Danny Brown is the Rapper Of The Year

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A still from Danny Brown's Greatest Rapper Ever video.

On this day in '09 Impose posted about Elzhi's The Leftovers Unmixedtape along with the Apollo Brown-produced track, “Contra” featuring fellow Detroit native Danny Brown. It marked the first of many show-stealing introductions by Brown, who was just beginning to stretch his delivery towards a strained off-kilter punchline style. Before “Contra” he was another Detroit rapper that could ride a Nick Speed beat with a bit more swagger than most. On “Contra” he experimented with a new approach. It is the sound of an experiment, in which he experiences a mid-verse breakthrough compelling him to declare intentions of a takeover in between mama jokes and fellatio anecdotes. By the time he released The Hybrid for free download, he was reaching critical mass, literally shouting himself hoarse on “Greatest Rapper Ever” at any ear listening, “I rap like I bet my life because in all actuality, nigga I did!”

So when Danny Brown recorded “Black And Brown” for Black Milk’s audaciously-titled Album Of The Year, he laid a verse that would assist with Milk’s presumptuous claims, while simultaneously pushing all-in with the same convictions he’d been harboring since “Greatest Rapper Ever”. The guest appearance put Danny Brown on the map and got him in the ears of more than just the dudes on his block. After signing with Fool’s Gold Records, Brown released XXX as a celebration of his life’s work done by the age of 30.

The social inclination at 30 is to get one’s life together. This can be done by getting married, facilitating a career path or moving out of a parent’s basement. Danny Brown grabbed 30 by the nuts by releasing a tragedy record rapped from the grimmest corners of Detroit. Brown was an open book with no secrets throughout the record, sharing as many sexual triumphs as struggles with poverty. He hustled, sold scrap metal, smoked blunt after blunt, squatted in abandon houses, ate Lunchables for dinner and walked around the mall with empty pockets. Bookending his biography is “XXX” and “30”. The former finds Brown still “strategizing, plotting on the throne” like he’s done for two solid years, but by “30” he’s gotten so much hardship off his chest he’s straining his lungs again assuring himself he’s another step closer to being the greatest rapper ever.

One day we might look back on XXX with suspicions that Brown knew all along who he’d become, either it ends with him in the arms of a 20-something in an O.D. or he receives the title he’s been proclaiming as his since he first started brainstorming how he was gon’ run it. As of today he’s another step closer by rapping like it was his year for the taking.

The following interview was conducted with Danny Brown on December 6:

How’ve you felt considering the critical and general praise of your projects this year?

Danny Brown: Well to be honest, I’m trying to think of the best possible words to not sound like a dick. [Laughs] I guess it’s cool but I thought I’d get more – I’m not trying to be like that – but with my album I took a lot of time with it. It was what I wanted to make. It’s something that fucks with me so much because I don’t know what the fuck to do next. Like how can I top this shit?

[XXX] was the first time I got to sit down with a producer, Skywlkr, and actually come up with the type of shit I wanted to rap over and then find other producers who will fit with that. At the same time, I was creating an audio movie for myself. I wanted to make something like Purple Rain, but not have a movie to go with the soundtrack. I wanted to tell a story and I don’t think a lot of people caught that concept. A lot of people did, but a lot of people didn’t.

And actually the idea came from The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free. He made a whole album about a year of his life and I just wanted to do something like that.

When I listen to it, I definitely hear the grit of Detroit through and through and I felt like people focused on the weird possibly because they lacked a perspective of where you’re from.

I mean, weird. Yeah, I don’t get what’s considered weird. To me it’s a fucking normal-ass album. I remember when we were first making it and having my manager listen to it and Fool’s Gold and everybody was worried. They wasn’t that confident in it. It kind of stirred me to not be confident about the project too. I made a lot of songs – songs people not gon’ hear – but I was making songs to change the music, but I was like “fuck it, this is the album”. I made the album. I know what it’s supposed to be. Two days later, I met with my manager, who let it sink in and he was “you fucking did it; you made a movie, man”. The last track puts everything in perspective, you know.

So by completing it in that dramatic manner with “30”, do you find yourself in a bit of a silent state, not sure where to go next?

I know where I wanna go next, but it comes down am I capable of going there yet or am I making that move too fast? I don’t want to be mainstream or whatever, but this has gone bigger than where I expected to go with the type of music that I do. I never expected to be in Spin magazine with bitches sucking dick lyrics. As much as I have my underlying social issues type shit, it’s still not commercial type shit, you know what I’m saying?

I look at this shit like a sport. I want to win championships. I want to be MVP. I want to be successful, but do I start treating it like a business – trying to make those songs that work – to be considered mainstream or am I right with what I’m doing by doing what I want to do and not thinking with that mentality? I’m really just trying to keep grounded, stay humble and not get on no Hollywood shit and let it go to my head. Just stay in my crib like I do and make music. There’s a lot of people that rap and a lot of people that wish they had the chance. A lot of people want attention for their music and I have attention for my music and not in a negative way. I could be Riff Raff or some dumb shit [laughs]… but I’m not.

Hip hop is often considered a young man’s game with classic records made by artists in their teenage years. Your record alters that with its celebration of reaching a maturity to a degree. How do you view longevity and aging gracefully, because that’s another problem that hurts this genre as well?

I know everybody thinks hip hop is a young man’s game, but I think the OGs niggas in the game are doing it better than everybody else. People can pay attention to kids and what they do, but you think about the best rappers in the world right now, they’re all in their 30s – besides Kendrick. There’s not too many rappers in their 20s that’s fucking with niggas in their 30s.

Music in general takes experience. Just like anything else, practice makes perfect. Oh, I wanna throw Earl [Sweatshirt] in there too as someone that could fuck up some 30-year olds. [Laughs] I think that’s why we like the kids and what they doing with music because it’s not stepped on. They just doing shit from their heart. The older guys, they’ve got kids to take care of. They are making music to support themselves and support their families. So they probably have to do things they don’t really want to do.

I’m just not caught up on the age thing. I just think it’s some crazy stereotype they want to put on hip hop or something. They don’t really speak like that to no other genre.

Is there any advice you’d send back to your 21-year old self as a 30-year old now?

My 21-year old self didn’t really have much confidence in himself. I would tell my 21-year old self that you’re not wrong, bro. You’re right. Don’t listen to what your friends tell you, doesn’t listen to what nobody says. Whatever is in your heart and your head is right. It took long for me to prove to myself that I was right. All this time I’ve been making music I always felt like I didn’t have the proper shit to make me like these other guys. But at the end of day it wasn’t even about that. It was about me making fucking music. It wasn’t about not having a gold chain. It wasn’t about getting my teeth fixed. It wasn’t about me wearing baggy clothes. It was about my fucking bars.

I might have took more a longer time than other people, I didn’t get here as fast as I probably wanted, but I’m really glad I didn’t do no gay shit – not to say gay – but I didn’t do no bullshit. I didn’t do no corny shit that would cheapen me. Because now people can’t look back and say like “yo, he was fucking wack then.” A person can go back and listen to my old shit and it still sounds good, some of it better than what I’m doing now. I’m cool with that.

What’s changed is me feeling right about it. Because before I would put limitations on my music because of who was listening to it. Because I didn’t have all these people on the Internet listening to it, I only had my friends. Most of them don’t listen to underground hip hop or listen to the music that I listen to. They listening to Rick Ross and shit like that. Imagine me playing XXX to those guys. They’d be like “fuck is this shit,” you know what I’m saying.

So I’m to the point where I don’t even need none of my friends or anybody from my neighborhood to listen to my music. I don’t even care if they listen to it or not because there’s a whole fucking world that’s listening to it now.

You recently wrapped your tour with Das Racist. Did any of the fans show up with Danny Brown haircuts, showing appreciation?

Naw, there was nothing like that. [Laughs]

I just not caught up in my head like that about fans and shit. If someone tells me they like my music I’m still like “oh shit, how’d you hear about it?” I almost turn into a fan of them for being a fan of me. So when a lot of people meet me they are probably a little intimidated or scared because they don’t know how to really take me, but once they like they get past the first few words hopefully it’s like we cool as shit. I never want to be on any Hollywood shit.

It’s just been getting weird because I’ve been getting noticed now. I’m not no fucking celebrity. I’m not on TV and shit.

I feel like I’ve possibly weirded you out a time or two when I’ve approached you in Austin and Chicago.

No, it just be weird to me because I come from selling dope, bro. Shit like that. When a motherfucker knows you, it’s still in my mind that I’m still that guy. I might look totally different. I might talk totally different, but I’m still that guy that was selling rocks on Clairmount. So when a person come up to me, “it’s like nigga how you know me?” on some street shit. But I always gotta remember it ain’t like that. This is fucking rap music. You’re supposed to want people to come up and approach you.

The Black & Brown EP – did you feel like people missed the mark in their criticisms of it?

Mmhmm. And in some sense I get where they’re coming from. But yeah, like you said, they missed the point. Me and Black, we’re not Kanye and Jay-Z or no shit. For us to do that project, build a buzz up for it and have people talking about it, we probably should have went all-in. It was just a timing thing. When he was working on it, I was working on XXX. I can’t really put my whole all into that project when I’ve got the project of my life hanging over my head, you know what I’m saying?

It’s really a remix album to be honest. All those verses and songs on that project was from when I recorded at his studio. He took all the verses and shit that he liked, which is great because it shows how great of a producer he is and it showed me that I wasn’t much of a wack rapper back then. He made great shit out of those verses. I think I only went and laid one new joint.

I think a lot of people had big high end expectations, but it was just appetizers. But those appetizers were better than some niggas full courses. We’re in the Internet generation where everybody is so greedy. Just like when I shot the “Blunt After Blunt” video, people were asking for it the next day. How long do you think it takes to do a video? That’s my number one hate. When people ask me what’s next. Like I don’t know… what’s next for you, nigga?

That’s my number one pet peeve interview question. Do you ask every artist that or do you just ask me because I rap and you think it’s some Lil Wayne-mixtape-every- month type shit? I take two years or a year at the most on a project. I’m not like these other niggas that just want to get in the studio and rap all day. I hate the fucking studio. I’m not going have a studio at my crib because that’s where I live. I’m not with that.

I grew up in the generation where your favorite artist dropped one project a year. That’s it. No mixtape, none of that. Nas dropped one album a year and that’s all I got. Maybe every two years even. And those albums used to hold me down until the next one came out. Those was tapes and shit. We had to fast forward and rewind and made us pay attention more to the music instead of just hearing it one time, saying “aww that shit was wack” and never hearing it again. As a kid, if I would have done that I would have missed out on mad dope ass song if I heard it one time and thought it was wack. I do that shit all the time now because of the Internet.

Everybody told me the Big K.R.I.T. album was amazing – Returnof4eva. I listened to it one time and couldn’t get into it. I love the other project, but the first time it didn’t catch me. But I can’t go back because there’s a fucking mixtape that I gotta listen to or something new every day I wake up. I missed out on the Big K.R.I.T.

Who would be your pick, if not yourself, for Rapper Of The Year in 2011?

It wouldn’t be a solo, but a group. Main Attrakionz. I put the Main Attrakionz’ flag up in the air. I rep for them guys hard. I had a chance to meet them on tour and we kicked it out in Oakland and they remind me of what I was when I was that age. Well not necessarily in music, but they live the same life I lived at that age, that’s what I meant to say. I could bring them to Detroit and they’d fit right in with my friends like it wasn’t nothing because we did the exact same shit every day.

They released, what, five or six mixtapes this year? When I first got on to them nobody knew who they was, then they got one post on Fader and now they’re playing CMJs and SXSWs and shit. So it kinda made me feel right too because I was just saying it was dope. Now everybody agrees.

I like to say I’m a hybrid and shit. I feel like they’re the same way, but the total opposite. I don’t look the way the my music sounds. They don’t look the way the music sounds, but lyrically they do. They talking street shit, but they talking it over those trippy-ass, cloudy-ass beats. You could totally put that shit over a Lex Lugar beat and it’d be a fucking street song. They saying the shit that niggas in the hood listen to everyday and niggas going through every day, but the music is not saying the same thing. You’ve got these two different worlds and to me, I think that’s what I attracts me to’em. There’s something they on and it ain’t just the syrup.