Sometimes your mission finds you. For Daniel Sewell, a Black-Filipino kid from Linwood, Detroit, his career was never a choice. Danny never learned how to rap, words came together in his head even at elementary school age. Borrowing the name of his favorite Reservoir Dogs character, Danny Brown found joy ripping into the twisted corners of the genre, both solo and with his crew Reser’ Vor Dogs (since re-christened “Bruiser Brigade.”) The problem was that few outside the city paid him much mind, save for a brief dalliance with a Roc-A-Fella Records A&R.

After years of toiling in the Detroit underground, 2010 brought a major breakthrough. His self-released album The Hybrid brought an observant take on modern Detroit, narrated by a former pusher with one foot in the streets and an eye cast on urban blight and poverty. A G-Unit deal was discussed but never formally offered. More concrete was a legitimate drug addiction; after all, Adderall is Viagra for rappers with dry pens.

But Brown’s momentum continued to build. He signed with electro label Fools Gold in early 2011, and released his new mixtape XXX for free in August. The record racked up millions of downloads and garnered rapturous praise from the likes of NPR, Rolling Stone, The Fader, Spin and Pitchfork. We liked it too. This article is an attempt to tell the story of XXX. Pop an Adderall, grab a Heineken, smoke something, and follow along. --Aaron Matthews

1. “XXX”
Produced by Frank Dukes

Danny Brown: The Hybrid was dealing with teenage pregnancy, welfare and drug abuse — it’s way more socially conscious. The process was just to make a cohesive-sounding project and show my range. XXX wasn’t about that, because I felt like I already proved that. It’s about the moment. The pressure was different because there were a lot more people paying attention to my music, so I had to think differently. XXX is me experimenting and seeing how far I can push listeners with what I do. Before I didn’t think I could really do [rhyming] patterns like Elzhi, Eminem, dudes like that. They probably got rhyming dictionaries or thesauruses and whatever. I just got like two grades of regular hood nigga vocabulary and tried to play with that. I figured out a way to do it.

I got a lot of beats from Paul White and then I was working with SKYWLKR all the time. He was making stuff that fit with the Paul White stuff. Then Quelle, he always sends stuff, so I was picking the best stuff that Quelle had. BrandUn DeShay just popped up in Detroit one day and came over to my crib, he played a few joints. And that House Shoes joint just popped up.

For XXX, I was just thinking of the credits rolling to that. The way the beat came on, it sounded more like an intro beat than a song with a hook. It was an intro, so I wrote the intro to it. Everything was super-intentional, it wasn’t like nothing wasn’t planned. I wrote the intro and I wrote “30”, the outro last.

Frank Dukes: I hooked up with Danny at one of the Red Bull Big Tune battles. He told me he was working on something and asked for some music. I sent him a record that ended up as “Shootin’ Moves” [off The Hybrid]. He reached out for the next album and I sent over some joints that ended up being “XXX” and “DNA.”

Musically, we vibed. I work from the true school, boom-bap shit but I try to do something interesting and relevant to what’s going on in music. I think Danny in a lot of ways is on the same vibe. He’s a straight spitter but he’s also doing something more progressive than most of the rappers coming out today. Our sound works together because of that.

“XXX” was taken from a bunch of different chops from random places. I chopped up a drum break and I played some random shit over it, and it ended up as it is. I loved what Danny did with it. It was a beat that a few other people recorded over, but he ended up getting the record. I think the song is a perfect precursor to what the album does, because the beat is rooted in boom-bap but has some more [creative] elements that make it work. “XXX” sets the tone. Danny did his high-pitched crazy voice on it, but he also shows both sides of himself, saying goofy shit but also saying some real shit.

2. “Die Like A Rockstar”
Produced by SKYWLKR

Danny: [Those rock star references], that’s me just watching a lot of documentaries. I was thinking like a Quentin Tarantino movie when I heard the beat, you know how his movies always start off crazy and action-packed? I wanted the beginning to be wild and crazy, but still scare the shit out of you at the same time. I didn’t want to make a party, because to me it’s a party song! [laughs] Dark ass party! [laughs] It’d be a party song in hell. I didn’t want to make a party song about drugs that sounds cool, like a Juicy J song. The parts with celebrities…Wikipedia will take you a long way! [laughs]

SKYWLKR: I started producing for Chip$. He used to be in a group with Danny Brown — the Rese’Vor Dogs. Then I started being around Danny, I was in the “Cyclops” video last October.

Danny and I were listening to beats all the time and kicking it; we built a friendship. I produced a record for C.H.I.P.$ called “Ponzi Scheme.” Danny fucked with that beat real hard and based off that, he hit me up when he was doing XXX, like, “I got all the producers lined up, I want to you use you to do basically everything else. This is the concept of the album, this is the sound, you got the rest of it.”

It ended up being the opposite, I ended up doing the most on the album. Now Danny and I kick it all the time, play Xbox and smoke weed. Between games I’d bust out the laptop and play a couple loops for him. He’d come with ideas like “switch up the bass, change the hi-hat”. I think we have the same intentions, we’re both trying to make some really dope shit.

For “Die Like A Rockstar,” I used synths with the pitch bend. I had that mind-set coming in. I wanted to use that break. I wanted to make some dark shit. I wanted it to be hard but not all electronic-y. That’s why I used the break [“Synthetic Substitution” by Melvin Bliss], that’s classic hip-hop drums with those dark synths. It just sounded sweet. I put heavy bass on there, like [imitates the song’s bass line].

3. “Pac Blood”

Produced by BrandUn DeShay

Danny: I didn’t really have a concept, and it didn’t go with the concept of the album. What if modern day rappers were like poets or Shakespeare, if we took it serious. I was just thinking of back in the day, if I was Shakespeare writing raps with ink pens, as weird as that sounds [laughs]. It wasn’t included in my original track listing but my manager [Emeka Obi] just beat me over the head over it and everyone I played it for was like, “Man, that shit is crazier than everything else, that’s my favorite shit!” So I had to throw it on there.

The Bukowski, I was watching a documentary about him and just studying it. Rudyard Kipling, that’s just children’s books and shit [laughs]. That’s just funny. Like, you write for kids. That’s what I meant with that line.

“Spittin’ like Kipling with a tooth missin’/tongue bring torture to men, women and children”

BrandUn DeShay: My old manager was a huge fan of Danny and told me I should do something with him. I had never heard of him, but I said I’d check him out. I became a fan and hit [Danny] on Twitter and told him I make beats and we took it from there. We ended up kicking it when I came to D-town for my birthday. I came over with my chick and he was cooking chicken, set me up with the computer, like “you got beats? C’mon, play ‘em loud”. He took the beats I didn’t even think he would take, ‘cause they were the beats everyone else had passed on. There was dope chemistry.

For “Pac Blood,” everyone knows that sample, Bob James’ “Nautilus’. The reason it’s so familiar is it’s the drums everyone samples. So people switch up the melody, do different samples along with that drum pattern. I don’t think people have used [the samples I used on the song] before. I’m a big indie rock head so I’ll take a band that just dropped an album last year and sample a brand new song but with a hip hop style, and Bob James drum sample on top of it. Make a whole new beast out of it. So I flipped “Nautilus” in a fresh way.

4. “Radio Song”
Produced by BrandUn DeShay

Danny: That was one of the last songs I recorded. I think when the album was done and I would listen to it, I’d always think like the regular listener, “Where’s the radio song?” So that was a gimmick, a joke to myself like “I got a radio song right here! I gotta have a radio song!” So that was my way of doing it.

BrandUn DeShay: That’s a really high pitched snare. Most instrumentals are in the key of C, but “Radio Song” is in the key of B. I actually came up with the beat in my head in the shower, like “Oh shit!”. Then I made it on the computer. That’s one of my favorite beats and what Danny did with it was crazy.

5. Lie4
Produced by SKYWLKR

Danny: That was me and Sky trying out ideas, trying to do [grime] to see if I could do it. I was probably experimenting a little more with the grime sound. I wanted to do unexpected shit, going from a Detroit hip-hop sound to a grime sound, who’d expect that? I’m with [SKYWLKR] the most, so it’s easier for me to talk with him and make music than get a beat tape from somebody. In the future, it’s probably going to be more and more Skyler, ‘cause that’s who I’m working with every day.

SKYWLKR: I went on a grime binge, and it obviously showed in my music. I love grime and now I make grime all the time.

6. “I Will”
Produced by Squadda Bambino

Danny: It’s give and take, you know? [laughs] A lot of people are squares, kinda. I think I always had that idea for that song and then I got the beat from Squadda B. I just wanted to have something from Squadda or Main Attrakionz something on the album because I’m a big fan of their work. He sent me a lot of beats and the vocal sample on that beat just made me come up with it. That’s probably the quickest song on the album. Probably wrote that in 10, 15 minutes [laughs]. I guess that whole section was to steer you off the story but still keep it on random.

Squadda Bambino of Main Attrakionz: Danny’s like my big cousin, white girls sitting on his lap and his shit [laughs]. I had never really listened to him until he reached out. His voice is crazy and he can rap about anything.

He got at me for some beats. And the beat for “I Will,” I actually made for myself a while back but never ended up recording on it or putting it out. I had a song with DVD called “Tell Me” so I found a [sample] of a bitch saying “tell me” and I just looped that up. That little “She like” sample I took from somewhere else too, can’t remember where. I revised it, sent it back and the rest was history. Danny rapping about eating pussy and shit. I was shocked as fuck when I heard the song, I didn’t know [Danny] was going to take it there. I was like, “Damn! He holdin’ it down!” [laughs]

I remember in middle school niggas didn’t really want to flex that shit. When a nigga eats pearl, he gets teased. So this was the first time I heard a nigga rap about that shit and really take pride in that shit.

7. “Bruiser Brigade” (Featuring Dopehead)
Produced by SKYWLKR

Danny: We were mostly going for a grime sound, that’s me trying to make a grime song in my own way. And really that song was me trying to write like…you ever seen that Dave Chappelle skit “Dude’s Night Out”?

I just wanted to write something about that, that’s really what [the song]’s about. Going out with your friends and just wilding out. Just getting drunk [laughs] That skit just inspired the song.

SKYWLKR: It’s funny, a lot of people have told me that this song [sounds like Brick Squad]. And I didn’t even know about grime either, Danny introduced me to it. I made a lot of grime beats [like “Bruiser Brigade”]. That song came out crazy.

8. “Detroit 187” Featuring Chip$
Produced by Nick Speed

Danny: I loved the beat and it worked really well with the other production of the album. I thought Chip$ would sound dope on it. I wanted to get him and Dopehead out there, so if I got a lot of attention, they’d get some too.

Nick Speed: I heard a [Rese’Vor Dogs] song on the radio and I was up at the radio station and they was going crazy. I hopped in the car with the radio DJ, MC Serch, he was playing the CD in his car, I thought it sounded crazy. Later I was walking across 7 Mile Road and Rese’Vor Dogs had a poster with a number on the bottom. I called the number, went straight to Danny’s cribs and he’s playing The Streets’ album, Dizzee Rascal and he’s making beats on the PlayStation. I walk in, I’m playing my beats, and he’s like, “Yeah, these are crack rocks right here” [laughs]. We decided right there we were going to make an album, all Motown, funk, soul and all that. I was surprised he was into that type of music, ‘cause [Rese’Vor Dogs] were a gangsta’ rap group. The name of the album was RUNISPOKETS-N-DUMPEMINDARIVA [laughs]

So we started making songs in the basement, I’d bring my beat machine. Years went past, Danny got down with Roc-A-Fella, I got down with G-Unit. He came to my crib one day like, “Man, I’m ready”– just to let me know he’s serious. We were recording for years before we dropped the first album. Brown is a real calculated person. I could see that even when he was in Rese’Vor Dogs, he had the ability to make songs for the public. He just raps like he doesn’t care. And he writes it strictly for people from Detroit, Michigan. I heard XXX way before it came out, I think it was missing 1 or 2 songs and I thought, “Damn, this is a story”. For all the industry people that didn’t believe, it’s like the biggest “I told you so” ever [laughs].

Danny was recording at my man Drumma B’s house and I had just gave him some beats and he was like, “Man, that Doogie Howser, I want to do that with the Doogie Howser [sample]!” ‘Cause that was the name of the beat. So I was like, “Aight, bet”. Brown re-recorded that song because he first had the low delivery on it, and it came out impressive. I’m always looking for odd sounds and weird things to record. So it was inspired by the Doogie Howser theme song. Brown love 80s stuff too.

9. “Monopoly”
Produced by Quelle

Danny: That was one of the first songs I did for XXX, before I knew what I was doing with it. When I started the project, I was just trying to go hard [laughs] That was actually the first song we knew we were going to use.

Quelle: I would hit Danny every blue moon like, “Hey, you need some beats?” And I’d send ‘em through. I think he had a couple of joints before he was doing the Fools Gold thing. We gotta similar goal: make music that sounds good. I thought “Monopoly” was hard. I think it’s the hardest shit on there, not just ‘cause I made it [laughs]. Danny never does the beats wrong, shit, that’s why I fuck with him! [The Blaxploitation dialogue at the beginning] was the perfect beginning for that shit! [laughs] The sample for the instrumental came from a Looney Tunes-ass Russian cartoon, that makes it even funnier. ‘Cause he’s like a cartoon character.

10. “Blunt After Blunt”
Produced by SKYWLKR

Danny: I think I was trying to do some Def Jux shit. Camu, El-P, Cannibal Ox, Mr. Lif, Murs when he was fucking with ‘em, Cage, Aesop.

SKYWLKR: I remember Danny dropped The Hybrid: Deluxe on iTunes and it had the song “Dick Suck.” I thought that beat was super hard, and it influenced me to make “Blunt After Blunt”. I sampled a piano. A real simple beat, I came up with the first piano part [imitates loud piano chords] and the beat just happened.

11. “Outer Space”
Produced by SKYWLKR

Danny: That’s also the Def Jux sound. Like I said, the production was working [here].

SKYWLKR: “Outer Space” is a super old beat. I made that beat after I heard Flying Lotus for the first time, I just tried to make crazy shit [laughs] If someone really did their homework, I put that shit out on a beat tape in 2009. Danny heard it and just went nuts. That was the first Danny Brown/SKYWLKR song and that song is amazing to me.

12. “Adderall Admiral”
Produced by Paul White

Danny: I wanted a soundtrack that flowed cohesively, not just content and songs. And I liked the way the beats [for “Blunt After Blunt” to “Adderall Admiral”] sounded in that order.

Paul White: Alex Chase runs my label One Handed Music and hooked us up. We had connections even back in the MySpace days, me and House Shoes spoke a little bit. With Alex’s connections to Stones Throw, he and Shoes opened doors to some emcees and Danny was one of them. Full shouts to House Shoes for that that.

Danny’s freeness, uniqueness and honesty, his humor…I could relate to him straight away. The way he talks about his life and the rawness of the world. He’s fine being himself. I sent him 10 beats and recorded to all of them. He’s one of the only people who’s managed to tap into the feeling I had when I wrote the beat.

When he picked the beat, I couldn’t wait to hear it. That was my favorite joint, I was cracking up when I heard it.

13. “DNA”
Produced by Frank Dukes

Danny: When I started putting together sequences, the slower songs sounded better together than intertwined with the faster ones where the beat was on some silly shit. I was really thinking of like back in the day, when it was all on vinyl. I feel like “DNA” is where Side B starts. With the intro of the beat and everything, I was looking at it like that’s Side A and that’s Side B. The cover looked like a vinyl to me, so I was going with that whole vibe. The first side is all having fun then here’s where it starts getting serious. “DNA” was one of the last songs I recorded. I had the intro and outro, I already had the storyline and I already had the songs I needed. I knew what I was doing when I did that, I need to have that type of song for it.

Frank Dukes: I felt like I got to set the tone for Side A and Side B of the album. I made both those beats in the same week too, guess it was coincidence that he picked both.

I thought it was dope that Danny showed a more serious side. He can do a record where he completely glorifies excessive drug use, but also show that he’s conscious of what he’s doing and talking about [drugs] on a deeper level. When I created “DNA”, that’s not something I pictured on it. It made a lot of sense.

14. “Nosebleeds”
Produced by DJ House Shoes

Danny: It’s around me, so I’m just writing about what’s going on. The Hybrid was just me trying to come up with concepts and show content. With this, I wasn’t trying to write about the past but write about what’s going on now. The beat reminded me of this commercial I saw when I was a kid. A girl is wilding out, partying, and then one day she’s in class and her nose just starts dripping. That shit always just comes to my brain so I just wrote about it. The song is supposed to be “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” type shit. I knew a lot of people like that, and I always wanted to write that type of song. I kinda write ‘em with every album, I just know a lot of girls like that.

DJ House Shoes: I first heard Danny when I was working at a record store on [Detroit’s] East Side called Melodies and Memories in 2003. [Danny’s old group] Rese’Vor Dogs’ CD came out and it was cool, I could tell there was a lot of promise but it was unpolished. I first met dude in 2007, I came back to the D to do a release party for Hot Soup and that shit was crazy. The crowd reaction was…50 percent of the people knew every word and the other 50 percent had never heard of Danny Brown. I DJed for 2 hours and played strictly Danny Brown and people went crazy. That was the first time I saw that type of reaction at home from one of [Detroit’s] artists.

“Nosebleeds” is probably one of the last joints he did for the record. I just sent him the whole batch of beats I did in February. It’s funny because it took me a while to hear which joint Danny fucked with, which is why the beat appears on Quelle’s [“M.T.F.O.” off Shotgun & Sleek Rifle]. Danny approached the joint totally different from Quelle, so it’s all good. Some dope cinematic movie shit. One verse, exactly how the beat sounded on the beat tape.

15. “Party All the Time”
Produced by BrandUn DeShay

Danny: I was always a fan of The Streets’ album A Grand Don’t Come For Free and I wanted to swaggerjack his whole shit and come with a full fledged story like his was. I just did it my way. I know a lot of chicks like that, bruh. That song is not too different from [The Hybrid’s] “Drinks On Me”. I think the type of girls I talk about on the fun times are the type of girls that’ll be down on their downtime. I can’t just be sitting around talking about “Bitch suck my dick” all day and not have no flip-side.

BrandUn DeShay: Danny’s so crazy that if I sampled the Eddie Murphy song, he woulda ran with it [laughs]. I love that jam. I love the beat for this too and I didn’t think he would come with that kinda style. I’d never heard Danny rap with that very chill, heartfelt tone so I was really glad to produce a departure from his typical style.

16. “EWNESW”
Produced by Quelle

Danny: To me, that song is the point in the story where he…like “Blunt After Blunt”, all those, that’s where he crashes. And after the crash is the reflective period. Then after that, he realizes he’s back in his hood and he’s seeing that shit ain’t changed. He’s fucking up, and the music shit is getting hot, he can get out the hood.

Quelle: I was chilling at my homegirl’s spot and we was playing that Al Green song [convincingly croons “Nobody But You”] and changing the words to something about taking a shit. We kept starting the song over, each time we started it over I was like, “Damn, that shit is funky.” It’s funky. Nowadays, a lot of music is missing that funk. I just took the CD and gave it a light chop, keep it a little more funky but a little more off than the original, so it isn’t so sterilized.

The musicians on those albums are on point, these guys are better than your beat machine! We had actually done another song over that joint a year ago, that didn’t come out. A lot of times, I don’t know what song will be on the CD until the CD comes out [laughs]. I just knock out some joints thinking Danny might sound cold on that.

17. “Fields”
Produced by Paul White

Danny: “Fields” elaborates more on the scrap issue, it’s the same type of song. I’m telling you [Detroit is] fields, then I tell you why it’s fields.

Paul White: I go off on a feeling most of the time when making beats, but I do remember mucking with the sample and putting the drums on. I could hear a feeling to it and knew it was the right sample to put on there. It’s from a movie. The sample I got for the chorus was this flute-y thing about a crazy world that had gone wrong, beautiful landscapes turned into rubble. It freaked me how much [Danny] tapped into that. Maybe he had seen the movie.

18. “Scrap or Die”
Produced by Paul White

Danny: “Scrap or Die”, that’s what [the album’s protagonist] could be if he don’t do right with the music shit.

Paul White: That was a real spontaneous joint. I loved the weirdness of it, I heard the crazy sample with the weird sounds. You can hear stuff behind sonics and I heard some feeling behind that. Danny’s chorus was great, I loved what he was chatting about. He’s someone who tells a great story and that makes your job as a producer lovely. You can create a whole world with someone.

19. “30”
Produced by SKYWLKR

Danny: I try to do everything in one take because I’m used to doing that. [Punch-ins] are weird to me. That was one long verse, but I did want to capture the emotion of it. “30” is where [the [protagonist] crashes.

SKYWLKR: That’s my favorite song on XXX. I’m a Metronomy fan and I heard that crazy drum break but it had bass on it, so I couldn’t use it. So I tried to remake the drum break myself, that’s where the drums came in. I got high and chopped the Metronomy, put all the samples on my keyboard and it just happened. There were two versions of the song, one had a keyboard part on the outro, that he didn’t fuck with it like that. With my metal background, Danny is yelling on that song. Like, “Dang!” How can you not feel that?

Bonus Tracks:

“Lincoln Continental”
Produced by BrandUn DeShay

BrandUn: I love videogame samples. So I made the [Final Fantasy 7] theme high-pitched and put a crazy filter on it. I threw on some hard, thug-ass drums on and the shit just jammed. [Danny] actually explained the concept for the song before he recorded it. I still feel like [“Lincoln Continental”] didn’t get the props it deserves. The idea of making a song super political but also super comical, it’s like mixing Lupe with Gucci Mane but it works really ill.

Danny Brown “XXX” by foolsgoldrecs