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Danny Brown: “It doesn't matter when I'm there onstage what the audiences think. I care about what the critics say”

Danny Brown: “It doesn't matter when I'm there onstage what the audiences think. I care about what the critics say”

12 November 2013, 13:00

With his album of the week, Danny Brown caught our attention so fast we nearly snapped vertebrae. He’s been on our radar for plenty long enough, and XXX is unquestionably fantastic, but Brown’s recent career-highlight LP Old is diamond-quality. He traverses his two famed styles: his manic squawk, crass and lapel-grasping, and his gruff, candid early ’90s drawl, crafting a record that’s garnered nigh-universal acclaim for its potent blend of gravitas and flippant wit. Our own B. David Zarley was positively gushing in his uniquely erudite fashion over Brown’s third full-length: “The popular perception of Danny Brown as a particularly lewd-yet-talented harlequin, one who banters about absurd rap tropes indicative of a healthy respect for the hoary even as he transcends it, fails to take into account his most important asset, the one Old makes abundantly clear; his acute understanding of the environment such bromides are born from. It is there, in that seminal muck, where Brown’s true artistry lies.”

When we were finally able to have a chat with Brown to try and get deep into the nitty-gritty of what makes him tick and his thoughts surrounding the ephemera of his lauded masterpiece, we jumped at the chance like a kangaroo on a pogo stick – even if he wasn’t quite as enthusiastic at the prospect of talking to us.

“I stand on stage and I rap. That’s pretty much it,” he says when asked what his shows are like. Perhaps a different route is needed. Is there much going on onstage? Does he bring any guests out? “Nah, I just rap,” slurs Brown, either sleep-deprived (it is still morning when we call, albeit just) or feeling the indulgence of the superstar lifestyle.

He’s just completed a turbulent support stint with Pretty Lights, where a public spat severed the two acts’ ties. Brown, as tends to be the standard, vocalised his opinion via Twitter, and the whole thing just escalated from there. “I don’t really have a side to it. I mean stuff happened, and I feel I was unfairly treated but I’ve voiced my opinion and said my piece. That’s it now. It’s done.” However, on the flip side, he’s also completed a jaunt with Action Bronson across the US, which fared considerably better. “He’s my homie. It was great just rolling with my friends y’know? Just being on the road with friends is always great. We were kicking it and chilling, having fun y’know?” Though they were tearing up the stage nightly, hit-packed performances aren’t on the top of Brown’s list of memorable moments. “Playing GTA V when that came out was awesome… but being on tour with your friends is always cool though y’know?”

Action Bronson and Pretty Lights aren’t the only two joint tours this year though, with the Double Trouble tour with Fool’s Gold boss A-Trak followed up this November. Speaking as preparations were underway, Brown explained “It’s just gonna be a Fool’s Gold party y’know? It’s like a big day out, like a label’s big day out kinda thing y’know? It’s just us, the two top dogs at the label y’know kicking shit and playing music.” Backstage must get pretty crazy at these tours. Right? “I dunno man, we just smoking weed and listening to music we like and chilling.” But the fans clamouring for attention and throwing themselves around must be pretty insane? “Nah… when someone who loves you comes up it’s never strange, it’s always cool.” His fans are lifeblood, and have been essential to his ascent to stardom, but Brown’s pretty dismissive of their response to Old. “I mean I don’t need to tell you Old‘s good. It doesn’t matter when I’m there onstage what the audiences think, I care about what the critics say y’know? We could go on Metacritic right now and it’s at an 85. That’s the top three rap records of the year. A lot of people think it’s the best record of the year. The numbers speak for themselves, y’know?” He’s right, they do.

A record of Old‘s calibre wasn’t an overnight turnover. It was 24 months of graft. “It took a year to write and a year to record. It took patience as I was on the road a lot, but when I had some time off or I wasn’t playing I was writing it. It took a lot of patience.” On the LP, there’s a cornucopia of guest slots, including some expected names – A$AP Rocky, Ab-Soul, A-Trak – and perhaps surprising – Purity Ring and Charli XCX. “Most people are my friends y’know? I’m a huge fan of theirs and just reached out to them. It helps being open minded when it comes to that stuff. With Ab-Soul and A$AP, they just my homies y’know and we’d be playing shows or just kicking it and they’d be like “man, can I jump in on that?” and we’d just work like that.” It’s not just the vocal talent that impresses listeners, with producers of all varieties inserting their two cents into the music. He elaborates: “I’m a huge fan of Rustie. He span one of my tracks in one of his mixes, and I just found out about him from there. He reached out and he did like 7 beats, and then I ended up using like three of them. A-Trak told me to just book the studio with him. Paul White and SKYWLKR are the main producers though, ’cause they’re like the in-house producers for Fool’s Gold… even though Paul White’s in London most of the time. I’m a huge fan of Oh No. I had a lots of time to figure out who I wanted on the record when I was writing it.”

Brown has a close relationship with A-Trak, who’s produced some cuts on Old, and the aforementioned Double Trouble tour is testament to that. “It’s the best working with your boss. He’s my homie too y’know – like I mean we just got back from Denver together. Lots of artists don’t even see their boss but I go on tour with him. I know his intentions. It’s the best thing, like on a communication level. It means he knows what I’m doing and I know where my career’s going.”

The guests and production are stellar and all, but the focus is always on Brown, on his words, his stories, his memories. “It’s about my childhood, my teenage years, my life in my twenties up to where I am now. The beats reflect the soundtrack to my life at those moments. They got from these real ’90s beats to all this EDM and trap shit that’s around nowadays.” Detroit, Brown’s hometown, has always featured heavily as a backdrop in his music. “Old is all about Detroit, but I don’t rap for Detroit, I rap for the world. I tell my stories and Detroit’s just where it all happens. When I do a show it’s not a big deal here. I just chill in my neighbourhood when I’m here y’know? People in Detroit just know me as Daniel, and it’s people from the suburbs and like people driving hours and hundreds of miles to get here to see me perform y’know? My homies I grew up with, they always too busy to come to my shows. But that’s cool. That’s the way I like it. I’m just Daniel here.”

Brown also has a deep rumination on the title, Old. “It’s a play on words, y’know? I’m going back to my old style, telling old stories, talking about my past. Everything that’s happened is old y’know? I mean Old is old. Even when it was new Old was old. When you talk about the record you say “Danny Brown’s recent record” or “last record” or whatever. It’s in the past already so it’s old y’know? Its a play on words.”

Finally, now Brown’s opened up slightly, we see his more-publicised colours erupt as we talk about his favourite moments on the album. He takes a beat to ponder. “I guess…” he starts and trails off. “I guess it’s gotta be the first beat on the first track. I mean Its a new Danny Brown album in two years! That don’t happen every day. They take two years to make so it’s a big deal y’know? The first note and first beat. It’s like fuck man, this is a Danny Brown record!”

Old is out now, on Fool’s Gold.

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