Drugs, drugs, drugs. Whether they play the role of antagonist – jeopardizing every relationship that Danny Brown takes seriously – or match that ignites the powder keg of yet another raucous night, pills, powder, kush and alcohol are the main themes driving Old, Brown’s first proper project since 2011’s XXX. Like the substances that inspire it, the Detroit rapper’s latest is a roller coaster experience, full of some incredible highs. It’s a shame that the moments in-between these enlightened glimmers feel like unwanted side-effects.
The album is neatly divided into two halves: “Side A” and “Side B.” Opening with “Side A (Old)” and continuing through “Red 2 Go,” the first half is a gritty, unflinching affair. “The Return” and “Dope Fiend Rental” prove that Brown can do the gangster, tough-guy thing as well as anybody. But what really works best from the first half are the tracks that see the spotlight shining brightly on Danny and his insecurities. “Clean Up” will stop you in your tracks with its remorseful beat; Brown displays an incredible guy-who-hasn’t-slept-in-days-and-knows-he’s-wrong-for-it kind of voice that lends even more credibility to the track. And lyrics like “hotel rooms, crushing pills on menus/daughter sending me messages saying ‘daddy, I miss you’/but in this condition, I don’t think she need to see me/ain’t slept in four days and I’m smelling like sea weed” complete the puzzle in such a somber way. Danny Brown’s baggage is as heavy as it’s ever been, and it makes for some compelling listens.
If “A” is a medley of drug-pushing and pensive reflection, “B” is just a clusterf*ck of sounds that you’ll appreciate way, way more if you find yourself on something. Loud and destructive, they run into each other like a mosh pit. And while some stick out in a vacuum – “Dubstep” offers the interesting juxtaposition of a quasi-rave backdrop with a sing-songy-ish hook, and “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” is great to smoke and drink to – the nine-track run blends into itself a little too well.
The entire album bogs down as a result. Old is just entirely too long, with too many tracks occupying the exact same lane. And that’s too bad: the first half is by no means perfect, but it’s damn good, Danny Brown at his best. But 19 tracks isn’t an endeavor that we’d recommend any rapper undertake, and Brown proves why here: it’s a chore to sit through.
If this thing were cut in half and shuffled around a bit – allowing us to enjoy the uppers when things are getting too serious, and visa-versa – it’d be one of the year’s best. But as it stands – even if it’s difficult to call any one song a complete failure – it’s hard to sing high praises for something that just feels this tiresome to navigate in its entirety.