By May, before their first album had even been released, I was tired of Odd Future. For the previous two months, it seemed like the collective critical intellect was devoted to weighing in on the L.A.-based rap clan, and the commentary ranged from breathless raves to revulsion. But the short window of time in which critical response can affect an artist's success quickly closed, and once Odd Future belonged to the public, it seemed more than willing to finance the group's antics. Not that Odd Future would care what listeners thought anyway.
Looking for something different, I turned next to the artists who were sparing with Odd Future, rappers who came forward to say they felt the group had cut in line on their way out of the underground. While Odd Future fans chanted "swag, swag, swag" on their first American tour, some Bay Area rappers declared themselves "swagnostic." The situation came to a head in Detroit. During a concert at the Majestic Theatre on Woodward, an unruly crowd treated Odd Future to a Blues Brothers-style bottle barrage. One bottle hit the clan's DJ, forcing the group to cancel the rest of the show.
The next day, Odd Future laid the blame for the bottle throwing on Danny Brown, saying the Detroit rapper had provoked the attack. He hadn't (another Detroit-area rapper named Hex Murda later confessed), but the beef had begun nonetheless. As Brown defended himself on Twitter, his followers more than doubled, giving him an audience that was ready to download his second mixtape, XXX, when it was released for free in August.
You can tell in the first line of the first verse of XXX's eponymous opener that Brown's voice wasn't going to de-contort for radio-friendliness. His lyrics aren't centered around the acquisition of—or subsequent bragging about—stuff. He's far more concerned with survival itself, and the fear that comes from finding yourself an old man playing a young man's game. In Danny Brown, critics found the authenticity that was promised by Odd Future's publicists. And his first mixtape, The Hybrid, managed to sound even better than its successor.
The critics didn't waste any praise. Jeff Weiss wrote two raves—one in Spin and another on his own site. Slate's Jonah Weiner wrote about the outstanding year 2011 is turning out to be for underground rap music, with Danny Brown impressing him most of all.
Promoters took notice and Brown scored a spot opening for Das Racist on their Relax tour, which stops in Los Angeles Thursday night at the Roxy. I hope that Brown can find some time, between the beefs and the Best New Music labels that he's racking up, to reflect and relax. He's earned it the old-fashioned way.