As eclectic and eccentric as they come, Danny Brown is no stranger to idiosyncrasy. Take one look at the man and you can tell that he’s cut from his own cloth. But falling into his afflicted mind through his music takes you on a journey all it’s own, one pierced by addiction, paranoia, and personal demons. He’s not a perfect person, nor has he ever tried to portray it so. As transparent as he is, he’s not necessarily a symbol of shining optimism or noble hope. He’s not hip-hop’s Christ-like savior, come to redeem us all; that role has, more or less, already been bestowed upon that nappy headed kid from Compton. No, Danny Brown has waded through the muck of it and come out the other side as a silent figure who’s here to kick ass. He’s the one rap deserves, but not the one it needs right now. Take a look at “Hell For It“, the closing track of Atrocity Exhibition, and you’ll understand why.
The song received a bit of attention for the fact that Brown essentially dissed Iggy Azalea, something he’s since distanced himself from by saying he only used her name because it rhymed. But really, the whole journey the lyricism takes here is one for the hip-hop hall of fame. It’s self-reflective, but stands to be self-empowering at the same time. The first verse looks back on his past, from whipping up crack with his uncle to worrying about his mother losing her house. It’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t even recognize the man looking back at him in the mirror, but he keeps on his grind, reminding himself of his prowess despite the pain.
All the time I heard I wouldn’t make it/I was writing shit that was so damn amazing/When half these little niggas was still watching That’s So Raven/I was out there hustling, Scraping up and saving/Just to catch a 12 hour bus to NY/Sleeping on the floor in studios, asking God why/But never got deterred from the voice I heard inside/Tell myself everyday, the greatest that’s alive.
From there the hook adds a layer of irony, drawing in themes of heaven and hell. Danny darkly states “I’ma give em hell for it/Until it’s heaven on Earth“. It’s clear that in his mind, the ends justify the means. His struggle through darkness is what made him and it’s the struggle that motivates him, but in the end it’ll raise him to glory. The second verse adds to this when he says, “I inspire your future with my past/I lived through that shit so you don’t have to go through it.” His story is one of pain and damage, and he wants the listeners to learn from it and grow, forging their own path in a more positive way.
Later in the verse we get to the meat of what he’s saying:
They compare skills to sales, tell myself everyday, know this shit ain’t real/Radio don’t make you ill, they get a hit and they feel they self/Respect for lyricism, in this game ain’t none left/Have a bitch like Iggy think she sicker than me/And that’s so fucked up, that’s just how this shit be/I just wanna make music, fuck being a celebrity/Cause these songs that I write leave behind my legacy.
In today’s rap game, hype seems to be the way to play. Rappers are the new rockstars, and the instant fame is going straight to their heads. With so many older fans calling out today’s young crop, it’s clear there’s a great divide, and Danny recognizes this perfectly. The respect for lyricism for the sake of “turnin’ up” has left a void of thought-provoking and powerful music. But Danny wants no part of this.
He’ll continue to craft his art in a way that he sees fit. Danny’s never been one to follow conventionality in his music, drawing inspiration through sources far and wide from rap, thus proving that he doesn’t care what the modern rap fan thinks or what they want to hear. He doesn’t want to be extremely famous or wealthy; he only cares about the legacy he leaves behind. He doesn’t want to be an individual, but a symbol of something better than what gets pumped out in today’s music. He takes up the mantle to protect rap’s integrity, a vigilante that works quietly, shying from the lime light. He bears the burden of working through the distress, the failure, the demotivators, and, by giving us his all and his story, he’s shown that by sticking to his art and not following the crowd, success is still attainable.
Hip-hop deserves to come face-to-face with the mediocrity that it’s let slide. We deserve to feel ashamed and embarassed, and we deserve someone who will shove that in our faces. Kendrick Lamar stands to be the white knight: a shining example of goodness and hope that we can look up to, someone who will do things the right way for the sake of proving that the right way IS the right way. Danny Brown, on the other hand, has played with fire, and darkness remains a part of him just as thick and heavy as it was when he was selling crack. He’s been through the nightmare, he’s broken, just like the genre around him, and he prides himself on maintaining his individuality. He will shove our faces in it, reminding us and his fellow artists that a radio hit doesn’t make you the shit, a party jam doesn’t make you a star, and a number one song certainly doesn’t make you a legend. No, he’s more worried about the legacy left behind in the MUSIC, not the PERSON, and the overall legacy of hip-hop as a whole.
He’s not a celebrity. He’s not a hero. He’s not here to save us. He’s what, not who, the rap game deserves. He is the Dark Knight.