At South By Southwest this year, Danny Brown held the lucky, yet tiresome, role of being one of the festival's most buzzed-about Rap artists. Along with Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, Danny seemed to be playing everywhere, and from what I witnessed at the Fool's Gold showcase, his raw energy on stage definitely helped to highlight select cuts from 2011's eccentric XXX. Yet despite the seemingly overnight success Danny seems to currently be experiencing, his buzz has been years in the making, and last year's XXX is only the latest step in a career that's been developing for a while – DX covered him three years ago as a part of its DXnext series, so this moment has been a long time coming.
As he mentioned in our interview, “No one's a bigger fan of Danny Brown,” and at no point does that become more clear than when one listens to his magnificent Fool's Gold debut, XXX. Opener “XXX” starts with the line “Colder than them grits they fed slaves,” (a line he broke down for me during our interview) setting the tone for an album that chills you to the bone at times but isn't afraid to keep things light (a few bars later on “XXX,” he also says “sort of like Squidward and his clarinet.”) There's a track that speaks at length about cunnilingus (“I Will”), a track that openly mocks major label single models (“Radio Song”) and a track that details breaking into vacant homes to steal copper wire, gutters and a furnace (“Scrap or Die”) to survive in the D. From start to finish, it's Danny Brown unfiltered, and the honesty that brims from his unique voice, both figuratively and literally, showcases just why XXX has become his most celebrated release to date.
DX was fortunate enough to catch Danny in person, and he told us that he'd jump to a major if he could have creative control (and millions), explained that he and A$AP Rocky are bringing the glam back to Hip Hop, and admitted that he expected mainstream publications to be more receptive to XXX than magazines and sites that just cover Hip Hop.
Danny Brown Speaks On Label Possibilities
DX: I remember you mentioned in another interview that you're currently rapping but your end goal is to get into gaming because that's your passion. Have you had a chance to revisit that or has all your time just been put toward XXX?
Danny Brown: I mean, I can't really release too much info, but I'll just say that dreams are coming true in some sense.
DX: So it's in the works?
Danny Brown: In some sense. Slightly, but you know, I'm getting my foot in the door. I'll say that.
DX: The video for “Radio Song” just dropped. While it's a total shot at the idea of having to create a radio song, but do you ever envision getting into a major label situation where you might have to actually consider things like that or do you see Fool's Gold as definitely the long-term option?
Danny Brown: For me, Fool's Gold [Records] is the family, so unless a major wanna break bread with the family, then there's nothing to talk about.
DX: So for you, it's all about artistic integrity at the end of the day, no matter what?
Danny Brown: Yeah. I don't want nobody putting their hand in this, you know? No one can be more of a fan of Danny Brown than Danny Brown.
DX: So if Interscope Records or somebody would actually drop “Radio Song” as your radio song, then you're down to talk?
Danny Brown: Yeah, if they down to give some millions up!
DX: Speaking of another video that you dropped a while back, you hooked up with A$AP Rocky for “Blunt After Blunt.” How'd you guys end up getting involved with each other up in the first place?
Danny Brown: Actually, just being friends of mutual friends. When “Purple Swag” first blew up – I always do my homework on rappers, you know, artists or whatever. I just was doing my homework and found out [A$AP Rocky] was already like a Facebook friend, so I hit him up on Facebook, like “Yo, I'm friends and shit. I been rocking with your shit.” From then on, we just been rockin', know what I'm saying? That's my bro.
Danny Brown Speaks About Image, Influence From Other Genres
DX: Speaking on that, it seems like you both are artists that are leading a movement away from the “bling era” in Rap. You mentioned in your interview with Fader about this time in Rap as sort of being like the end of Hair Metal. Do you see this time as being the start of the end of the “bling era” in Rap or do you think it's always gonna be around?
Danny Brown: I think in some sense, it is, but in the sense of what I was saying, it's the reverse of that. We bringing the glam to Hip Hop, you get what I'm saying? They destroyed Glam Rock with the hard shit, but with what we doing now, we destroying the hard shit with the glam shit. Not necessarily the hard shit but the fake shit. I ain't even gonna say hard shit, because real hard shit still wins no matter what. Hip Hop is from the streets at the end of the day.
DX: Yeah. For some reason, I always saw that as you guys kind of being like Grunge –
Danny Brown: A lot of people say that. A lot of people have made that comparison.
DX: Yeah, with “Fields” or “Scrap or Die,” for example –
Danny Brown: But I think the difference with Grunge, like they whole deal was to try to act like they don't care but they totally cared about being mainstream, you know? With us, we do what we want to do. If mainstream appeal come with that, then that's what come with it, but at the end of the day, ain't no money in doing this music really anyway, so if you gotta do this shit, you doing it for the love now, you know what I'm saying? So, I don't know... [Laughs]
DX: So you would say you're kind of bringing the glam but keeping it real no matter what?
Danny Brown: Yeah. I mean me, I can't speak for nobody else but me, you know what I'm saying? At the end of the day, the way I dress, I've always been a flashy nigga, so the way I dress really ain't got really nothing to do with my music, because, before people knew I was a rapper, they knew I was an ill nigga with the clothes when I was in high school and shit, so that's what it is.
DX: Did you find it weird that Spin ended up celebrating XXX more than the traditional Hip Hop publications?
Danny Brown: No, I kind of expected that.
Danny Brown: Yeah, those guys usually are smarter.
DX: Why do you think that?
Danny Brown: Because they're more musically educated. And plus, working for a magazine like Spin, you have to have like a wide range of music that you listening to and reviewing and dealing with different artists where just a Hip Hop publication, they just dealing with Hip Hop.
DX: Have you gotten tired of that love / hate relation that Hip Hop fans seem to have with you, getting involved with the image instead of letting the music speak for itself?
Danny Brown: Nah, that don't bother me at all. I mean, I make music for me at the end of the day, because the music that I put out is the music that I like, you know what I'm saying? If somebody else like it, then that just mean they cool as me. That's all. If a person don't like it, you ain't cool. That's all, you know? I like being cool. I like having that. A lot of people don't know, but the ones that know know, you know what I'm saying?
That's just like a lot of people smoke regular weed, but there's only so many people that can smoke kush every day. Not everybody's gonna be able to afford this shit, so that's all that is. A lot of people, they can survive off the regular, and I'm tired of this regular shit, man.
DX: I wanted to talk about your Black & Brown album with Black Milk. Is that the start of being something that will become a regular collaboration?
Danny Brown: I don't know. We gonna have to wait and see, but I wouldn't mind, you know?
DX: How'd that album come about? Was that all through email or did that all actually happen together in the studio?
Danny Brown: I used to record in his studio a lot, so I pretty much got a lot of songs there. I guess he just took a liking to some of the verses.
DX: How far back do you guys go?
Danny Brown: I wanna say 2009, 2010.
Danny Brown Speaks About Grime Influence On XXX
DX: One aspect of XXX that hasn't really been touched on a ton is the Grime influence that's present on several tracks. You've cited Dizzee Rascal as a big influence. What is it about that sound that really resonates with you?
Danny Brown: I have no idea, because I don't really judge music by my ears. I moreso judge music by my heart, so maybe the feeling that it gave me, there's just something about it that I love. But you gotta understand, being from Detroit, we have like a huge Techno and huge Dance scene, so to me, it's like rapping off of Ghettotech or some shit. In some sense, that's what I've been doing being from Detroit, so I understood what they was doing when I first heard it. It was more so about where they were coming from and I adapted to the music [because] it was music I grew up to. It's a similar sound based on BPMs, because it's the same speed you know, but sound-wise, they put a different take on it.
DX: So do you think that Detroit's Techno scene allows Rap artists from Detroit to be a leg up because they're acquainted with Hip Hop and Electronic Dance Music?
Danny Brown: I don't know, because it's all about if people are ready to accept that type of thing. You can have the ear all you want, but if people not into it, they're not into it, you know?
DX: But it seems like it helped you really meld well with Fool's Gold in a way that might not have worked for someone who hadn't grown up around an electronic / dance scene.
Danny Brown: Yeah, which makes a lot of sense. That's why Fool's Gold was the place I wanted to be.
DX: As a Dizzee Rascal fan, which album had the largest impact on you?
Danny Brown: Boy In Da Corner and Showtime are my favorites, but [Dizzee Rascal] never put out a wack album. Maths + English, Tongue 'N Cheek... All them shits is dope, know what I'm saying? Showtime is probably my favorite. I probably studied Showtime more than Boy In Da Corner, because [with] Showtime, he was just trying to show and prove why he wanted to merge and why he has all this hype to him.
You know, not too many people can follow up [Boy In Da Corner]. Boy In Da Corner was a classic, and that's hands down. No one can take that away from him. He followed up great. You know, there's not too many people who can follow up Boy In Da Corner. There's a lot of people who are gonna like Boy In Da Corner better. Of course, that was your first time ever hearing it, but he followed up great with Showtime.
DX: When you were first thinking about signing, you said it was going to be either XL or Fool's Gold. Was Dizzee Rascal one of the big reasons why you wanted to sign to XL?
Danny Brown: Of course. Dizzee Rascal, The White Stripes, M.I.A. I was just a fan of the artists that they put out in general. That's all. I just like what they do – that indie that think like a major, that still kind of has that mentality in some sense.
DX: You just mentioned the White Stripes. Detroit played a large part in the Garage Rock revival of the early 2000s. Were you also a supporter of people like the Dirtbombs and the Detroit Cobras?
Danny Brown: I fucks with the Dirtbombs and all that shit, but I think the White Stripes are probably my favorite.
DX: Oh yeah, for sure man. I'm still sad they broke up.
Danny Brown: It's all good. Jack White still gonna kill it. He gonna shock us, so don't even worry.
DX: You heard his seven-inch that he put out with Black Milk, right?
Danny Brown: Yeah, that was tight.
DX: I was hoping you could speak on one of my favorite lines from XXX. How cold is “Colder than them grits they fed slaves”?
Danny Brown: That's cold, man. That's cold, bruh. When I came up with that line – you ever seen the movie Roots? In Roots, they gave [the slaves] some grits, and they was, like you could see that they were stuck to the bowl, and he had to scoop it out with his hand, and when he scooped it out, it was like the whole shape of the bowl. That's cold.
DX: Just touching on Detroit for a second, when I think back to “Fields” and “Scrap or Die” you really paint the city as incredibly desolate. That's something that's definitely come into the press a lot recently, but has Detroit always had that edge? It's just that people have seen it a lot more recently?
Danny Brown: I mean, as long as I grew up there, it's been the way it is. It actually got worse in some senses, but that's the only way I could really [explain it]: it's been the same, and it's getting worse. I mean, everybody's facing economic [problems], you know, where you see a lot of houses shut down and shit, but in Detroit, it had always been like that, so I imagine [that's] how it is to the tenth degree now.
DX: I just caught this line on the way here and I wanted to make sure I didn't have it wrong. At the beginning of “30,” it is “Sent your bitch a dick pic and now she need glasses,” right?
Danny Brown: Mmm hmm. I mean, we got the lyric book out on the new deluxe edition [of XXX], so you can find out all of them. A lot of people don't understand what I be saying. I don't know, I guess that's the Detroit accent or some shit, but you know, whatever. [Laughs]
DX: That's what I love about what you do. I could see a lot of other people not willing to keep it say something like that on wax and you're just like “I'm willing to do it for the laughs.” People seem to definitely understand it, though.
Danny Brown: Yeah, at the end of the day, I'm too old to be trying to fit in, so I do what the fuck I want to do and that's it. I'm comfortable with waking up [and] being me, man. I ain't worried about nobody else, you know? That's what it is.