Calling an artist “not your typical _____” is, well … typical. But it’s hard to escape that thought when you talk about Detroit rapper Danny Brown. His clothes are tight-fitting, his voice is high and earnest, and his songs have titles like “Molly Ringwald” and “The Black Brad Pitt.” His drug of choice is Adderall. Dismissing Danny Brown’s departure from hip-hop conventions as some sort of gimmick would be a mistake, though. Being nontypical isn’t what earned Brown’s 2011 release, XXX, adulation from critics everywhere (including Hip-Hop Album of the Year honors from Spin).
Put Brown’s unforgettable hair, laugh, and teeth aside, and it’s easy to see that his lyrical fearlessness and willingness to push musical boundaries are what have become his more significant calling cards. Thus, Danny Brown has become one of few exceptions to complaints about the current state of hip-hop and/or music. We recently caught up with Brown in anticipation of his upcoming show at La Casa de la Raza with Baauer.
Everyone is on pins and needles waiting for this new record — how’s it coming along? I’m still workin’ on one last song, and I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten right, so I keep going back and redoing it and redoing it. Everything else is in the mixing stages.
There’s a discussion going on about hip-hop and the Internet, and how region-specific sounds are disappearing because young artists are listening to the same music nationwide. Do you think that’s the case?
Yeah, I do believe that’s true. And not even just with sound, but also with look. When I was a kid and I was listening to hip-hop, the East Coast guys didn’t look like the West Coast guys, and a West Coast guy didn’t look like a Northwest guy, and a Detroit guy didn’t look like a London guy, you know what I’m sayin’?
It’s the Internet, man. It’s made us one world.
How has recording this new album compared to making XXX? I mean, of course I feel more pressure. I want the new one to be up to the standard of XXX, and to be what people want out of me. But I think in this case, I’ve had more fun than I did with XXX. When I was making XXX, I didn’t know where I would be tomorrow. With this album, I’ve made it at my own pace — I didn’t have a label that was forcing me to finish, [and] I got to make it how I wanted to make it. With XXX, it was more of a deal I had made with myself because I wasn’t where I wanted to be financially or where I wanted to be in my career, so it was like, “I gotta hurry up, I gotta jock this shit.” I had to make it happen. But with this, I got to wait for the right beats; I got to write until I got the right hook or the right rap and make stuff that I really like.
Is it hard to find inspiration in the wake of success?No, not really. I mean, at this point, after you’ve been through so much shit that’s fucked up, I just want nothing negative in my life, you know? If you haven’t really been through shit, then of course it’s easy to talk about that gangster shit all day long. But me, personally, I’m not trying to be about that. In the past, I was in the streets. I was fucked up. It was negative. So that negativity was in my music. But now I’m just happy. I just wanna joke and have fun. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m still telling my story. I’m still documenting what’s going on.
Since you’re touring with Bauuer, I’m obligated to ask: You haven’t been in a Harlem Shake video, have you?
[Laughs] Nah, man, I’m too old to be doin’ that shit.
Your lyrical style is certainly unique. Did discovering your voice change the way you performed at all? Not really. I mean, performing is just something I had to do over and over and over until I felt like I got it right. I always bring my shit back to hip-hop, you know? It’s not rap, it’s not pop, it’s not some other crazy shit, so I don’t choreograph, I don’t practice, I don’t really have a set list before I do it. I just want to go out there and be free, go out there and have fun with the people who like music. That’s how I look at it. I’m just playing some songs for my friends.