Max Bell is on a liquid diet

You probably weren’t checking for Danny Brown in July of 2008. (I wasn’t.) Sure, you might’ve if you live in Detroit or had friends who attended The Shelter regularly. There’s also the possibility that you frequented Michiganhiphop.com, Hoodhype.com, or that you were one of the 11 people to comment on this 2DopeBoyz post. But, in all likelihood, that wasn’t the case.

Regardless of your residence, 2008 was the apex of Weezy mania. Anticipation for The Carter III was so high people risked careers for leak credit, and the album went on to be the number one rap album of the year, both in sales (triple-platinum) and Grammy wins (three).

Meanwhile the Detroit rap world was, according to Detroit native DJ House Shoes, near the end of the mourning period for J Dilla and Proof, both of whom passed two years prior. That said, there were still great Detroit rap releases that year, among them Guilty Simpson’s Ode to the Ghetto, Illa J’s Yancey Boys, and Black Milk’s Tronic. A gaunt, twenty-seven-year-old Danny Brown was on stage at the release party for the latter, waving Xbox controllers with his braids down to his shoulders and rapping “What Up Doe,” a song off of his first official album, Hot Soup, which was released gratis on July 1st of that year.


By this point, Brown had released an album with group Rese’vor Dogs (Runispokets-N-Dumpemindariva) and flown to New York in hopes of landing a deal with an increasingly divisive Roc-A-Fella Records, recording on studio time pissed away by Cam’ron (who was working on Purple Haze) and others. The resultant recordings became the first three installments of his Detroit State of Mind mixtape series (Wikipedia is wrong about the release dates), which found him ripping everything from Nas instrumentals to beats comprised of Rush samples. Lyrics, delivery, and beat selection — the talent was undeniable but overlooked outside of the D.

A proper solo debut with original production was the next logical step for Brown, a project aimed at extending the terrestrial boundaries of his fan base beyond 8 Mile. From the outside, it seems as if Hot Soup didn’t succeed in that regard, failing to garner widespread acclaim or exposure. It wasn’t until two years and several more projects later that Brown’s next album, The Hybrid, sent bloggers to their keyboards. However, according to House Shoes, Hot Soup was huge for Detroit:

Hot Soup brought a new beginning. Hope, if you will. It was a new sound and a new feeling that our record didn’t previously have. We fucking loved it. Everyone did. Not just the hip hop kids. The rock kids, the party kids, everyone. We did a release party at Oslo, a club in the basement of a popular sushi spot downtown. Danny performed. Half of the crowd knew Hot Soup verbatim already, and the other half had no idea who the fuck Danny Brown was. 30 minutes into the party you couldn’t tell who was a part of either of these groups. Everyone was going fucking ape shit. I deejayed all night and played nothing but Danny joints for damn near 4 hours. We all knew it was the beginning of something special. Something that would be BIG.

With or without that insight, Hot Soup remains incredibly accomplished debut from a rapper with supreme lyrical ability, one already capable of great depth and narrative scope. It isn’t Brown’s best project (see Old), but in 2008 it was his best yet.

Previously only available in the annals of the blogosphere Hot Soup has now received the reissue treatment. Dropping on Record Store Day via House Shoes and Street Corner Music and available at Fat Beats on 2XLP (with a bonus 7”) or 2XCD, the reissue also features seven bonus tracks (digitally purchase/download here). To the best of my knowledge, Brown hasn’t released any statements regarding the reissue. Here’s what he had to say about Hot Soup in 2008:

 this album is dedicated to detroit I didn’t sell the album cause I ran a soup drive and donated to the homeless I will continue to do this…finished a podcast with dj houseshoes…and detroit state of mind 4 coming holloween..this album is for promotional use so I want as many people to hear it as possible

The above context reflects the content. Hot Soup presents a complex Brown. It’s not all unfiltered id or all first-hand journalistic revelation – it’s both and more. Brown clearly wanted exposure and to expose, to give non-Detroiters an audible document of the life and times of one the city’s struggling, rapping and trapping denizens. Despite what some myopic and uninformed writers have suggested in the last few years, blunts and bitches aren’t the extent of Brown’s range. This album proves that both have never been his M.O., only temporary escapes from his harrowing reality.

Primarily produced by Detroit vet Nick Speed, who’d already begun working with 50 Cent and G-Unit (thus Brown’s failed G-Unit signing and Hawaiian Snow), the album is infused with the spirit of Motown, many tracks layered with soul and funk. The drums hit hard and the bass is built to rattle the trunk of the cutty. Booms, baps, break beats, and the crackle of the needle on wax, Speed made reverent suites that still don’t sound all that dated. There’s also incredibly forward-thinking work like the discordant “Gun in Yo Mouf,” which was the result of Speed loading the original beat into the wrong program. It’s obvious why Brown chose to work with him again on both The Hybrid (“New Era”) and Xxx (“Detroit 187”).

For Brown, the political/sociopolitical remain paramount and personal. The fear of facing another presidential term with the Bush administration is real (“Ten G’s A Week”). He wants to know why schools give out free condoms but charge for textbooks. He doesn’t want to know that an infant accidentally died from ingesting their fiend parent’s stash (“Succeed”), but he can’t ignore the headlines. Though his slanging has possibly resulted in a similar unreported outcome, the corner is the only choice until rap pays, the literal road to and definition of a modern day chain gang (“Work Song”). These are the themes and personal demons further cultivated on Old in tracks such as “Wonderbread” and “Torture.” Thus, they are still real and no less impactful.

Despite the grim ‘one step forward, two steps back’ accounts of Detroit living, Brown remains the lothario with a penchant for ribald rhymes about every juicy crack and crevice. However, “She Love It,” the track most involved with sex, is one of the most ineffectual. The verses, hook, and feature from Speed do little to elevate basic bedroom boasts. No words or images possess staying power. Only when Brown embraces the pornographic does he succeed (see Xxx’s “I Will”).

Brown also deftly balances sybaritic pleasure seeking with heartfelt tenderness. Just after “She Love It” comes “Head,” which is not a paean to oral sex but an affectionate open letter to his significant other. Here he caters to his girlfriend, wanting, not willing, to do whatever she desires. He cooks (it’s soup, but it’s all he can cook), listens, takes her shopping, and dreams of tropical vacations together. By the end, you almost wonder if Brown might have had a future writing a column for Cosmo.

While many tracks have some narrative framework, there’s still out and out lyrical flexing, rapping for the sake of rapping, what many now call ‘old Danny Brown.’ (This whole record obviously meets that criterion with its original release date.) For evidence, see “Squeeze Precisely,” on which he convincingly asserts mic supremacy from the jump (“Paint a perfect picture / Brown like Picasso on purple, sipping on liquor”).

Of the reissue’s seven bonus tracks, “The Streets of Detroit” and the Apollo Brown produced “Contra” are as good as (and arguably better than) anything on the album. The former is a confessional burst, the best and most personal distillation of the poverty-stricken tribulations Brown relates throughout Hot Soup (“Living in a crib no heat no water / Pockets on E, just had me a daughter”). The sample is soulful and gritty, and the sparsely placed keys only make the track all the more poignant.

 

“Contra,” an alternate version of which appeared on House Shoes’ 2011 Daily Bread Mixtape, is House Shoes’ favorite Danny Brown track. The beat is nothing short of MPC rapture, the kind of sample chopping and banging drums that aid fatal aural assaults. Brown follows suit, rattling off one bazooka tooth bar after another, punch lines ricocheting out of the infamous gap in his grill and aimed at all opponents.

 …I’m Danny Tanner, watching that white girl/ You a dry jheri curl / You worthless piece of shit / Your baby mama begged to suck my dick / And I ain’t gon let her, she look like Predator / You a gay boy like David Archuleta

Lyrics like these will always be Brown’s fallback, his cheat code for fifty lives, forever as easy for him as hitting a few buttons on an Xbox controller. This is perhaps why it’s best that his rise has been slow. Brown was able to evolve, to continually better his ability to communicate what he’d begun to articulate on Hot Soup while the game finally caught up to what he’d already done for years. In other words, he’s never needed the cheat code. It’s just a lot more fun to play the game knowing you have it.