“How do you say 40 in Italian?” asks Danny Brown, the opening line of the opening track on his latest record. “In Italian, 40 is quaranta”, replies the robotic voice of a smart assistant device. “Quaranta. Quaranta. Quaranta,” repeats the voice, and the track surges to life.
If this introduction is anything to go by, Brown has age on the mind. It’s an ever-present theme on his sixth studio album, named – you guessed it – Quaranta. It’s the first record Brown’s released since reaching the milestone age (not including 2023’s JPEGMAFIA two-hander Scaring The Hoes), and on it the rapper mines his introspective side. On “Ain’t My Concern” Brown grapples with the lifestyle choices his profession has led him to, but ultimately decides to turn over a new leaf (“I’m turning the page/We can wish all we want, but this ain’t back in the days”). “Hanami” is similarly self-examining, as the rapper deliberates his life and career trajectory thus far. “They say age catchin’ up, so I’m runnin’ from death”, he declares on the tracks opening bars, before continuing on: “Rap a young man game, and ya missed ya mark/Probably never win a Grammy or chart on the charts”.
Elsewhere on the record, the theme of substance abuse rears its head at various points. “Black Lives Matter but still sniff cocaine”, Brown spits ironically on “Tantor”; “This little pink pill tasting like it got sugar in it/Done so much coke, it’s like a gram on my booger”, he says on “Ain’t My Concern”. But at other times, drugs aren’t just quippy punchlines, but real hurdles of which Brown has overcome, like on the bluesy “Shakedown”. On the song, the rapper speaks of how he used to do “crack with the pack,” but now “the only track I know is gеtting done with the Mac”. Brown always, approaches his records with candour, but the bars on Quaranta feel particularly reflective, even by the rappers standards.
But Brown doesn’t only look inward on Quaranta. “Jenn’s Terrific Vacation” is an entry into the new canon of gentrification anthems, as the rapper sends up capitalist excess with his trademark humour. “Right there used to be a crack house/Now it’s an organic garden”, he jokes on the track. Elsewhere, Brown describes how “they done tore [the block] down and made that to a Whole Foods”. But when the track’s outro arrives, and the rapper ominously repeats “What you gon’ do?/Where you gon’ go?” in a whisper, we remember that the song’s satire is underpinned by very real structures of exploitation and neglect. It’s the rapper’s ability to look both inward and outward on this album – reckoning with his own life and the framework it exists within – that makes Quaranta one Brown’s most rewarding releases yet.
In other news, Ali Sethi and Nicolas Jaar join forces on Intiha, Danny Daze shares his long-awaited debut album, while Rainy Miller and Space Afrika also team up for their own collaborative effort.