If I had to sum Danny Brown up in one word it’d be “real.”
A couple years or so ago, a good friend of mine showed me Danny’s “Die Like a Rockstar.”
Initially, I was repulsed. Maybe my ego was rejecting it because it hit a little too close to home. That same friend and I would joke about joining the “27 Club” from time to time (almost there so don’t worry, Mom). With heroes of mine being name dropped left and right — Chris Farley, John Belushi, Brad Nowell, Kurt Cobain, Keith Moon and Heath Ledger — the song was a kick in my balls. And like most of the hip-hop that initially offended the little Southern Baptist child still living inside of me that I’ve tried to kill for years, XXX the demented mixtape/album showcasing “Die Like a Rockstar” became one of favorite tapes in recent years, just like Em’s The Marshall Mathers LP did before and Schoolboy’s Habits & Contradictions did after it.
A major development in my respect for Brown was the documentary Pitchfork made about his process in 2012, Detroit State of Mind.
Less than a minute into the doc, they ask Danny and his family, “What are the positive aspects of the neighborhood that keep you here?” After a three second pause, Danny and his parents look at each other and start laughing.
“The only positive is family,” answers Danny’s dad.
“We used to walk the streets day and night with no problems,” adds his mom. “You see everything change. When you first got there it was beautiful, but now, it’s like Iraq.”
The camera then cuts to a car driving by abandon lot after abandon lot with the occasional dilapidated house in between while Danny raps, “And where I lived it was: house, field, field, field, field, house, abandon house, field, field.”
I understood at that moment that there was a lot more to this guy than just chasing down Adderall and molly with Hennessey. In real life, the guy was down to earth as fuck. He and his crew, Bruiser Brigade, meet in a modest basement studio and make music not much different than me and my friends do back home. This was independent rap at its finest, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
SPIN recognized XXX as the best hip-hop record of 2011. When I heard the last track on XXX, “30,” Danny became one of my favorites of the new school. “Hurt hope the drugs will help the pain to go away, but all these thoughts up in my head made the sane go astray” is solidarity in a nutshell, but when Brown drops his voice from his trademark, crazy rasp to his actual deep voice, the effect is chilling. “When I turned 28 they like what you gonna do now (27 Club again)? And now a nigga 30 … The thought of no success got a nigga chasing death.” He’s breaking the ‘ole rock taboo that it’s impossible to be relevant in popular music if you’re past 27. And Danny was just getting started, as his follow-up released this past October, “Old,” proved (both achieved “universal acclaim” according to Metacritic). Brown told XXL that he thought of XXX as his OK Computer and Old as his Kid A.
My favorite songs on Old are polar opposites. The conscious, oh-shit-I-might-actually-have-a-drug-problem! “Clean Up” and the screw-it-I’m-gonna-revel-in-this-drug-problem “Smokin & Drinkin.”
It’s impossible to include every interesting Danny Brown story I’ve ever heard in this preview. My editor is already going to wonder why I’m 300 words over my limit (Editor’s note: He’s right, but do go on.). But ah well, you should at least read up on his recent Childish Gambino-reminiscent Twitter bout with depression (see first sentence).
Or the time in Minneapolis a female fan jumped on stage and tried to suck his dick.
As well as his totally unpretentious orgy story at the Gathering of the Juggalos (yep, I typed that correctly).
How does one follow that? Anyway, I know describing an emcee as “real” is about as cliche of a description as you can get in hip-hop in 2014, but that’s exactly why I chose that word. “Real” has become a word thrown out in nearly every modern rap song by rappers that are as far from “real” as Miley Cyrus is from making a gospel album (this year at least).
Perhaps the most important thing that an artist can’t be taught is authenticity. And Danny Brown has that in spades. He is, in fact, the “real deal.”
Shit, I did it again. Ah well, this show’s gonna be crazy. And I’m excited. Who knows what the hell’s going to happen. Better bring a condom, Danny.
Post written by Tyler McConnel, contributing writer for The Blue Note.