Danny Brown Is At His Most Personal on Quaranta

The Detroit rapper’s first solo album in four years is a mark of growth, healing and retrospect.

Music Reviews Danny Brown
Danny Brown Is At His Most Personal on Quaranta

Many of us first had the pleasure of being introduced to Danny Brown back in 2011 thanks to XXX, the critically acclaimed project that proved to be his career breakthrough. The tape would go on to become a classic of blog-era hip-hop, with a wide array of publications hailing it as one of the best projects of the 2010s altogether. It also served as a timestamp of sorts for Brown: Titled in commemoration of his 30th year, (marked by three Xs, the Roman numeral for ten), the electric, lyrically-forward LP was a self-aware ode to the drug-laden nights that characterized his life at the time.

Just over 10 years later comes Quaranta, XXX’s heir apparent. Named for the number “40” in Italian, the project sees Brown, now 42, looking back at his life, career and decisions he’s made along the way. “I took a while to get here, now I depend on these drugs,” Brown rapped emphatically on XXX’s titular track. It was a blunt, cognizant admission of what he was going through back then. “I was wilding,” he said in a recent Rolling Stone profile. “I had just started experimenting with drugs and shit. That was when it was the fun stages. But I was old enough to know what I was getting myself into.” While Brown continued to release a strong catalog of music in the years that followed (Old, Atrocity Exhibition, uknowhatimsayin¿, and his recent JPEGMAFIA collab album SCARING THE HOES are all excellent listens), he was struggling deeply with mental health and addiction.

It all came to a head this past March following a drunk appearance on his podcast The Danny Brown Show, where Brown took shots at his record label. It was then that he knew he had to make a change. He checked himself into a rehab program, where he reconnected with his innermost self, found relief in faith and spirituality—and left with a new lease on life. Quaranta, Brown’s first solo album in four years, is the culmination of those years of struggle—and a shining reflection of his dedication to meeting his demons where they’re at. Over the course of the LP’s 11 songs, Brown sounds as if he’s in a zen state: He’s accepting of his past, mindful of his present and at peace with whatever his future may bring.

“This rap shit done saved my life and fucked it up at the same time,” he laments on the album’s titular opening track, a song driven by smooth electric guitar licks and candid lyricism that sees Brown recounting his life’s journey, setting the scene for a number of emotionally vulnerable confessionals that dominate the project. “This that Black Lives Matter, still sniff cocaine / Paid for a therapist, but I still ain’t change,” he raps on The Alchemist-produced rock-heavy track “Tantor,” a frank allusion to the depths of his own personal complexity. But, as cliché tells us, sometimes truth is the very thing that sets you free. Brown sounds determined to clean the skeletons out of his closet on the synth-driven “Down Wit It” and is able to give his past selves a nod and a smile on transcendental standout track “Bass Jam.”

Quaranta also doesn’t shy away from social commentary. Whether Brown is ruminating on the consequences of gentrification on the stellar, Kassa Overall-featuring “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation” or discussing the lifelong impact of growing up in an underserved area alongside fellow Detroit rapper Bruiser Wolf on “Y.B.P.,” he demonstrates his keen perception and ability to translate the world he sees around him time and again. Quaranta is Danny Brown at his finest—and his most personal. It’s one of this year’s best albums: a no-skips project from an artist committed to stepping into the light and putting his best foot forward every day, despite the clouds that sometimes obscure the sun. “Probably never win a Grammy or chart on the charts / Should I still keep going or call it a day?” Brown raps on the meditative “Hanami,” a term borrowed from the traditional Japanese custom of appreciating the ephemeral beauty of cherry blossoms. For now, Danny Brown seems content to stop and smell the roses. It’s high time we give him his flowers.

Elizabeth Braaten is a writer from Houston, Texas.

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