that are able to dabble without developing a serious habit, there is one person who gets caught up in the downward spiral of a drug problem. It's often a subtle descent, much like a frog swimming in water that starts to boil. And yet there are drug rehab programs available for those who need help.
Which brings us to Danny Brown's "XXX," his second official album following last year's "The Hybrid." Brown is the self-defined Adderal Admiral, a rapper who is just as comfortable popping pills as he is smoking blunts. Maybe it has something to do with his hometown of Detroit. After all, it was Eminem who first popularized the use of Ecstasy and pharmaceuticals in hip-hop. His latest album sees Brown on the wrong side of 30, with his partying lifestyle starting to wear him down.
The album starts off with Brown in a dark place, the kind of place you get to after days without much sleep and with too many substances. "I took a while to get here and now I depend on these drugs!" he exclaims at the end of the intro. "Die Like A Rockstar" is a grim fantasy about the darker side of going hard, with Brown imagining himself partying with celebrities who have fallen victim to their overindulgences. People always talk about partying like rockstars, but never think about the fact that that lifestyle is highly unsustainable and full of casualties. Chris Farley, Brittany Murphy, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, Jim Belushi, and River Phoenix are some of the drug martyrs that Brown imagines himself sharing lines and porn stars with.
"Pac Blood" has a wicked futuristic beat by Brandun Deshay, and Brown gets even more offensive and sacrilegious. I'd reprint some of the lyrics, but respect for my Catholic roots prevents me. Given his knack for being offensive, it's not surprising that his "Radio Song" is a big middle finger to labels that want commercial rap, and the negative effect on hip-hop this obsession with radio hits causes.
"The game's so trendy
That's why these labels fail
They don't care about music
Just first week's sales
They say you need a hit
A chart-topping single
That's why it's called commercial
Because you need a jingle
A smash club banger
Play it all night long
You're never getting on without a radio song"
Brown gets his Waka Flocka Flame on with "Lie4" and "Bruiser Brigade," two rowdy bangers about getting drunk and crazy. "I Will" is a song for the ladies, in which he describes in graphic detail his favorite sex act. Maybe it's to make up for the disrespect he dishes out to the females of the species during the bulk of the album. He ge's "off the chain like a broken nun-chuck" on "Detroit 187," straight ranting over a Nick Speed-produced 80s synth beat, with Chip$ offering some less insane verses.
"I'm a smart nigga/but I do dumb shit" he admits on "Monopoly," yet another out of control performance. As with "The Hybrid," Brown splits this album between unhinged rapping on the front end, and more subdued tracks on the back end. No one does crazy like Brown, but ten songs in a row of him yelling lyrics is a lot to take. The slower, more introspective songs are a welcome change of pace, and show his versatility as a rapper and lyricist.
Things start to mellow out on Skywlkr's trippy beats on "Blunt After Blunt" and "Outer Space." "DNA" is still about partying, but the chorus puts some perspective on the proceedings: "It's in my DNA/cuz my pops liked to get fucked up the same way." "EWNESW" rides a dirty keyboard groove, with Brown getting serious and rapping about growing up poor. "I'm living in the city where the weak get swallowed," he say. "Belly of the beast, I don't care about tomorrow."
"Party All the Time" looks at the darker side of groupie life, examining the emptiness that drives a woman to party all the time. "Nosebleeds" is in the same vein, with Brown rapping over horns about a girl who is sinking under a cocaine habit.
"30" sees Brown rapping over wailing trombones and plinking strings. He switches into double time as he raps about his desperate struggle to make it. Turning 30 has a way of making you want to stop messing around and get real, and Brown is trying to come to terms with his advancing age, and the fact that he isn't where he wanted to be ten years deep into his career. He spits his lines frantically, the out of tune beat adding to the sense of impending doom. "Scrap or Die" is about stealing scrap metal from homes and construction sites, done with a level of detail and realism that makes it seem like Brown knows from first-hand experience. He's no longer up in the club partying with strippers. Now he's stealing copper and evading the police to make some money.
The album ends with the strongest track on the album, "Fields," which is a stark look at the economically ravaged community he grew up in. Brown shows that he can drop knowledge just as well as he can rant like a lunatic. Like the best rappers, he paints a vivid picture with just a few words, capturing the hopelessness of poverty.
"Sitting on porches of abandoned houses
Or sitting in the field on bed bug-ridden couches
It's like they all forgot
Nobody cares about us
That's why we always end in the prisons instead of college
I'm living in the system working the kitchen for chump change
Lost in the streets niggas playing that gun game
Where nobody wins just a bunch of mommas losing
Dead body in the field nobody heard the shooting
Living in the streets where the options is limited
Because there's burnt buildings instead of jobs and buildings
And where I lived it was house, field, field
Field, field, house
Abandoned house, field, field"
Danny Brown can rap off the top of his head as well as Lil Wayne and better than Lil B. He can be as offensive and on the edge as Tyler the Creator. He can be as rowdy and ignorant as Waka Flocka Flame, only he can actually rap. And he can be as insightful and cutting as "Dead Homiez" era Ice Cube, shining a light on the pain that drives him to party like his life depends on it. "XXX" is another excellent release from the man who is one of the best rappers out there, proving that you can be lyrical and street at the same time, and that hip-hop doesn't have to be one dimensional.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: August 23rd, 2011