A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

“uknowhatimsayin¿”: Danny Brown’s palette changes once again

James Domizio
Danny Brown released the colorful, synth-heavy “uknowhatimsayin¿” Oct. 4, three years after the release of his last studio album, the critically acclaimed portrait of darkness and addiction “Atrocity Exhibition.”

Detroit-native Danny Brown’s excellent new album “uknowhatimsayin¿” is another collection of psychedelic beats peppered with Brown’s signature frenetic voice and paranoid lyrics.

While White produced the majority of the beats on “Atrocity Exhibition,” his involvement in Danny Brown’s latest album, “uknowhatimsayin¿,” remains limited to four tracks. For the rest of the tracklist, Brown and executive producer Q-Tip, who rose to fame in A Tribe Called Quest, recruited fellow musicians JPEGMAFIA, Flying Lotus and Thundercat; underground producers Cartie Curt and Playa Haze; and experimental jazz/hip-hop group Standing On The Corner. 

With its playful, loud and colorful cover art, “uknowhatimsayin¿” is the stylistic opposite of “Atrocity Exhibition.” The lyrics, reportedly influenced by Brown’s friendships with stand-up comedians, are funnier than anything he’s done prior. The emotional and instrumental palette is also far lighter than his previous works.

The opening track “Change Up” features resounding guitars, a bouncy bassline and ghostly orchestral swells with a slow, thoughtful flow from Brown. While his discography features various degrees of the panicked, screechy vocals on “Atrocity Exhibition,” in “uknowhatimsayin¿” Brown dials it back for the majority of the project. 

 Brown details his sexual exploits in the story-song “Dirty Laundry,” the lead single of “uknowhatimsayin¿.” A riotous, synth-heavy banger, the Q-Tip-produced beat structure repeats without ever sounding boring. Throughout its 3:04 runtime, the song bubbles over.

Premiering on Twitch and produced by JPEGMAFIA, the song “3 Tearz” features hip-hop duo Run The Jewels. An occasional organ complements the percussive beat, giving the song a jilted feel. El-P and Killer Mike’s lyrically strong verses demonstrate their proven knowledge of wordplay and rhyme structure.

Synth-driven and one of the most musically complex pieces on the project, “Belly of the Beast” feels appropriately dramatic due to a breathy talkbox instrumental accent, soulful chorus vocals by Nigerian singer Obongjayar and a late marching beat that propels the song. Brown’s verses sound more like stand-up comedy than hip-hop.  

Released as the album’s second single, “Best Life” heavily samples and interpolates Tommy McGee’s “To Make You Happy.” An arrangement full of soul vocals, booming drums, sweeping violins and Q-Tip’s added deep, gurgling synths make the song one of the album’s best. Brown’s lyrics are as filthy as ever, and the song’s best lines are unprintable here.

Produced by experimental hip-hop musician Flying Lotus and bassist/producer Thundercat, the thrilling, eclectic “Negro Spiritual” also features guest vocals by JPEGMAFIA. A paranoid guitar line and driving drums drive the frantic, jittery verse, and a dizzying, seemingly-intoxicated bassline accompanies JPEGMAFIA’s raspy, freeform chorus vocals. 

The album’s closer, “Combat,” features an old-school Q-Tip beat that samples an interview with a young gang member from the Bronx in the documentary “80 Blocks From Tiffany’s.” Q-Tip joins Brown on the chorus, and Consequence, rapper and cousin of Q-Tip, joins the two near the end of the song. 

A funky bassline and a distorted horn lead the song, while Brown’s relentless vocals and lyrics embellish it. His last line in the song calls back to the same paranoia “Atrocity Exhibition” was built upon: “Some don’t know how to stick to the code; nobody to trust, that’s the way life goes.”

Brown’s 2016 album, “Atrocity Exhibition,” found critical acclaim for its stark depiction of addiction and mental health issues in one of the darkest hip-hop albums of the decade; it seems only fitting for him to follow it up with the vibrant, kaleidoscopic “uknowhatimsayin¿.”

Which direction will Brown turn next? Wherever he takes us, it’s certain to sound unlike anything we’ve heard before.

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About the Contributor
James Domizio
James Domizio, Magazine Editor
James Domizio (he/him) is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker in his sixth semester at The Oak Leaf, where he is a magazine editor. James will be graduating in May 2022 with degrees in journalism, film studies and humanities. James is a radio host, Twitch streamer, Patreon creator and musician. James lives in Sonoma and spends his free time watching "One Piece" and "Love Island" with his girlfriend Alex, editor-in-chief of The Oak Leaf.

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