Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA Deliver The Weirdo Gospel We Need on ‘Scaring The Hoes’

danny-brown-jpegmafia - Credit: Carlo Cavaluzzi*
danny-brown-jpegmafia - Credit: Carlo Cavaluzzi*

It’s been a rough few years for young men. The role models offered up in today’s crop of alpha male podcasters and crypto grifters provide little in the face of the world’s dizzying buffet of hostilities. So it’s comforting to see Detroit hip-hop maximalist Danny Brown’s virtuosic brand of weirdo make its way to the TikTok generation. His podcast The Danny Brown Show  (imagine Joe Rogan put through Adult Swim’s intellectual filter) is a reliable source for viral snippets. It also provided the promotional glue for Brown’s latest album, a joint project with fellow rap-electronic eccentric JPEGMAFIA, effectively titled Scaring The Hoes. In one clip, Brown asks his friend and collaborator about getting surgery to fix his hairline, imploring audiences to buy the record in order to make the expense worthwhile.

Both artists lean into this sort of radical, perhaps slightly unhinged, form of honesty throughout the album. It wouldn’t be entirely unfair to see the entire project as an elaborate send-up of rap marketing. If the commercial thrust of the past decade of the genre have been R&B crossovers cynically aimed at women, Danny Brown and Jpegmafia set out, and succeeded, at creating the exact opposite.

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While the pair have worked together in the past Jpegmafia’s production on this project is his most freewheeling, taking refuge in decidedly chaotic registers by introducing downbeats and drum sequences like a gambler at a slot machine. “Lean Beef Patty,” the album’s lead single and opening track, rides a pitched up sample of Diddy’s “I Need a Girl (Part 2),” warped into Gen Z oblivion before a staggered synth pulse coaxes a rhythm out of the clashing components. Meanwhile, the ever referential Jpegmafia opens with what might be the best line of the year, opting to declare, “fuck Elon Musk,” as if it were simply the first thought his mind could muster.

It’s the album’s unpolished edges that rope you in. The inexplicable mastering – Brown’s vocals never quite punch in the mix, as if coming in from a car parked outside the studio – makes it feel as uncut as an Instagram Live. On “Fentanyl Tester,” the sample of Kelis’ “Milkshake” sublimates into a stuttering trap rhythm, replete with a roaring, subterranean bass, until it all vanishes and a blissful breakbeat ushers in Danny Brown, mid sprint, rapping about copious consumption. The song’s most discernible sound is Brown’s darkly infectious chant, “Hands on the wheel no accident.”

Elsewhere, like on the album’s title track, a devious refrain of echoed handclaps — the kind you wouldn’t want someone walking by your bedroom door to misinterpret. The sound makes way for an even more sinister string arrangement that juts in and out of Brown’s frenetic verse. Somewhere, obliterated by the swell of noise, he’s surveying the passage of time. “Fuck that hip-hop and that old man flow / Where the AutoTune at?” he raps. “Give a fuck about a trap / ‘Cause it’s all about the scams, catch up, old man.”

Still, Brown is as vibrantly devious as ever, even as his lyrics suggest a deeper decline into the grips of substance use. The album’s second half has the feeling of an after-hours party. Things are slower only by necessity. We’re greeted with the Cocteau Twins-sounding “Kingdom Hearts Key,” which samples the famous anime composer Yoko Kanno. JPEG’s flow arrives with an uninhibited abandon. The punchy one-liner, “Hittin whip-its and eating Halal,” lands almost entirely in service of a later reference to neo-soul crooner Bilal. On the gospel-sampling “God Loves You,” Danny Brown finds as many ways to make church horny as he can, opening his verse by rapping, “sit on my face I wanna speak in tongues.”

The album’s pop cultural sensibility ends up doing much of the heavy lifting in terms of cohesion. References to everything from King of the Hill to tracks with titles like “Jack Harlow Combo Meal” have the mischievous feeling of early Eminem or, more aptly, South Park, unafraid to take jabs at commercial orthodoxy. The album appears in full on YouTube with an imposing red font with its tongue-in-cheek title printed as if it were a bombastic Drake loosie.

Both Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA transmit the kind of disjointed anxiety that lurks beneath the modern condition. “HOE (Heaven on Earth),” the album’s penultimate track, brings us back into the choir. Almost like a core memory, Brown’s verse seems to tumble out of him. “Fell on my knees when I caught a felony / Tell me who there for me / Think I need therapy, sent God a text but his message turn green,” he raps. Like deciphering an ancient cassette tape, distorted right up to the point of destruction, Scaring the Hoes is, in fact, a little scary. And that’s what makes it so compelling. The chaos makes way for clarity.

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