Question in the Form of An Answer: Danny Brown

My long-delayed interview with The Hybrid has beat both Act II and Detox to market. Solace in minor victories. The abridged version is running concurrently at Pop & Hiss, along with a...
By    September 20, 2010


My long-delayed interview with The Hybrid has beat both Act II and Detox to market. Solace in minor victories. The abridged version is running concurrently at Pop & Hiss, along with a mini-feature on the best advertisement for Adderall since college finals. 

When you broke down The Hybrid on your Tumblr page, you traced its genesis to when you started popping Adderall.  What exactly changed for you? 

That was the beginning. I knew I wanted to continue down that path. At first when I started recording, I didn’t know what I was doing. but they allowed me to start focusing and narrowing it down.

Was it a matter of focusing on topical concerns instead of just trying to be funny?

Yeah, well after I while, I realized I wasn’t rapping about nothing. I was just cracking jokes, being a rapper rapping about rapping. And when you make music like that, you only last for so long. I started wanting to make tracks like “Guitar Solo,” which is about making music to stand the test of time. When I look back on The Hybrid, I want people to remember it three or four years from now. The difference between that and say Detroit State of Mind 4 is that I think those songs are more disposable, they don’t stick to the ribs.

“The Wizard” is one of my favorite things that you’ve ever done. A “Fish” sample plus  dialogue from a film where a plot line hinges on Super Mario 3 is always a good thing.

Ha, yeah. I agree. “The Wizard” was right when I started figuring out how I wanted to rap. There’s actually a couple versions of that song floating out there.

On one of your songs, you say you started taking ‘this rap shit serious about in 05.’ Were you rapping much prior to that?

I’ve been rapping my whole life, but I didn’t start thinking I was kind of nice until then. I’d been getting props before that — people told me that they thought I was doing my thing, but I didn’t really fuck with my shit. I was more into listening to other rappers who I thought were way doper than me.

Like who?

Dizzee Rascal and Cannibal Ox and Camu Tao.

Danny Brown “Re-Up” Video from FWMJ on Vimeo.

You were heavy into the White Stripes too, right?

That’s one of my favorite bands ever. I wasn’t listening to much rap at the time because I wasn’t getting the same shock value. Listening to the White Stripes made me feel that I had secrets and just listening to them made me really inspired to make music. I felt like I needed to get to that level because those guys were so much better.

Now it seems like you’re getting props from a lot of different artists. Aesop Rock said The Hybrid was one of his favorite rap albums of the year.

To me, that’s the crazy thing. I wonder how a guy like that gets my music when he’s so smart and so far out of anyone else’s realm. His albums are like books.

Intelligence manifests itself in different ways.

Yeah, but I’m smart in a dumb way, like Curb your Enthusiasm smart or Seinfeld smart. Aesop Rock is on some Napoleon Hill smart.

It’s good to hear a rapper name-dropping Aesop. It seems like he’s never gotten enough props within hip-hop circles, even though he’s worshipped among the liberal arts degree set. 

It’s an obscure taste. Not everybody can pick up an Aesop Rock CD and get it. He’s is the only artist whose lyrics I had to write down.

What sort of music were you into coming up?

I was super influenced by West Coast hip-hop:  Spice 1, South Central Cartel, E-40, B Legit. Then wen I heard Wu-Tang, I started listening to the East Coast shit like Mobb Deep and Nas. Starting in 93 and 94, I didn’t listen to nothing else.

For whatever reason, I hear a litle Big L in your rhyme schemes. Were you a big fan of him?

I definitely studied him. I don’t have to be a huge fan of a rapper to study them and listen to their projects. I’m a fan before an artist.  I listen to try to figure out why I like something and why I think something is wack. I don’t like to be in arguments when I can’t defend myself. If I think something’s wack, I want to be able to explain why.

What made you start rapping in the first place?

I always knew how to rap. In the third grade, I was the only kid doing it. By the 6th grade, there was always another kid who everyone said was dope and they’d put me up against him. Then as I got older I started getting concerned with songwriting, instead of just being on the corner rapping in cipers.

Did you appreciation of Jack White have to do with the fact that he’s from Detroit?

For sure. He’s getting all of his inspiration from Detroit, the same way I did. He’s still killing things and he’s the best around, you can’t argue. That’s how I felt about Eminem. That nigga is like a god. He’s winning Grammys and he’s repping Detroit.Seeing them do it made me feel like I could too.

Danny Brown “Shootin’ Moves” Video from FWMJ on Vimeo.

Are you still living in Detroit?

Yeah, but at the moment I’m in New York. I’m always traveling around.

What are you doing in New York?

Just recording, it’s better to be away. I’ll go anywhere to get out of Detroit for a minute.

What’s the scene like in Detroit?

Just rappers rapping for other rappers. Too many rappers, not enough fans. Being in Detroit, it’s the same 100 people every night. It’s cool and all, but after a while you got to start doing raves or shit in the suburbs, rather than just rapping for J Dilla heads. I came up on that stuff, so of course I’m not disrespecting, that’s just how it is.

Freddie Gibbs described the Gary scene as crabs in a bucket. Is that how it feels in Detroit?

Detroit ain’t got no outlets. At the same time,  a lot of artists and fans live in the past instead of trying to evolve and do what Dilla did. Not trying to sound like how he sounded. You’ve just got to take his inspiration and keep evolving.

Do you think the Dilla comparisons Black Milk gets are fair?

Black Milk has grown into his own person. You can’t look at him and be like he’s biting Dilla. Dilla did some shit that Milk won’t do and Black Milk got some shit of his own. He’s Black Milk. The thing about Dilla is that he would constantly switch up his styles. The shit that Drake and Cudi are rhyming over now? Dilla was making beat tapes in 03 using mad synth samples like that. He was the first one on that wave.

How has that shaped your approach to music pretty?

That’s how I look at it. I like to stay challenged and stay away from getting conditioned to things. I used to do the in the pocket thing, do the same flow every time, but I learned to change it up.

Danny Brown “Nowhere 2 Go” from FWMJ on Vimeo.

What was it like growing up in Detroit ? Were you a part of a musical family?

I was born on the Westside of Detroit, off LynnWood. When I got older, I moved to the Eastside, but I was raised in Lynnwood, that was my hood. When I was in high school, I’d always go back there. It wasn’t no sob story. People was crazy, that’s how it was. My parents had me young and everyone grew up too fast. I had young ass parents — my dad was 16 when he had me, my moms was 18. By the time I was old enough to do shit, I was trying to do shit that I wasn’t supposed to do. Plus I was the oldest, always shootin moves. We wasn’t the poorest family in the world. I always had Jordans when they came out, I was always fly. In school, I knew how to rap, so at any school I went to, I hung out with the  cool kids. When I was a teenager, I was doing all the other shit that the kids wasn’t doing it, including dropping out of school.

How old were you when you dropped our?

I was 16, 10th grade.  I’d still go back to school periodically to pick my girl up, or go to lunch, or shoot some dice. But after 9th grade, I’d already started selling weed had some money for my nice little school gear and shit.

Were you doing poorly in school or were you just like fuck it?

I was kind of smart, so I did well all the way until I was old enough to write raps. At first, I didn’t know how to do it. I was just freestyling, but once I figured up how to rap, I was that type of nigga.

Are you a big reader?

I have a short attention span, so I read a lot of magazines. I read rap magazines when the Source wasn’t even popping yet. I didn’t start reading it until 1994. I was reading Word Up constantly.

Is that how you got into the Adderall?

That shit’s good for writing. I don’t normally have a problem writing, but if I pop an Adderall, I’ll just do it until the sun comes up. They’re not always good but it keeps me disciplined. It’s like rapper steroids.

Danny Brown “The Hybrid” from FWMJ on Vimeo.

What’s the story behind the creation of “Generation RX“?

I didn’t have the idea to write that song. Actually, the person who I used to get aderall from gave me the idea. He was a graff artist and his mom put him on adderall when he was 8 years old. When black kids do bad at school we get screamed at as punishment. When a white kid does it, they put them on drugs. Black kids say ‘Fuck school.’ So basically, his whole shit started at 8 and now he’s 20 or 21. It doesn’t even do anything anymore. He just knew he was addicted, and he told me to write this song. He was like, ‘I know that shit is fucking me up, they just haven’t done the research yet.’ He was taking crazy amounts every day. I just take half a pill and I’m good.

So how did you come up in Detroit? What was the path like to get put on over there?

Basically, Hex Murda and Trick Trick run anything hip hop related in Detroit and you have to go through them. Hex runs St. Andrew’s so you’ve gotta go through him to shoot your moves.  There’s a lot of talented cats. Hex is doing his thing. Elzhi, Black Milk, Guilty, are all around. Those dudes had a pipeline overseas, so if you wanted to get overseas, you had to through them and through Slum Village. There’s no other way to go out the rap way in Detroit, but to go through the underground.

How did you get on that Jay Stay Pai compilation from last year? That was my first time hearing you and you had my favorite song on the record.

I had show at a college with Blue and he was like, ‘you should come to Cali and kick it.’ I just took it like whatever, but I ended up getting booked in San Diego and had another show at the LA Fat Beats, so I just rolled up, hit up Blu and Jon Mainframe and was like, ‘yo, I’m in LA.’ Jon was working on Jay stay Paid at the time, so I hit up Hex and was like, ‘what’s the deal with that. Why’s Jon doing the Dilla record?’ He didn’t know much about it.

So I just did whatever out there, just kicked it for three months. They lived right next to an ill skate park on Skid Row.  So I just was chilling, popping pills, skating and Hex was tripping, being like, ‘you supposed to be working on your record, why you working with some white boys doing dumb hippy shit.’ So that sort of ended him managing me and when I got back, I started recording at the other studio and was like, I’m going to shoot moves, figure it out myself.

For Jay Stay Paid, I heard the whole record and heard what people were doing, which was mostly freestyles, and I was like everyone’s just rhyming 16’s and not going their hardest. I’m going to go extra hard and make sure people hear me.

It’s rare to hear a dude for the first time without any advance hype.

It’s crazy. Everything is mad marketing schemes. People using Ustream. It’s about people selling their lifestyle. With me, the shit was organic. No videos, just listen to my music.

I take it you didn’t get much interest from labels prior to Hybrid?

I’ve never had a deal and I don’t have no management. I was talking with 10 Deep for a while to put out The Hybrid, but it didn’t happen. They seemed to be down with it, and I love their clothes, but they kept on me for so long. Every time, I was going to be the next 10 Deep release. Then they told me they were waiting to do something with Gucci Mane. I ain’t never seen a 10 Deep tape with Gucci Mane.

So basically, it was March and I didn’t want to sit on it any longer. I didn’t want to get caught up with the Rick Ross and Young Jeezy release dates. Not like I’m competing with them, but they soak up a lot of attention from my homies in the hood, and I wanted them to hear my music. So I figured in March and April, I wouldn’t have much competition. So I dropped it during SXSW because I wasn’t there, and wanted to send a message that I’m still the livest nigga.

Danny Brown – Shootin’ Moves from The Smoking Section on Vimeo.

So what was your It’s An Art tape that you just dropped? You never explained what it was?

Those were some of the songs that I did with Blu and John Mainframe and LA. We never got around to finish the record and it was just sitting in my computer collecting dust. I wanted to show people that I could be extra-experimental and creative. Not just doing my normal shit. I didn’t want to surround it with any unnecessary hype. I just dropped it on my Tumblr, for the people who wanted to hear it.

How did you link up with Tony Yayo in the first place?

When I was recording [mixtapes] “Detroit State of Mind,” Volumes 1-3, I was working with a producer who worked for G-Unit and was Yayo’s engineer. When Yayo got a movie role in “S.W.A.T. 2,”  he was shooting it in Detroit, so he hit me up and said, ‘come link up, chill and smoke.’ So I went down there and he was like, ‘my homeboy told me about you.’ I showed him the “Re-Up” video, went on my iTunes and played him a couple joints, and he said you need to come up to New York with me. So he took me on tour with 50 Cent all through July and we built from there.

Are you going to sign with G-Unit?

I don’t know. Hopefully. We talk a lot about what we want to do with G-Unit, and how 50 is trying to build it by signing new artists and changing the whole brand. At the end of the day, the music [and stuff] that I rap about it isn’t far from what G-Unit always does, nor is it very far from Eminem in terms of subject matter and wordplay. It’s just a different approach to the same thing.

What’s it been like working with 50 and what have you learned?

He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met. I pretty much just watch and listen to whatever he says. You can learn a lot by not talking and just asking questions. I study the music business–it’s a fickle place and it’s hard to stay relevant. You have to pay attention to what’s going on in the streets and be able to adapt with the times and reinvent yourself. Aesop Rock once said something that’s always stuck in my head:  when an author writes a book, he doesn’t write the same book twice. So I ask myself, what does Danny Brown need to do next? “Detroit State of Mind” introduced me and my city. “The Hybrid” was trying to show my range. Next time, I’m going to write a different book.

One of the more interesting things about your music and by extension your tastes is that you’re just as a big of a fan of Soulja Boy and Lil B as you are of Aesop Rock and Def Jux. That’s rare for a lot of rappers that came up in the underground.

I’m all about making entertaining music. There’s a lot of wack rappers who are really entertaining and there’s a lot of super dope lyrical dudes that bore me. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of what you want to listen to and when. I just want to be entertained.

What’s next for you?

I’m going to put out some more videos, then I think I’m going to drop a tape rapping over all original beats next month.

Over the last two months, you really stepped it up in terms of releasing videos. Unsurprisingly, it led to you receiving a lot more attention. What led to that decision?

That was pretty much Yayo’s idea. There’s a lot of faceless rappers and he made me realize that the videos don’t have to be good. It was just a way of people getting to see me rap. As I progress, you’ll definitely see the quality of the videos improve.

You call yourself a mutant.What does that mean to you?

I’m just the illest mutant ever, but I’m so humble at the same time. I know that I’m good at what I do, but I give props to everyone. I don’t have the entitled rapper complex.  I’m on the wave of some new stuff. People don’t know how to take it. You’re going to have to stay tuned and watch, there’s going to be a lot of change.

MP3: Danny Brown & Tony Yayo-“Cyclops”
MP3: Danny Brown & Tony Yayo ft. Lil B-“Trap Ball”

ZIP: Danny Brown-The Hybrid
ZIP: Danny Brown-It’s An Art

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