With yet another show-stealing cameo on his new album from Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, it seems that Detroit rapper Danny Brown is continuing his run as the newly anointed king of independent hip hop. His mixtape XXX put him on the map a couple of years ago, but it was his excellent album Old, released last year on Fool’s Gold Records, that confirmed his place in the pantheon.
He is still on something of a victory lap from that album, hence his appearance at El Rey Theatre on Saturday for a headlining show. The mood was set by the support acts and reciprocated by the crowd, which had come to party. With a minimal set-up of a laptop-armed DJ and a number of hype men (basically every rap show you’ve ever been to), it was obvious that this would be a show almost entirely reliant on volume and the charisma of the man everybody had come to see.
It is fortunate, in this case, that Danny Brown has charisma to burn. With his leather vest and trousers, his mohawk haircut, and his thick-framed glasses, he looks more like a punk rocker than a rapper (something that apparently dissuaded 50 Cent, rather foolishly, from signing Brown to his label). To that you can add his idiosyncratic vocal style, which is, for the most part, the sound of a lost Looney Tunes character, and you have a full package for a star in the making.
Inevitably it was the party anthem side of Brown that got an airing Saturday, with the likes of “Dope Song” and “Dip” causing half of the audience to pogo maniacally for most of the set’s duration. This unfortunately meant that one of the things that makes Danny Brown such a fascinating character, namely the versatility of both mood and delivery featured during some of his album’s darker moments, was absent for the show’s duration. It is inevitable that a hyped Saturday night Los Angeles crowd is less likely to respond with glee to songs about being desensitized to violence in a Detroit upbringing than it would to a song about a woman making her ass clap.
As far as horny party bangers, though, there are few who do it better than Brown. These are songs that always go much further than just relying on predictable bass drops and obvious samples. His work with the likes of A-Trak and Rustie last year has resulted in tunes that have depth as well as breadth. If some of the subtlety was lost on stage, as Brown simply fulfilled his duty to get the crowd going nuts, well, then maybe that was the point. It’ll be interesting to see if he begins to test the limits of his show as much as he tests himself on record, but until then, it’s obvious that Brown is a huge star in the making if the rest of the world ever catches on.
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