Pusha T’s My Name is My Name and Danny Brown’s Old should be your front-runners for hip-hop album of the year. It is honestly that simple. Contrasting both, however, provides perspective on two entirely different experiences and styles that operate on opposing sides of the hip hop spectrum.
Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name is classic hip hop lyricism with modern production. He balances being faithful to the streets that raised him and his new found prosperity, a classic dichotomy for rappers. These themes are further supplemented by the production from a more established tier of artists, primarily Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.
Pusha T raps about his place in the music scene and how this is his time to rise up to greatness. He raps about women and, more often than not, with surprising emotional sincerity. He raps about pushing drugs to get by in the streets and how these drugs affect strangers and friends. Though these are all relatively common themes in hip hop, the overall polish of his craft and the production leave this album achieving relative greatness.
Danny Brown’s Old, however, combines alternative lyricism with alternative production. XXX, his previous mixtape, was essentially about his personal experiences with hardcore drugs and his realizations about what these seemingly positive experiences were actually doing to him.
Old represents the relapse and breakdown of Danny Brown into the person he used to be. The escapism that drugs provide from his struggles, such as near-suicidal depression, takes control and consumes him. Unlike the beginning of XXX, he is fully aware of the consequences of taking these drugs, but does not care because the benefit of temporarily forgetting his experiences keeps him in the vicious cycle of dependency. It is a harrowing experience to hear him speak from his heart about all of his conflicting emotions and experiences. Fear, depression and pain are the core of this album, though they are masked under the veil of drugs and the resulting trip.
The contrast between these two albums demonstrates how hip hop can achieve greatness through multiple approaches, and how the genre allows for a wide variety of stories to be represented. If you are just a casual fan of hip-hop, the recommendation is that you experience and attempt to internalize both of these albums.