Gold Aritst 003: Danny Brown - Features - Mixmag

Gold Aritst 003: Danny Brown

Hip hop's gap-toothed, shock-haired troubadour

  • Seb Wheeler
  • 19 November 2013

Mixmag: Gold Artist is a new series dedicated to the DJs and producers who we think are making the strongest waves within dance music right now. Up next is Danny Brown, the Detroit rap troubadour who's one of the most exciting artists in hip hop right now

Exclusive interview and premiere of Preditah's remix of Danny Brown's 'Dip' below

Danny Brown is the gap-toothed, shock-haired rap troubadour who's smack bang in the middle of 2013's frenetic hip hop explosion. At 32, he's got a good few years on many of his contemporaries who are also blowing up (Chance The Rapper, Joey Bada$, the A$AP Mob et al) but that hasn't held him back. Far from it. With a prolific release and guest spot rate, on-point live performances and a loveable, exuberant personality, Danny is leading the pack.

Following impressive mixtapes such as 'Detroit State Of Mind 4' and 'XXX', he released 'Old' via A-Trak's Fool's Gold in October. One of the most anticipated hip hop albums of the year, it spans productions from Rustie, SKYWLKR, Darq E Freaker and Paul White, among others, and acts as a springboard for Danny's self-proclaimed Jekyll and Hyde personality, which veers between ultra horny and totally high to quietly introspective and surprisingly sensitive.

A collage of staunch trap, fizzy grime, psychedelic hip hop and astute lyricism, 'Old' doesn't disappoint. We caught Danny Brown to talk life on the road, drug culture and how his writing just, well, happens…

A lot of 'Old' is quite hedonistic. Are you out caning it every night?

I spent pretty much the majority of my summer in Europe. So I kind of just missed this summer, I wasn't at home having fun. I kind of calmed down because I wasn't doing too much over there. But I think going to Europe a little bit made me calm down.

Is 32 really that old?
Nah man, I feel like I'm 13! To be honest, I've never been allowed to grow up. I always knew what I wanted to do, since I was a kid. I didn't really have a reason to get a job or go to school, I've been doing the same shit since I was 16 years old. I'm just going to buy clothes, play videogames, smoke weed and rap.

What was your main drug of choice when you were writing the album?
I take Adderall all the time, so that probably. I was drinking a lot of lean [prescription cough syrup mixed with Sprite or Mountain Dew] around that time too, I don't know if that was productive. Lean is not a good thing to be doing for making music.

You talk about Molly a lot and it's being taken by a lot of kids in America right now. Is there a drugs revolution going on over there? It seems to be really seeping into American culture.

I guess you could say that but any time things are bad economically, people going to party anyway. Everyone is looking for some kind of way to escape, whether it's through music or drugs and both go hand in hand. At the end of the day, I don't do too much Molly. It's kind of bad; well, it's not good. Molly's so popular over here now that anything could appear as Molly and they'd sell it to you. I just got so tired of taking Molly and nothing happening! I don't want to get conned. In Europe it's good, maybe if I'm over there. But not at home.

There's a tune on the album called 'Clean' where you seem pretty melancholic about your drug use. Have you found that it can be counter-productive?

It's a gift and a curse. A lot of good shit happens out of it, a lot of bad shit too, you know? I can't give it props and I can't take away from it either. A lot of the time if I wasn't high, I wouldn't have wrote that shit. I never would have thought of that shit! Drugs play a big part in my music. That's still something that stimulates me. I probably have a short attention span so I need something to make me focus and stick to it. Even if I'm not doing anything. I could sit there and listen to a beat for six months before I even write my first word. I'll have thought of a million concepts for it, a million flows. I like to concentrate on music before I work on it.

You're out in Michigan living with your girlfriend and your cat. You seem surprisingly chilled. But the personality you put over in your album and live shows is super fun and lively. Is it important to project that?

At one point in time I didn't have nothing but traditional hip hop sounding stuff and trying to play that in front of a dance crowd didn't go over too well, so it got to the point where I needed performance-based music. I make a lot of music for you to listen to in headphones and the opposite of that is that I make music to perform to. But I still want to be able to keep my content the same Danny Brown shit, period. I try to have the same emotional intent as the previous work.

Does your girlfriend mind you going out on tour and singing about beating up pussy?

I think nobody like that shit, it's just my honesty.

Do you think girls are attracted to your music?

I don't know. I hope so, because they buy a lot of records. They buy tickets to shows.

I saw you at the Scala in London and there were a lot of guys there. It was like a bear pit. It was really testosterone fuelled. Do you see a lot of girls at your shows getting into it?

I think what happened is that whole mosh pit thing. It's cool but I used to go to shows as a kid and it'd be all girls in the front row and you'd just have to figure it out as a guy. But now it's all the guys in the front row, a mosh pit in the middle and girls on the side. If they are in the front, they're being smashed on the barricade. It don't even look like they having fun anymore, you know? A lot of the time they on the side or wherever they can chill and that's not good for the show. I got to figure out a way to get guys to chill out on the mosh pit.

What's your day-to-day life like on tour?

It's nothing. It's just boring. It's just sitting in a hotel room, being on the internet, doing the show, coming back to the hotel room, sitting on the internet, watching cartoons, smoking weed, going to sleep. I look at it like being in the NBA or something; you on the road for games, of course we can party after the game, but you think you're gonna play good the next game? No! You're gonna suck. I'm going up there in front of people who have paid to see me perform so I want to be fresh. I remember a time when I thought I could do that stuff, sometimes missing meals, next thing you know you're on stage in 20 minutes, you hungry, you tired. You can't get in front of all those people and play a good set like that. I probably need to be working out right now but I smoke too much weed, I'm lazy.

It's not as hedonistic a life as your songs make out.

Where I'm at right now, you've got to think that I live my life and write albums about it. All the things you hear is past tense. Right now is not like that.

So when did the pill-popping, pussy-licking Danny Brown come out to play?

I guess you could say it's like a Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of thing. Everything is drug infused, right? I do drugs and things happen.

Let's talk about your new record. What I noticed about 'Old' is that there are some really conscious songs on there and that it seems more emotionally complex than some of your previous work. Did you make an effort to talk about your life beyond drugs and pussy?

I don't know! I can't really say I really thought too much about it. I was just writing songs. I don't force the thought process. If I sat down at my computer every night with the intention to write, I probably wouldn't write anything.

A lot of the stuff just sounded good when I recorded it. I just went with whatever sounded the best and that's why I had to go with the A and B sides. I had too many songs that I liked that I was like, 'How am I going to fit all these on the same album together? These tunes are all different.' I figured out the concept and I pulled it off I think, so it's cool.

You could have made a straight trap album, but you didn't?

That's how it started out! That's what I'm having fun doing right now, that style of music. Side B, that's what I recorded first. Then it got to the point where I was just like, if I don't continue to progress some of the traditional stuff too, where is hip hop going to go? And another thing: I gained a lot of fans from doing that style of music and I wanted to open their minds up to something new and vice versa. I'm still rebelling against music, you know?

How did you choose the producers?

Paul White and SKYWLKR are my main two guys. Paul White sends me a lot of beats, ideas and sketches. Once I lay a song on it, he might add some more stuff, changing the beat to the song. Someone who cares about music that much is somebody I want to work with. Normally, someone sends you a beat in an email, you rap on it, put it out and that's it. But we went back and forth. A lot of samples couldn't get cleared and he was out there in London finding players and singers and most of them worked out better than the [original] samples. Paul White is a genius to me, I've got to give him a lot of credit for this album, more so than anybody else.

His tunes are probably the most distinct on the album. They sound like old sixties psyche songs. Is that something you asked him for?

Nah, I never asked him for that type of stuff but I know he knows I'm super into that. He don't send me typical beats. He sends me beats like, 'How the hell am I going to rap to this shit?' You got to figure it out. Then I send him stuff back and he's like, 'You picked that beat?!' I don't know, it just happens. It's a feeling. I make music with my heart, not my ears.

Was it all emailing back and forth? Were you in the same room as any of the producers on the album at any point?

The only person I was in the same room with was SKYWLKR. Everybody else emailed. Oh No and Paul White sent a lot of fucking tracks. I really wanted to work with Rustie so when he reached out to do it, whatever he sent I'm was going to figure out something to use. He sent me seven beats and I used three. I was a fan of him and wanted to work with him like crazy. Then there's me and Darq E Freaker, he had that ['Handstand'] beat for so long, that was a beat he'd been putting in mixtapes and I was like, 'Man, please give me that beat.' I've been working with a lot of my friends; the producers and the features on the album. I could call those guys and they'd pick up the phone.

Are you constantly listening to new music and listening out for new producers?

Paul White and SKYWLKR are my team so I just build off them. It's their job now to put me up on shit, being up on the music. Me, I just want to go back and listen over shit, figure out what was so great about every album that people consider classic. Just study that and somehow let that inform my writing. I want to become a better songwriter, I'm more focused on the writing than the music.

Going back to you growing up, what advice would you give a young Danny Brown now?

Don't care about what anyone thinks. I was impressionable, just like most of us when we were young. I remember I was going to the schoolyard trying to rap and stuff, I'd play my songs to my homies and they'd be like, 'That shit sucks! You can't rap.' Then I'd go try and make songs that they'd like. But I knew that if I continued with that mindstate, no one would ever really like my music. I just had to think bigger than them. It got to the point where I didn't even play my music to my friends. It's almost like that now. I don't play my music for them, but the whole world likes it.

'Old' is out now via Fool's Gold

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