In a striking departure from his earlier, more frenetic works, Danny Brown reemerges with Quaranta (‘orty’ in Italian, his age when he wrote it), a significant landmark in his creative and personal journey.
It’s an autobiographical album, packed with anecdote, most notably on ‘Y.B.P / Young, Black & Poor’: “Too many in the bed had to sleep on the floor / Cus my cousin always peein’ gettin’ whipped in the mornin’…” and revelation; “Only go to church when someone die”.
Here, Brown confesses the dual nature of music in his life – a saviour and a complicator, a theme that defines the whole album. Brown’s evolution is apparent in his delivery, too. Gone (well, almost) is the characteristic high-pitched, frenetic style, replaced by a more contemplative approach that mirrors the progress he’s made in fighting his demons.
Quaranta isn’t just a lyrical journey; it’s also a production marvel. Teaming up with industry greats like The Alchemist, Quelle Chris, and Paul White, Brown has built up a vastly advanced sound compared to his previous work that complements his introspective lyrics. Tracks like ‘Tantor’ and ‘Dark Sword Angel’ do both, combining insightful lyricism with varied beats, and serve to underline Brown’s continued shifting as an artist.
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Quaranta is Brown’s raw honesty about his mental health and addiction battles. Tracks like ‘Down Wit It’ and ‘Celibate’ are not just musically adept, but emotionally layered. Instantly detectable in his words is a vulnerability that makes you want to sit down and listen to the life story of a man who’s clearly been to hell and back – and understands he might make the journey again. Ultimately, it’s a welcome departure from the formulaic boasting and materialism that characterises so much of hip-hop, and shows a genre growing in philosophical and emotional complexity.
Quaranta takes us on a journey from the mess of addiction to the practical blessing of sobriety, with a narrative arc mirrored in its sound structure – the first half vibrates with the energy reminiscent of Brown’s earlier work, while the latter is more grounded and wistful, just like Brown’s own life path.
Yes, this new direction may not resonate with all fans, especially those who gravitate towards the wild energy of his previous work, but this is the conundrum all musical careers pose: we want our favourite artists to be happy and lead stable lives, but for that, they often have to go through many trials and experiments.
It’s this very evolution that emphasises Quaranta as a crucial point in Brown’s career, a testament to his resilience and ability to pour his life experiences into art. And what an ability he has.