Hip-hop music has always been made for the youth, by the youth. Yet in 2013, the power players are anything but young. The people in rap music who matter most — the Jay Zs, the Kanyes, the Rick Rosses, the Eminems — are mostly all in their mid-30s or early 40s, old men in rap years. Meaning you can grow old in hip-hop, which is a new phenomenon.
(Case in point: Jay Z is 43. What was Rakim doing at age 43? Well, that was two years ago, and not much).
How perfect is it that they both drop an album on the same day? The similarities are there: both are supremely skilled MCs, surviving in an era where those virtues aren’t celebrated. They both share similar skill sets with their rhyming, too: witty punchlines, the ability to change the tone of a song by how they use their voice, and superb attention to detail.
Both also have been tossed around this industry. Before Pusha found Kanye, he was traded from label to label as one half of the Clipse. Danny spent time doing grunt work for lesser rappers like Tony Yayo.
They’re both rappers who have been embraced by a certain underground, Internet-based crowd, who maintain they’re just one song away from the radio.
Oh, and they’re also old: Pusha is 36 and Danny Brown is 32 years old. And on their debuts, Pusha T’s My Name is My Name and Danny Brown’s appropriately titled Old, they bring what they remember gangsta music to be into a new era.
Quality gangsta music in 2013 — albums that are dark and lyrically vivid — are gone. That sound is a dying art, and the only ones still faithful to it are Chief Keef and his GBE crew, whose work often lacks the depth of great gangsta rap albums of the past.
And here we have Pusha T and Danny Brown making some of the freshest sounding gangsta rap in years.
Both of their albums prove the artists know how to shock, often just by how bluntly they rap. They are both writers; they don’t need to add flair to give a detailed picture.
You won’t hear a verse more jarring than Danny Brown’s first on “Torture.” If I told you Prodigy spit this on The Infamous, you would have believed me:
“Back when I was living on Flanders
Seen another dope fiend beat another with a hammer
Remember at the park, seen a nigga at a payphone
Got rocked in his dome, momma picked me up and ran home
Was like fucking seven years old
When I first seen a fiend try to light a rock off the stove
Damn near burned his top lip off, so my mind ticked off
Desensitized to a lotta things, mind would drift off
Wish it was what I seen on TV, I snapped outta that
Unc beating on my auntie
Gunshots outside was sorta like fireworks
We know they ain’t fireworks, its December 21st.”
Pusha’s tales of the street life are all over his album. But they hit the hardest on The-Dream — assisted “40 Acres.”
If I told you Biggie spit this on Ready to Die, you would have believed me:
“Big Willie with the blow, niggas, I am legend
School of hard knock, I attended
Selling hard rock, fuck who I offended
I was a goner, punished by karma
Called him tar baby now he’s transcending genres
The 911 king with the ass shots
A toothless crackhead was the mascot
The owner of the key to that padlock
I’m Jordan vs. Cavs for the last shot
I need all mine, reparations
We growin’ poppy seeds on my 40 acres.”
These kind of raps aren’t new territory for Pusha, who claimed he was “Uncle Jemima with his braids wrapped” on the Clipse’s major label debut, Lord Willin’, in 2002.
But it’s strange to hear Danny Brown roll around the mud like this. Last year, I wouldn’t even have described Danny Brown as a gangsta rapper. Danny’s breakout project, XXX, is an album filled with dirty talk and sexual jokes. (Like if Devin the Dude was on acid).
The premise of Danny’s new album is interesting. The first half of the record sees him embracing the gritty Detroit sound (songs like “The Return” and “Dope Fiend Rental” are beautiful), while the second half is all about the wonderful mess he is now.
The second half of the album finds Danny exclusively rapping over electronic-inspired beats, accompanied by his crazy animated voice. Even when the music speeds, his lyrics should be listened to slowly; they’re still dense.
In essence, Pusha is doing the same thing with his album, just not as blatantly: Pusha, who’s always had one of the most unique ears in the game, pushes forward with the minimalistic sound that is dominating radio waves nowadays.
The beats are dark, sparse and full of noises that creep on you. (Ex: The light chanting over the heavy drums on “Pain,” the clock ticking noise on “Numbers on the Board”).
Danny Brown and Pusha are doing the art form a great service: updating gangsta music for a 2013 ear — something that’s just not done anymore (Prodigy and Freddie Gibbs made great gangsta rap albums that are completely stubborn in their old-school sound).
So the question remains: will it work?
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