Q&A with Danny Brown: "I could possibly die from music" | Bleader

Q&A with Danny Brown: "I could possibly die from music"

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In less than a year Detroit native Danny Brown has rocketed from an obscure corner in the world of mix-tape rappers to a level of fame that far exceeds anything an MC with several missing front teeth, a hairstyle fit for a B-list new-wave bassist, and a nasally, Tourette's-like vocal style ought to be able to expect. Recently Brown showed up on XXL magazine's annual "Freshman Class" cover, inspiring an uptick in the already considerable amount of Brown-related chatter on Twitter. Last week I talked to him on the phone about what it feels like to earn the Freshman Class title, what makes Detroit rappers so special, and why he's not so different from Bon Iver.

So you just made the freshman class XXL cover. How does that feel? You got a lot of buzz off of that, huh?

I was more excited to be on the cover of Fader to be honest.

Why is that?

I mean, I don't know. I mean the Fader is a cooler magazine.

Every year that they announce the freshman class, Twitter just blows up, and mostly it's just people that are salty because their favorite artist isn't on there. You know people talk shit about you a lot on the Internet, and I noticed that you retweet a lot of stuff, like people talking about your hair or your teeth or whatever, and I think that's pretty funny and pretty awesome. What makes you do that? Why do you give attention to the people that are shit-talking you?

I really don't know. I think, to be honest, back in the day when I used to see stuff like that, it used to really bother me. I think I do it out of that, because it doesn't bother me anymore. And maybe that's the way to show it doesn't bother me, but I don't know. I don't even know why I do that, to be honest. There's no meaning behind it, I just do it. They obviously want someone to see it, so, hey.

I was listening the other day to your record with Black Milk. I'm from outside of Detroit originally and listening to that record really made me think about how Detroit hip-hop is such a unique thing compared to other communities around the country. I was wondering if you could tell me—what do you think makes Detroit unique?

I think it's more so of a feeling thing than an ear thing, you know? Stuff might sound good. It might sound like you can rap, like it bangs, but it still has more of an emotion, you know? You look at all the artists coming up from the midwest like Eminem, or Common, or Freddie Gibbs, you know, it's still emotional. We make feeling with emotion and not necessarily for our ears.

I was thinking a lot of rappers spend a lot of energy trying to establish their street cred or trying to come off hard, but in Detroit, you kind of have to be crazy or whatever just to be in Detroit. I was thinking that it sort of frees people up to sort of follow a different path. People like J Dilla and you and Slum Village.

I think that more so, it's when you're from—like we don't have to be gangster, because it's all around us. And not necessarily to say I don't like that, because gangster rap is one of my favorite kinds of hip-hop, to be honest. It's the most entertaining. And I think it's coming back. There's the Chicago artist actually, Chief Keef, I love that guy. You know what I'm saying? In some sense, it has its place. We have a lot of gangster-rap artists here, but they never really make it out. But I think it would take somebody like, oh, Rick Ross in somewhere beautiful like Miami. I don't know, it just seems like you can pull that energy from somewhere. Like me, for instance, I'm around so much gangster shit, I just want to crack jokes and laugh about it. And that's where my sense of humor came from. When you're around so much fucked-up shit, you're not going to be depressed about it. You're going to try to make the best of it and be happy about it. And if you're just happy and you're living in a beautiful place, you might want some chaos. You might want—so you'll put it in your music. It's almost, to be radical in your art, you have to be conservative in your life.

Yeah, I would agree. That's probably why suburban white kids are so into gangster rap, and have been for decades now. Because of the chaos aspect of it.

It's totally a 360 from what their everyday life is, and that's probably what you would want out of your entertainment. I wouldn't want to fucking read about a gangster, you know, read my everyday tale, if I could just go outside and hear it. But don't get me wrong, I still like watching shit like The Wire or stuff like that. Even with the type of girls that I date, they want something totally 360 from me, man.

What type of girls do you date?

I mean I have a girlfriend now, so I'm not dating any girls right now. But I would think someone who's totally different than me. I get more attracted by learning from a girl than anything. We get so caught up in just being dudes and I figure you can learn more from a bitch than your niggas, you know?

How does your girlfriend feel about—you know, you have a lot of pretty dirty raps?

We don't really trip on it, because she kind of feels like it's kind of true. She kind of gets it.

There's been kind of a whole generation of rappers, a whole crew, that you've been in thrown in with by critics, by listeners, and also who you've collaborated with. Acts like Das Racist and Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire. There seems to be something more intangible that pulls you guys together, instead of, like, all dressing the same or rapping about the same thing or even rapping on the same kind of beats. What do you feel is the connection there?

I think in general, someone like Exquire—me and him are like the same type of person. So we click without music, to be honest. Das Racist, like, I was up on their music and I was a fan. I'm just a real fan of them. So it's kind of weird to be friends with them, to be honest. Then on the other side, I got the younger guys that I hang out with a lot, like ASAP Rocky and Main Attrakionz. They're like my bros. And sometimes I feel like it's my family or something. So I think with all them, we don't even make that much music together, but every time I'm around any one of those guys we hang out.

Yeah, a lot of the talk around you guys deals a lot with how you guys have broken from what people consider to be hip-hop in terms of like style and visual type stuff—you know, fucking with Fader and XXL, or fucking with white kids or whatever. Do you think that there's something to it? Are you trying to get away from the unwritten rules of hip-hop and what it is to be a rapper?

In some sense. I mean I'm kind of older, so it took me a while, like I said, to get here or whatever. My own sense is I don't really feel necessarily like a rapper. I just really feel like I'm an indie artist. I feel like an artist. I make decisions on what an artist would do. I don't look at myself no different from Bon Iver or any other of those indie-rock guys. I just make rap music. The only reason I make rap music is because of my environment. If I grew up in the suburbs and shit I would be doing rock music and shit.

From what I've heard, you listen to a pretty broad range of music. Have you considered trying out some of that outside of rapping at all?

I mean maybe as time goes, but as of right now it's, like, that's nothing really I'm focused on, because I haven't really conquered my time yet, I feel. You know? It's almost like I gotta like be bored with this shit, and I haven't really got that. I don't really feel like I've bust my nut yet. No homo. Maybe when that day comes, maybe. I will always be doing music, the rest of my life. I don't know what else I could do. You know? Whether it would be rap or anything. But I think more so, I'm more of a fan than anything. If I just walked away from rap I'd still be in the music industry in some type of way. So I'd more so want to run a label or some shit. Just be like in A&R, some shit like that.

You mentioned the fact that you're older than a lot of the other rappers coming up right now. Your last mix tape was all about you turning 30, and it seemed like there was a pretty considerable desperation to sort of make it in rapping or die trying. And it seems like since then you actually have kind of made it, to some extent. How does that feel to actually have that come through for you?

I wrote the album like I made it, though. Because the album was wrote before I even signed to Fool's Gold, you know? I did what I wanted to do and it's where I wanted it to be. And more than it was an album or anything I think it was a cry for help.

How so?

I don't know. Like I could possibly die from music. Like I'm trying so hard to be good at music. I'm doing these drugs and I'm experimenting with shit to make the music better and shit, and that could make it worse, but it hasn't. It's been making it better [laughs]. I end the album on a note where you don't know what's going to happen next, and I just think everybody's seeing how this movie's ending.

Is your head in the same place now as it was when you wrote that record?

Yeah. Totally. Probably even worse now because I'm getting money and shit now, so I can do what I want. Back then I was, like, penny pinching and shit to write that album. Now I got all the Adderall I want. I got all the weed that I want. It's a little worse.

How much weed did you smoke in that "Blunt After Blunt" video?

About an ounce, I think.

Damn.

That was like during the whole day. The actual shoot was from something like 7 PM to 2 in the morning. So I was up there smoking at 2 or 3. Yeah, so about an ounce.

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