It took me forever to come around on the Detroit rapper Danny Brown. Brown’s a unique figure and an undeniable talent, and he always seemed like somebody I’d like. But his voice, a raspy rabid-hyena wail, always grated on my soul. Brown’s rap style is intentionally obnoxious, but it’s still obnoxious, and I had trouble enjoying it for more than a verse at a time. I didn’t start actually liking the guy until he released the energetic, ambitious free album XXX a couple of months ago, and even with that one, I’m not as amped about it as a lot of other people. His forthcoming Black And Brown collaborative EP with Black Milk is dope as fuck, but I still always wondered what might happen if Brown brought the unstable fury of his delivery down a couple of notches. XXX only had a couple of guests on it, and one of them was the fellow Detroit MC DopeHead on “Bruiser Brigade.” Dopehead’s now released Plaid Palm Trees, a mixtape of his own, and it answers the question of what Brown might sound like if he calmed his style down a bit. Answer: It sounds pretty good!
First things first: DopeHead sounds a lot like Danny Brown; at times, his delivery is so similar that you’d call him a biter if you didn’t already know that the two are friends. Like Brown, DopeHead is big on unflinching poverty-depictions, queasy sex talk, and obliquely weird punchlines (“my flow tight like the Jonas Brothers’ skin is”). But he adjusts that familiar style by dialing it back, sinking deeper into the tracks and going into deeper head-nod mode. The Detroit hometown anthem “Airbags,” the one song that made the rounds in advance of the mixtape, is both DopeHead’s strongest moment and his quietest. On a chilly glide of a beat, he lays back and lets the bizarre punchlines fly: “Knock your nose off like the sphinx.”
Elsewhere, he prefers to rip through tracks. On “Young Dog,” he goes into story-song mode, telling cautionary tales like Guru on Gang Starr’s “Just To Get A Rep.” On “My Hood,” he goes into forbiddingly violent neighborhood tough talk over a slowed-down version of the Lyn Collins “Think” break, the same drum pattern that animated Rob Base’s “It Takes Two” and about a million Baltimore club anthems. On “Drifting,” he sits out entirely and lets Wu-Tang hook-singer Blue Raspberry belt out a surprisingly affecting R&B number.
The production, much of it from the producer Drumma B, is airy and full of empty space. The drums kick sharp and hard, but the breezy synths evoke the could-rap of peers like Main Attrakionz. It’s a strong sound, and it gives DopeHead a lot of room to bulldoze. Unlike past Mixtapes Of The Week like Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s Lost In Translation or Nacho Picasso’s For The Glory, it doesn’t quite create its own aesthetic world. But it does take an of-the-moment style and run with it. It’s a fun album on its own, but it’s probably best heard as a companion-piece to brown’s XXX. Next time around, maybe DopeHead will come with a style that’s more his own. For now, though, he’s rapping hard enough to demand attention, and that’s really all he has to do for the moment.
Download Plaid Palm Trees for free right here.