Danny Brown review – rap icon delivers each bar with purpose and poise

<span>‘Evidently in his element’ … Danny Brown at The Forum in Kentish Town, London, yesterday.</span><span>Photograph: Sonja Horsman/The Guardian</span>
‘Evidently in his element’ … Danny Brown at The Forum in Kentish Town, London, yesterday.Photograph: Sonja Horsman/The Guardian

Danny Brown runs on stage dressed as a steampunk supervillain in a metallic high-collar overcoat, an eye-strikingly large belt and superspy-style sunglasses that cover half of his face. He’s radiant, illuminated further by colourful stage lighting, and looks genuinely happy to be performing as he zigzags around. “I’m 40 and don’t drink or smoke no more – I’m sober,” the US rapper gleefully explains to his London audience after an energetic performance of his 2013-release track 25 Bucks.

2023 was a big year for Brown, with Scaring the Hoes, an album made with Jpegmafia released in March, then his sixth solo album Quaranta in November. He doesn’t shy from the earnestness of the latter – where he details his addiction and depression – and Ain’t My Concern and Dark Sword Angel are well received, but it’s Jpegmafia collabs Scaring the Hoes and God Loves You that get bodies moving. And while he may no longer be doing the activities of the title, Smokin’ & Drinkin’ even has punters nestled at the back of the venue raising their hands in the air; groups of friends cheerfully look each other in the eye as they recite the lyrics word for word, and Brown makes heart symbols with his hands. Mid-set he performs fan-favourite classics such as Really Doe, from his 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition, which he executes with candour and sharpness, pulling emotive facial expressions while rapping the chorus hook “they say I got the city on fire”.

At times muffled bass and an uneven mix make it borderline impossible to hear what Brown is saying – which is a shame given that his quick-witted lyricism is very much the point. But the spirit of his audience remains high as drinks fly into the air and mosh pits form from as early on as the second song (Tantor from Quaranta). Muddy mic or not, Brown is evidently in his element, giving a technically precise, lucid delivery of each bar that leaves his lips. It’s heartening to see him having this much fun, and he’s already preparing for what is next: “I’m working on another album, so I’ll be back,” he addresses the crowd.