Danny Brown Tells Us Why He Doesn't Consider Himself A Rapper.
Almost immediately upon the August release of XXX, his second full-length release and first for Fool's Gold Records, Detroit rapper Danny Brown became a prominent figure in the underground rap world.
And, really, it might've been more surprising if that hadn't been the case.
Upon first listen, XXX's 19 tracks stand out as equal parts jarring, abrasive and catchy — the kind of release just bound to garner attention. Each song features Brown confidently swaggering on top of a grimy beat, with his unique, almost nagging, vocal delivery placed front and center. It's an odd delivery, to be sure — it's nasally, intentionally annoying and, by all means, grating.
But, because he's got the lyrical chops to pull it off, the 30-year-old Brown somehow gets away with it — despite sounding like an updated, hip-hop version of Cameo frontman Larry Blackmon.
That's a fitting comparison, actually. Earlier this week and in anticipation of his upcoming stop at the 35 Denton festival, we caught up with Brown to talk about his thoughts on the rap world, his recent successes and his hopes for the near future. Turns out, he's hoping to cover a Cameo song at some point down the line.
Last time you were in town, it was in support of Das Racist — on the day they got their Spin cover, no less. You actually just popped up on some covers, too, thanks to The Fader and XXL. Got any thoughts on the XXL Freshman list you made that put you on the cover?
To be honest, I'm just honored to be a part of it. But, really, I was more excited to be on the cover of The Fader. But I guess it's cool.
It's always controversial who gets on there, though.
I think they do that on purpose. I think they want people to talk about it. In some sense, if they picked everybody everyone wanted, then how long would we talk about it? Not very long, I don't think.
How do you feel about the list? Did you know many of the other guys on there?
Not really. It was my first time hearing about a lot of these people. There are a lot of people I thought should have been on there, but that's cool.
I would've liked to have seen, of course, Schoolboy Q. Mr eXquire, Action Bronson. Oh, and Smoke DZA should've definitely been on there.
You've hated publicly on some rappers who've made the list in the past, most notably Mac Miller. Any worry that there will be a similar backlash to you?
No, no way. I think they only people worried about backlash are people with sucky music.
Is it fair to say that your music is influenced by more than hip-hop?
It's just all my different influences. I'm just a fan of music in general. I listen to whatever I come across and whatever I can find. I study. I try to find music. A lot of people just let the music come to them or whatever, but I go out and I search for what I want. That's what influences me. At the same time, if I get influence from someone, I don't try to copy them.
In “Die Like a Rockstar” you list various people who aren't musicians in your list of people who died too soon. I've got to ask: What's your definition of that term?
I think it's someone who really doesn't care about what other people think in some sense. They're just doing their thing and, if people gravitate toward that, so be it. At the end of the day, yeah, that song isn't about your typical rock stars so much as people that were portrayed as rockstars.
Do you think rappers have a hard time being seen by the general public as rockstars?
I think in some sense people just look down on the genre hip-hop in general, like it's all just some mixtape rapping bullshit. Whenever someone does something out of the box, they raise their eyebrows, like it's some big deal, when it's just something normal for people in other genres. We need to be studying different music genres, I guess.
Is that a worry for you? That the greater public doesn't get mixtape culture?
No, not at all. Honestly, I don't really look at myself as a rapper. I look at myself as an artist. I only do rap music because of my environment. If I wasn't from the hood, I'd probably be doing rock music. I just know I'd be doing music no matter what.
Have you ever considered that? Ever tried writing a rock song?
I mean, I play basketball. I don't golf.
How do you mean?
Well, I mean, I'm just saying. I don't actually play basketball in real life. I just suck at it. [Laughs.] But I'm just using that as an example. I always see people try to do things outside of what their genre maybe should be, and it ends up not being as good as it could be. I just want to do what I should be doing and I want to be remembered for my music. I would love to do, like, some cover songs, though. But I doubt I'd ever do a full rock album.
You don't see a lot of covers, necessarily, in hip-hop. Obviously, sampling is a big part of that culture, and we see specific rhymes and lines recycled all the time, but that's different from your typical cover song. Are you talking about a faithful, more traditional cover style?
Yeah, I mean, just cover a song. Just cover it! Just add my own flair to it and make it sound like a Danny Brown song.
What would you cover if you had the choice?
Well, if I can get the chance to do it, I really want to do a cover of Cameo's “Word Up.”
That'd be pretty awesome.
Yeah, it would! [Laughs.]
How would you put your spin on it? You might have to make it a little bit darker, right?
No, I just think our vocal ranges are pretty similar, so we wouldn't have to change those. We'd just have to make the beat dark.
Right after South by Southwest, you're heading on the road with Childish Gambino. How did that come to be? It's a really interesting pairing, I think.
I mean, it came right from him! He made that happen. He reached out to me and hit my people up and there you go.
You've been really fortunate this year with opening slots like that one and the Das Racist one. But are you itching to be on top of your own bills?
Right now, it's something we're talking about. But, right now, I want to take another couple of months doing these shows. There's talks of a headlining tour, but I don't want to release too much. We're trying to put all the shit together right now to make all that happen.
Given that your music is so intentionally abrasive, are you surprised at how well it's been received? Obviously, you're pleased.
No, I was more impressed. I knew what it was before I put it out. I'd had it recorded for a while. It was all about just wondering if the people would get it, and if the critics would get it or would the average music listener get it.
After XXX, you put out a collaborative release with your fellow Detroit native, Black Milk, called Black and Brown. Are you guys planning anything more there, or was it a one-time thing?
I guess you've got to ask him that question. He makes the beats. A rapper just raps. I write all the time. I write songs all day.
You have no hopes of producing down the line?
Sometimes I feel like I am a producer, y'know? I just don't touch any of the equipment. I'm a writer. I'm not a studio guy. It's only gonna take me a week to record an album.
How much do you have written right now?
I can't say I have much, to be honest. I take Adderall, so I might write, like, three songs in a minute. But that doesn't mean they're any good.
So you just need to get on a binge, then?
Well, I write all the time, but then I binge also. I write every night after 10 o'clock.
Does one system work better than the other?
You never know. You never know.
Do you know anything about the 35 Denton festival?
Not really! This is pretty close to the first I'm hearing about it, to be honest. [Laughs.] But it seems pretty cool. They've got a lot of acts that I want to see.
Danny Brown performs at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday night at Hailey's Club in Denton as part of the 35 Denton festival.