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Danny Brown shows maturity, diversity on ‘uknowhatimsayin¿’

On his fifth studio album, Danny Brown delivers a record that feels calculated, mature and familiar.

Brown has always been something of an anomaly in the hip-hop world. The Detroit-born rapper quickly set himself apart from the pack with his signature vocal delivery, simplistic beats and graphic lyrics.

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The space between 2016’s “Atrocity Exhibition” and “uknowhatimsayin¿” feels like a long and sobering breath of air. “Atrocity Exhibition,” a record that felt less like a cry for help than 2011’s “XXX,” saw Brown at arguably his most successful and inventive. Featuring industry giants like Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt, “Atrocity Exhibition” is a harrowing and chaotic record that quickly freed Brown from the cult status he had earned with his previous works.

On “uknowhatimsayin¿,” Brown still feels as chaotic as ever but with a delivery that is evidently mature, controlled and decidedly less manic.

The lead single from “uknowhatimsayin¿,” “Dirty Laundry,” is a steady song that rides on a bouncy and slightly off beat, sampled from ‘70s band Syrinx. The track chronicles Brown’s usual lyrical subject matter, including public sex acts and drug interactions, paired with a music video that takes its inspiration from 1970s “blaxploitation” films.

“3 Tearz,” with its off-kilter beat that showcases Brown’s eccentric flow, pulsates angrily before giving way to a fitting and well-executed feature by rap duo Run the Jewels.

Following “3 Tearz” comes “Belly of The Beast,” a slow and spacious trip of a song where Brown’s staccato delivery is coupled with a sung chorus by Nigerian-born artist Obongjayar. It is an excellent song that hearkens back to “XXX”-era Brown in both delivery and subject matter.

The title track, which also features Obongjayar, is a dancing song that showcases the best of Brown’s more versatile side and his ability to create more traditional rap songs. On the other hand, “Negro Spiritual,” featuring JPEGMAFIA, sees Brown return to his signature abrasive vocal delivery and graphic lyricism.

“uknowhatimsayin¿” features production credits from many giants in hip-hop, both current and classic, including Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus and Thundercat. The legendary producer and member of A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip, serves as executive producer for the record. Q-Tip’s influence is noticeable in the frequently off-kilter yet incredibly musical beats seen throughout the record.

The record ends with “Combat,” a song that features a beat that closely resembles the jazz-influenced sound of A Tribe Called Quest.

While Danny Brown has always existed on the outskirts of contemporary rap music, his musicianship, versatility and true individuality are displayed proudly on “uknowhatimsayin¿.” The record feels calmer that his previous works while still implementing the essential qualities that make Brown such a respected figure in hip-hop music today.

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“uknowhatimsayin¿” feels like the right next step to make in Brown’s career, and it is delivered as a calculated and chaotic record that is as refreshing as it is familiar.

Rating: 7.6/10

Matt Campbell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @mcampnh

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