Danny Brown 

XXX mixtape

Contemporary hip-hop can be understood in terms of three fantasies: money, violence and fame. Ironically, the degree to which rappers stick to these subjects is called realness. That's a problem. As Rick Ross reminds us, realness is not really real. It's a point Danny Brown drives home on his XXX mixtape, which diverges from the standard in fun and frustrating ways.

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There's his voice, obviously. In a genre-wide contest to see who can sound meanest from his car, Brown's voice cracks and spills over bars like ODB's. He might live like ODB, too; the title track, "Die Like a Rockstar," and several other jams on XXX are about his likely chemical dependency. Generally, Danny Brown sounds worried. It's an approach that strips away the dumb braggadocio of commercial rap but leaves its core of frustration and longing intact.

Except sometimes it doesn't. For all his disgust with cookie-cutter rap, Brown still regularly explains which biological functions he performs on my girl's face. Thematically, he's schizophrenic: He hurls rocks at the bandwagon before jumping on. XXX is a mixed bag, but that's what a mixtape is for. Here's hoping that next time, Brown will go all the way.

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