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Joel Biswas doesn’t pay to have his samples cleared, but you didn’t hear that from us.
Danny Brown’s evolution from wise-cracking chronicler of the Detroit street hustle to nihilistic ringmaster of an Adderall-fueled interzone is one of the most fascinating journeys of rap’s last decade. 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition felt like a culmination – a jagged little pill of noise-driven soundscapes that channeled bleak emotional vicissitudes into his singular, staccato rhyme flow and inimitable yowl. But what could have been his Stankonia landed as a cult classic.
“Never spend 70K on samples for an album that no one buys,” he lamented on Twitter.
Brown gets back to basics with Bruiser Brigade’s Reign Supreme – an unofficial release that he debuted as a live stream on Twitch replete with uncleared samples, compressed fidelity and Kay Slay-style ad-libs.
The 12-track album sees Brown share the spotlight with day-ones and friends — ZelooperZ, Dopehead, Cash the Cushman and Fat Ray — over dank beats that could be Jaylib out-takes. Brown seems energized by the proximity of hungry, like-minded talent and what follows is a low-key lyrical feast. Long on gully subject matter, hair-raising flows and pass-the-mic chemistry and short on the polish and fractured introspection that marks Brown’s solo work.
Each rapper takes turns as Brown’s sparring partner, veering between eerily accurate impersonations of Brown’s flow and showcasing their own styles. ZelooperZ grabs attention early with opener “Liar” that previews his own upcoming album. He’s the closest stylistic cousin to Brown on the record, with a wigged-out flow that sounds like Chance peaking on DMT.
“Stressed Out” sees Brown make like a deranged carnival barker over a manic BPM until ZelooperZ drops in at lilting half-speed, before Dopehead shifts through the gears again: “The last boss like M. Bison, with a zip full of that Joe Biden.” “Nightmares”, “Mollywhop” and “Razor Blade” hew closer to the project staircase blueprint of Brown’s XXX – verbal violence and drug raps over moody loops that land like a gut punch and linger like the fug of Afghani dope.
Brown generously cedes space on the mic to his “lil’ homies” but remains as imperious as ever – “I’m the Ike, highest type, number uno / Like my basslines fat and bumping like a sumo” he raps on the anthemic “Dollar and a Dream” leaving Dopehead almost no choice but to offer a second verse of near perfect impersonation. On “Fat Cassius Clay”, he requires only 15 seconds to steal the album outright when he raps “Born with the blood of an enraged slave / Caught fucking master’s wifey and got hung that day.” It’s not only the funniest couplet on the album; it’s a brilliant summary of the method behind Brown’s madness, a reminder that in his hands cheerfully sociopathic content hasn’t been this much fun since the heyday of B-Real.
There’s no dead weight here. The Bruiser Brigade are a genuine lyrical force and hive mind – more like the egalitarian swarm of the Heiroglyphics movement than the perfectly formed Voltron of Wu-Tang. There’s plenty of Brown’s trademark hedonism on display, but this a posse mixtape of the old school; the act of returning to one’s roots and showcasing the voices that shaped you. It’s a chance for Brown to take a break from the psychic wreckage of adulthood to tour the shattered Detroit landscape where the scarring began.
The crew seem to know each other well enough to finish each other’s verses and Brown revels in the role of irrepressible oddball to perfection. He’s the left-field dude in the gang who wore braids and dropped acid; the one who had jokes for days but still might cut your face for laughing. It didn’t make a lot of sense then but you get the feeling that for Danny Brown, it might just make more sense than right now.