Rap Yard: Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Maffew Ragazino, Delicate Steve
Saturday, August 20
Better than: Eating fried chicken with a prostitute.
Fresh off the release of a free mixtape through local indie label Fool’s Gold, the rising Detroit MC Danny Brown headlined Saturday installment of the Rock Yard party, which was dubbed Rap Yard and co-presented by Combat Jack and Dallas Penn, JellyNYC, and LivenDirect. It might not have been Summer Jam, but teetering on the edge of the small stage, launching into sarcastically pained tirades on personal setbacks and existential examinations of oral sex, the crowd encircling him and anxiously waiting for the next punchline, Brown proved he was ready to take his career to the next level.
Up until now, Brown has been patient with his own career development. The title of his latest release, XXX, isn’t actually a nod to his lasciviousness; it’s a matter-of-fact salute to his being 30 years old, and traveling down a long, tumultuous road to get there. In the early naughts, Brown gained his first acclaim, being hailed as the strongest link in Detroit cult favorite Reser’vor Dogs. That group had a potential deal with Roc-A-Fella that eventually fell through, but a label A&R rep helped get Brown’s solo career going. He made tracks with Nicki Minaj, befriended and collaborated with G-Unit star Tony Yayo, and recorded some eye-raising material, but lost time and got off track when a drug charge landed him a year in jail.
The demons of drug, money, and legal problems finally seem to have shaken Brown enough to seize this current moment. XXX brims with a dark immediacy, and live, Brown illuminated his frustrations as much as his wit. Between the endless quips about blowjobs and blunts that, despite their omnipresence, don’t get completely tiresome thanks to a strong supply of creativity, Brown dished out the somber picture of his life with methodically crazy eyes staring forward. It’s a strange mix of braggadocio and Pinocchio; Brown seemingly can’t tell a lie, even if its at his own expense. It’s more engaging than typical sad-clown material, mostly because Brown embraces his dysfunction. “Experiment so much it’s a miracle I’m living,” Brown proclaimed during “Die Like A Rockstar,” a name-dropping ballad and admirational eulogy to famously deceased celebrities and artists that burned out too soon. During “Monopoly,” a grimy synth instrumental set a shadowy mood for unfortunate crack sale encounters and blurred visions of street dominance. In quick, melodic bursts, the emphatic weight dropping at the end of each sentence like an anchor, Brown was equally adept at splitting ribs as he was raising the crowd’s anxiety level.
There probably couldn’t be a better foil for Brown’s intense, panic laden gospel then the smooth, ultra lyrical flow of Queens rapper Action Bronson. Performing before Brown, the lyrical gourmand satiated ears and engorged appetites with his brilliant, food-obsessed take on prototypical ’90s New York hip hop. He could the be the city’s brightest new hope at continuing the legacy of boom bap, although Bronson doesn’t seem like the kind of person to bask in his own spotlight. His songs are like long paragraphs; devoid of choruses, fluid, conversational, and powered as much by instinct as intellect. Despite jokingly lamenting his fitness, Bronson rarely needed to catch his breath as he ran through numbers off his recent album Dr. Lecter. Whether talking about failed diets in “Ronnie Coleman” or tasteless encounters with prostitutes (in just about every song), Bronson’s flow was effortless, full of candor and hilarity, and crudely erudite.
Earlier in the day, Ducky gave off an enticing Peaches-meets-Twista electro-blitzkrieg vibe, complete with attractive stage dancers and a giant bunny doing the running man. Recent Fool’s Gold signee Party Supplies professed his love for Peter Gabriel with vocoded dance anthems full of MPC wizardry and floor-stomping appeal. Afro-prog group Delicate Steve worked through technical difficulties to engage the crowd with their soaring guitar fireworks, rattling percussion, and funked-out melodica riffs. The slip and slide flowed like wine, the BBQ was plentiful, and the multi-colored Speedos came out during heated dodgeball matches. Just another Bushwick Saturday.
Critical bias: I’m a complete sucker for anything even remotely resembling ’90s golden era NYC hip-hop.
Overheard: About Delicate Steve’s Melodica prowess: “That dude just killed it with that toy instrument.”
Notebook dump: Watching overly aggressive dodgeball players run around and avoid rapidly flying, point blank projectiles aimed directly at their heads, I couldn’t help but feel that the sport seemed all too appropriate for shady Bushwick backyards.