Danny Brown – In The Business of Words
Despite not knowing the city or the location of the destination, Danny Brown led the way towards chicken and waffle tacos he discovered during SXSW. He strode forth with an immaculately upright posture appropriate for an artist who’s last album had just as much critical acclaim as 2011 combined efforts of Jay-Z and Kanye West. Clad in all black and leopard print sneakers, complete with little tails, he kept to himself mostly intensely reserved in quiet confidence, occasionally breaking his silence to offer surprisingly detailed comments on the conversation. All throughout the way Danny offered details on the influences from his father, his future at Fool’s Gold Records, and hints of his forthcoming work in fashion. By Ali Breland
You had said that Fool's Gold Records was your first choice for a record company you wanted to sign with. Why them?
'Cause they was cool, you know what I'm saying? If you compared the music industry to high school, Fool's Gold would be the cool kids that dress nice, and got all the hot chicks on their dick. They'd throw the best parties that niggas like me wouldn't be able to even get into. They were cool, they're tastemakers. Their track record speaks for itself. Whatever they put their hands on is sick, whether it be The Cool Kids, Kid Cudi, to Nick Catchdubs doing something with Wale, and now me.
What would have happened had your manager not run into Nick Catchdubs [co-founder of Fool's Gold Records] in that bathroom.
It was gonna happen. They knew each other. It just happened quicker than expected. That's all. I know they posted my video on their blog once, but I didn't think that they were that into my music though.
You're getting bigger. Do you see yourself ever outgrowing Fool's Gold, an independent company?
They’re growing with me. Duck Sauce got nominated for a Grammy, know what I'm saying? It'll just make me better. I think I could get nominated for a Grammy off Fool's Gold. They're already being respected as a tastemaker kind of thing. If they say it's dope, it's dope.
You were quoted in The FADER as saying you like feminists? What about them gets you off?
I've never really had a problem with feminists. I made a song about eating pussy so I think it kind of went away when I said I would get on my knees. That was honestly just a line. I love women though, that's just me being influenced by what I grow up hearing. At the end of the day, I make music for 12-year-old Danny. Know what I'm saying? And that's the type of shit he likes.
Twelve-year-old Danny was into Stacy Lattisaw too right?
Yeah, haha. He thought she was hot, haha. She had a pretty ass voice and was just like the cute, light-skinned girl. She had style, she had fashion. She was like the beginning of black girl hipsters.
Around that time when you were 12 your dad was getting you into a lot of music. Where do you think you would have been music wise if you dad hadn't fed you all this cutting edge, hip music?
I probably wouldn't be experimental. I would probably be trying to make radio songs. I'd be trying to make music people like, instead of music that I like. I would still be rapping because I started rapping before he pushed music at me. In some sense I would have probably been trying too hard to be a rapper and do everything I think a rapper should have done. I would probably have a gold chain on right now or something.
Why do you think it took so long for you to blow up? You're music is pretty good, and it's been good for a while.
I don't think it took a long time. I mean it took a long time in some sense. What people got to understand is, I'm from Detroit. There's no industry in Detroit. I couldn't go downtown and get a record deal. I was pretty much just putting music out on
the internet and once it got attention for it, it wasn't the type of music that you could put out and get a record deal for it. I understand, I went through my stages, and if it wasn't for that I wouldn't be as good as I am now. In some sense the artist could get on when they're 19 or 21, but you're hearing them progress then and grow. With me it's already grown. I'm coming into the league already dunking.
Where do you get your wild fashion sense from? Your dad contributed to that right?
I got then open-mindedness from him because even then, [when I was a kid] I’d do shit that he'd be like, "What the fuck is you doing?" But in some sense he helped me get passed the entrapment in your environment mentality and just thinking like what your homeboy is wearing is cool. It just goes outside of Detroit. You have to understand that fashion goes beyond your environment in some sense. Just because I'm the hood don't mean I gotta look like no thug. The guys that look like a thug are probably some of the most pussiest guys you can find. That's why you have to look like that, to play the part.
What does it mean to you specifically to be wearing something crazy like leopard print high tops, or huge white and black-stripped boots?
I just wear what I want. I think I look good to be honest. I think this shit is dope. That's what it really boils down to. It ain't me making no fashion statement. It ain't me trying to get attention or nothing like that. I would be doing everything I'm doing look-wise if I wasn't getting acknowledged from my music. Freshman year [of high school] I had on zebra-striped skinny jeans. I just wear what I want to wear. I don't care. I just do what I want to do fashion-wise.
You seem to have a mixed relationship with Detroit. You've said it's not a huge part of who you are but at the same time you rep the city pretty hard. Where do you stand with Detroit?
I mean, it's my hometown. In rap music, and I guess in general, there's this rep your hood mentality. If you do your homework and look at artists back in the day, most of their music was about getting up and out of their surroundings, going to Hollywood, going to New York and making it big. I've got that mentality. I know that there's really no entertainment industry in Detroit, so you have to leave there to make something happen.
So what's this Glam Rap stuff you mentioned earlier?
That was just a joke. I guess if it was a genre, I'd be the head of that shit right now. [Other guys would be] Based God, The Cool Kids. They were doing stuff four years ago nobody was doing. They were wearing snapbacks when everyone else was still wearing fitteds. It's all about being flashy, and be stylish. It's about not looking somebody's next-door neighbor, and someone that is supposed to be onstage.
You've said you're the best rapper in the game. Who's second best?
I think it's a tie between me and Kendrick, to be honest.
You guys both received a lot of critical acclaim of your last releases, which were arguably considered the best albums of the year. How was it getting that positive reception?
I mean I knew I was gonna get that so it wasn't really a big surprise to me. When I had the album done, before I even signed to Fool's Gold, I knew it was gonna get a big critical reception. I was just happy that people were smart enough to get was I was doing.
Progression-wise, what's next for Danny Brown?
I'm more into rhyme if I'm going anywhere. Right now man I’m just doing shows, getting my show game better. That's another stage of being an artist. I got what I can do in the studio down, now
I'm just seeing what I can do on the stage. I think that's my number one focus. Me making another album right now isn't even a big deal.
A lot of guys are known for their music, but as Danny Brown you carry a certain brand. Do you see yourself taking off in other ventures, namely fashion?
If I do anything fashion-wise, It probably won't be anything consignment. I wear some [brands] clothes here and there. If anything I would say voice-over work. That's the biggest thing I want to get into, voice-over work. I can't talk too much, haha.
You've said you want to be the Frank Sinatra of hip-hop? What do you mean by that?
Hip-hop is a genre that's pretty much based on age. It's like a young man's game. It's only a young man's game if an OG don't step up and keep it going. That's why I applaud E-40 and Jay-Z. My only take on that is that when I'm that age, and I'm gonna be competing. I ain't gonna be the OG just kicking my feet up not rapping. I'm gonna still be trying to compete and still be present. It's words in this business. You get better with time with words, with vocabulary, and experiences in life. At the end of the day you're going to progress and get better unless you start thinking about paying your bills or whatever and what's trendy and what's hot, what's not hot, making a hit song... It's just about having poetic ass lyrics and having beats you've never heard before.
You've talked about how you kind of sold drugs to have stories to tell as a rapper.
In some sense that's true. At the time in my life I didn't have any other choices. The stories I have now would probably be these experiences. Being out on the road and living this life. That's why Danny Brown albums can't come out quick; it's all about new experiences. I have to live to write.
Kurt Cobain once said that the most fun time to be an artist is right before you blow up. Has that fun come to pass or do you think you're in it right now?
I don't even think about it like that. I understand what he meant, and what he was going through and had been through, but me, I'm totally different. All of this shit, making money, walking up and doing what you love instead of punching the clock and doing shit you don't want to do. I don't give a fuck. Fuck that, this shit is where it's at.
If you could just shape your career and music to whatever point you wanted it to be, where would you set yourself? What niche would you try to fill?
I'm not necessarily trying to fill any niche or do anything. I'm just trying to make the best possible music I can make and if they like they do, and if they don't they don't. At the end of the day I'd be doing it if people weren't listening or people were listening. I don't know what else to do.
How would you describe who you are and what you're trying to do without me or any other journalist trying to put you in a box?
I still don't know yet. At 31 years old, I'm still growing and finding out. You always think you're something, but then you realize you're not. I guess I'm at that stage in my life where I'm starting to be who I want to be. That whole selling drugs thing, that wasn't me. That was cool, it is what is, but that's not me. This is the first time in my life that I actually am who I am.