Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Danny Brown tangles with time and temptation on Quaranta


Release date: 17 November 2023
Danny Brown Quaranta cover
17 November 2023, 09:00 Written by Joshua Mills

All things being equal, 2023 should have served as a victory lap for Danny Brown.

The Detroit native finds himself one of the most beloved figures in hip-hop, a successful podcaster, and hitting gold once again on Scaring The Hoes, a collaborative LP made with JPEGMafia.

Instead, this has been a far more complex year. Quaranta was essentially finished during the pandemic but held by Warp up to this point. All the while, Brown’s substance abuse issues have been publicised, with the rapper facing some of his darkest times during the pandemic and recently completing a stint in rehab. Such turmoil could foreshadow a major musical shift.

Well, yes and no. For those who like the party stuff, there’s plenty to enjoy. “Tantor” is a perfect first single, Brown barking at the top of his register in nihilist mode – “This that Black Lives Matter, still sniff cocaine / Paid for a therapist but I still ain’t change.” “Dark Sword Angel” is combative, firing shots at label executives over a swaggering beat, but leaving room for charmingly crude sex bars and a surprising reference to comedian-cum-landlord Hannibal Buress.

When darkness descends, though, it gets heavy. Brown sets us up at the top of the titular opener: “This rap shit done saved my life / And fucked it up at the same time.” As the subject matter turns increasingly more personal, he drops his punchlines and deft similes and strips back his content to its bare essentials. The woozy, weary “Down Wit It” is the record’s most eviscerating cut, Brown examining his own downfall and descent. “Shoulda listened to my homie when he told me “slow down”,” he raps, before addressing directly the paranoia-fuelled heartbreak that has left him alone and self-medicating – “I had a woman down with me / But to me, she was down to get me”.

Time is a fixation of Brown’s across Quaranta, starting with its title – Italian for forty, and a follow-up to XXX, his album of a decade prior. The back-to-back “Y.B.P.” and “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation” provide a then and now of Detroit. The former paints a picture of youthful struggle, though the tune is spry and the performance almost wistful. “Vacation”, by contrast, rails against the opportunistic gentrification of a deprived city, the protagonist finding his hometown almost unrecognisable.

Penultimate track “Hamani” addresses this more directly still. “Rap a young man’s game and you missed your mark,” he tells himself over Sven Wunder’s knowingly retro, RZA-esque beat. Ultimately, he finds peace in nostalgia and music on closer “Bass Jam”. It’s the gentlest we’ve heard Danny to date as he reflects on the comforts of family and listening to the classics – “Play another song, let the music talk for us / Have us shedding tears, so we talk through the chorus.”

While they’re obviously poles apart in terms of content, Quaranta is reminiscent of a Bruce Springsteen LP from his darkest period. Artists with such established personae have to give the fans some of what they’re used to, but when it’s time to get bleak, it gets bleak. Though it may confound the fans who want more of the yelping renegade of old, this is Brown’s most personal and cohesive record to date; difficult, timely, and necessary. To the man’s credit, he can drop so many of his signature tics and tricks without becoming any less captivating an artist.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next