Since the release of his ‘XXX’ album back in 2011, things have been moving along nicely for Detroit rapper Danny Brown.
A number of hilarious viral interviews – including his legendary back-and-forth with A$AP Rocky that landed the pair on comedian Kathy Griffin's late-night talk show – cemented Brown as one of the blogosphere's most prolific artists of 2012; despite the fact that he only released one solo single, 'Grown Up', and a number of notable guest features.
When he pulls up in a golf buggy, alongside producer and tour DJ SKYWLKR, to meet Clash backstage at Parklife, his instantly recognisable image has heads turning everywhere. With his iconic Sideshow-Bob-like hairstyle planted on his tall, skinny frame, dressed all in black, he complains about the heat. So we find a corner of grass out of the way, where he throws a white towel over his head, masking his identity.
Before we begin the interview, Danny shows us his newly acquired Action Bronson G-Pen and sets down a purple liquid, housed in two large Starbucks takeaway cups stacked together, between his legs. He fumbles around with a cigarette, looking for a lighter – passed to him by his manager – before looking up, ready to begin.
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Danny Brown, ‘Monopoly’, from ‘XXX’
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“My life is changing,” he starts when asked about his progress over the past six months. “Somebody told me you change every five years. So I’m starting to like things I never liked before. Like spicy food – that's so weird to me!”
Despite being viewed by many as a newcomer, the 32-year-old is closer to being a veteran at this point. After coming close to signing a deal with G-Unit what seems like a lifetime ago, Danny put out a number of zip-file released albums as well as his outstanding ‘Detroit State Of Mind’ mixtape series, which started in 2007.
He expanded his audience with 2010’s critically acclaimed ‘The Hybrid’, and his Fool's Gold-released ‘XXX’ exposed him to a completely new scene. With such an extensive discography, it seems baffling that Danny is still often being mistaken for a young gun. But where many artists would be frustrated, he accepts this.
“I understand,” he yields. “You know that new Meek Mill song, ‘Levels’? There are levels to this shit. So I wasn't on [the audience’s] level for them to know about. I like that, because I’m the same type of way as a fan. Maybe I’m just on their radar now.”
When considering Brown’s progressive catalogue and diverse fanbase, it seems almost as if he has spawned two artistic heads. One: an underground MC, painting pictures of poverty and struggle growing up in Detroit, over instrumentals produced by contemporaries of the late, great J Dilla. The other: an electronic artist, thriving on the hype of high-energy instrumentals and spitting about drugs, sex and partying.
The ability to pull off these polarising styles is one of Danny's strengths, and is a product of the environment he grew up in. “Like what y’all have [in the UK], going to raves and shit. We have the same thing [in Detroit]. Like a big electronic scene,” he explains. “And while we have that, we also have a big underground hip-hop scene, where it’s like open mics, cyphers and sample-based beats. So that was my world. I can't pick!”
His interest in both scenes began to merge when he discovered grime music, after reading a review of Dizzee Rascal's ‘Boy In Da Corner’ and picking up a copy of the album. He continued to develop a love of the genre and has always cited it as an influence. Last year saw him finally releasing his first official grime track – a collaboration with heavyweight producer Darq E Freaker.
“I initially reached out to Darq E early, from being a big fan of the Tempa T ‘Next Hype’ song [that he produced]. I'd play that shit all of the time, so I hit him up on Twitter.”
He continues: “He didn't know who I was. But then maybe he heard about me from somebody else, and he started being like, ‘Lets try and do something’.”
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Darq E Freaker feat. Danny Brown, ‘Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)’
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The result was ‘Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)’, which sees Danny attacking the track in a way that impressed the grime producer. Speaking to Clash several months earlier, Darq E said: “I was surprised with how Danny resonated with grime music. He attacked it well. The verse was like grime and the chorus was like 2-step southern hip-hop. It was a good fusion.”
But while the producer can easily reload the track multiple times and keep the punters begging for more in London, the track hasn’t had the same response on Danny’s home turf. “That song is like underground shit back home,” says the rapper. “But at the end of the day it did the job I wanted it to do [and] exposed a whole lot of American people who liked the song onto grime.
“My fans hear me mention Dizzee Rascal and talk about grime in every interview – and I finally worked with a grime producer and they finally get it. I really do feel like that's one of the biggest songs of my career.”
And Danny’s brush with the grime scene won't end there, with Darq E Freaker set to re-appear on his highly anticipated debut retail album, ‘Old’. Brown has also collaborated with grime MC Scrufizzer for the project, describing the track as “amazing”, explaining: “When people hear that song they're gonna be fucking happy!”
Recording of ‘Old’ has been in progress since the release of 2011’s ‘XXX’. After a sparse period of releases, during which time his fanbase has grown, the stakes are high – not that Danny has ever failed to deliver thus far.
“I'm very self-conscious about what I release,” explains Danny of his process, a contrast to hip-hop's current paradigm where many seem to be releasing a new project weekly. “I can do feature songs and whatever, but when you see an album and it says, ‘This is a Danny Brown album’, it’s gotta be at the most potent quality – and that doesn’t take six months. It doesn’t take a year. I tell people all of the time, it takes two years for me to make an album.”
But good news to those fans who have been waiting since ‘XXX’: aside from a few mixing tweaks, the album is done. “I don't see anymore setbacks,” Danny assures. “For sure it’ll be out in August. I'm just working on a Purity Ring song right now, going back and forth with the mixes. Then it's done!”
The title ‘Old’ has been falsely interpreted as a reference to common comparisons between Danny and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard of Wu-Tang Clan. But Danny is a master of throwing no-look-pass album titles, revealing: “When I put out ‘XXX’ people thought I was talking about being perverted, but that meant 30, [my age].”
After having a hesitant conversation with himself, Brown decides to let Clash in on the secret behind the title of his forthcoming release. “With ‘Old’ you think I'm talking about my age, or where I'm at in my career. But it really means… Like. when I'm experimenting, making songs with Darq E Freaker and stuff, and then when I go back to my ‘hood, I have my people who be like, ‘Where that ‘Old’ Danny Brown shit at? I wanna hear that J Dilla Danny Brown.'’ So I [titled] the album for them.”
When pressed further on the topic, and quizzed about the sound of the album, he responds: “You gotta think, this is my first project to sell and I’ve had many projects. So I gotta go back and make them catch up to what I’ve built to this point. So I could say you might hear some ‘Hybrid’, you might hear some ‘Detroit State Of Mind’. I don't want to spoil it!”
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Danny Brown and A$AP Rocky’s Back & Forth (part one), for Noisey
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Known to blur the line between comedy and drama, Danny has previously described ‘XXX’ to have been intentionally comedic, whereas this time around things are expected to be a little more dramatic.
“It's not blatantly as funny – but that's coming from me, the person who made it,” he offers. “Being a listener, that might be different. I’ve noticed that it’s not necessarily what I say, but how I say it. For a lot of people I sound funny to them, no matter how serious the topic – like some Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm shit. We laughed at him getting a divorce! I’m talking real shit that happened in my life, and it’s not funny to me, but it might be funny to somebody else. Maybe that’s the ingenious thing?”
Larry David’s awkward brand of comedy has often been an inspiration to Danny’s music, but it seems with ‘Old’ the comparison becomes tighter. Danny parallels the show’s ability to quickly switch tone to the way the album will play out.
“The way a song starts, it might sound like a party record, but when it ends you might be crying – and you didn't even realise that when it started. And that’s the way I intended to make every song.”
And this channelling of Curb isn't the only influence that is heightened with his official debut. Danny’s intention is to perfect all of the previous elements that fans have enjoyed of his output, and deliver them in the compact package of ‘Old’.
“With ‘XXX’, I listened to a lot of Joy Division. I wanted to make a ‘rap Joy Division’ record, and experiment with making grime. ‘Bruiser Brigade’ and ‘Lie4’ were attempts at making grime, but now I can actually do it. I have the co-sign to do that.”
This comedic approach to Danny’s delivery, particularly around drug use, was a contributing factor to A-Trak’s recent open letter to hip-hop's obsession with pills. In his piece, penned for The Huffington Post, the Fool’s Gold co-founder questions: “The closer I get drawn into it, the more I tend to wonder whether I am just enjoying this music from a safe arm’s length as I silently endorse it? Is there any hypocrisy in the fact that I, clearly not an advocate of drug use, made a track with Juicy J and Danny [Brown] called ‘Piss Test’?”
And while he understands the concern, this isn't a worry that Danny shares. “Molly (MDMA) is something to be enjoyed,” he says, not in his usual joking tone, but in a way that suggests he is taking the question seriously. “It’s not like someone is going to become a Molly-head. Nobody is going to do it every day and break into your house and steal your TV!”
He pauses. “Just do it responsibly, I’m not about to keep defending it. I don’t want to be the person that’s pro-Molly. I feel what people are saying, but there's real, more serious problems that people need to be attacking than ‘Molly Rap’. Worry about lean.” He gestures with his Starbucks cup, admitting: “Lean (purple drank) is way more f*cked up than Molly, and I love lean – I'm addicted to it.”
With the emotional rollercoaster of ‘Old’ headed to stores in August, we’re anticipating Danny Brown-mania. After such a prolific year already, we can’t wait to see what happens when there is an album’s worth of material to back it up. And Danny finishes off our conversation with a statement proving that being ‘Old’er and wiser is an advantage to him – even in the youth-championing genre of hip-hop.
“‘Old’ is going to be worth your money,” he states confidently. “I spent two years on it. How many artists you know do that? They just make mixtapes for you listen to for a week, and then you don't care about no more. I make entire albums for you to enjoy and listen to like you're watching a movie!”
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Danny Brown, ‘Grown Up’ (non-album single)
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Words: Grant Brydon
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