Despite a troubled past topped off by a year-long jail stint, Danny Brown maintains a strikingly serene and friendly disposition. Over the past several years, the Detroit rapper released a handful of well-crafted mixtapes, his most recent XXX yielding widespread acclaim, including a nod from Spin for rap album of the year. As dark as some of the album's lyrics are, Brown's no gangsta rapper; he wears super skinny jeans, for starters. In fact, his vivid descriptions of blighted urban landscapes have some calling him hip-hop's Cormac McCarthy.
Ahead of his show tomorrow, January 24, at the Echoplex's monthly Check Yo Ponytail 2, we spoke with Brown about stuff like his inspirations (Adderall) and who he's been listening to (Sufjan Stevens).
You're in L.A. pretty frequently and have referenced the Standard and the Do-Over in your music. What's your favorite thing about the city?
The weather and the weed, you know? The women, the weather, the weed, and the clothes.
A lot of people don't know you're part Filipino. Do you feel any connection to that culture when you come out West?
My grandma is Filipino and my dad is Filipino, so I'm just a quarter, but it's cool to meet Filipino people that share the same upbringing. We can share a lot of the same stories and stuff about growing up, because there aren't too many Filipino people out here.
Dilla was out here the past couple years of his life and talked about the connection between the L.A. and Detroit quite a bit. Do you notice any similarities between the two cities?
I would say we have more of similarity with Oakland, but I think the love of that sound, L.A. embraced it a little more than we did. Now I think we've caught up, but L.A. is just a place where people are more free to make good music.
Do you ever get tired of people lumping you in with Lil B and Odd Future under the “internet rapper” umbrella?
Nah, I'd rather be poppin' on the internet than on TV. TV has been around forever and not that the internet is new, but it ain't going anywhere anytime soon. I don't watch TV. Pretty much everything I watch comes from the internet, and I know I'm not the only person like that. So I'm definitely happy with my situation.
Since you're so much older than those artists, how much differently are you dealing with success?
If I was a 20 year old kid, I wouldn't know how to act right now, but being that I am 30 and I have an 11-year-old daughter, I've got bigger problems than being on the computer in some Twitter beef.
Do you ever find rappers or producers not wanting to collaborate because of the clothes you wear?
I think it's more like a real recognize real thing more so than with the music, so I think that a lot of the people that relate to me are people that have been through similar situations. Somebody like Schoolboy Q, I don't want to stereotype anyone, but I wouldn't expect him to wanna fuck with me because of the way that I look. But he's able to look past that because of the music and I think that's pretty cool.
Do you kind of feel a similar kinship with A$AP Rocky?
The thing is with Rocky, I feel like we kind of come from the same shit. The same way people would stereotype him for the way he looks I think I get the same thing, so I think we can vibe off that. We've got that thing in common where people kind of treat us a certain way because of the way we look.
There's a lot of graphic detail in your lyrics on XXX. What was the most difficult thing for you to rap about?
The most difficult rhyme is me saying “Left behind a daughter that don't even really know him,” and that just, that sucks because we're with each other all the time, but it's more so that the relationship has changed. Me and her mom aren't together anymore, and when I was in situation where I could be around her all the time, I didn't have money and I couldn't really support her. Now that I do have money and I can support her a little better, I have no time to be with her.
It sucks, because she doesn't really know me. She knows her father and I think she knows my personality traits, but with the music thing, she doesn't really get that because she doesn't really see me on TV or hear me on the radio. I mean, she sees me on magazines and stuff, and I think she's proud of her daddy being in a magazine. Maybe it will change when she gets a little older, but at this point I don't think we really know each other the way we should.
So you said she sees you in magazines and stuff. Other than that, she isn't really aware of your career?
No, and I think I kind of like it like that too. There's part of me that wants to keep her sheltered from it, rather than her knowing her daddy is this thugged out, raw dog rapper.
You talk about selling and taking drugs a lot in your music and mentioned being addicted to Adderall in an interview a while back. Is that still a necessary part of your creative process?
Yeah it is because I haven't really been working without it, but I don't really need it to work. Like if I was in a situation where I had to write someone a verse or do a 16 or a feature I wouldn't need it, but if I really wanna sit down and write 3 or 4 songs in a night I'll take it.
There's been like a shortage recently since the FDA put a limit on production.
Yeah, I know. It sucks. My situation is it's harder to get it from people that actually have prescriptions. It's easier just to find a regular person that sells them on the street now. So you know, I've just been taking it slow. I learned that snorting it makes it last a little longer.
You talk a lot on Twitter about your love for grime and indie rock. Who are some of your favorite artists that people might not expect?
With grime I like everybody, but I definitely think Boy Betta Know is killing it the hardest, JME and all them. There's a new guy named Scruffizer that I think is gonna be pretty good.
In the indie rock scene, I pretty much just listen to what everybody else is listening to, whatever gets a good review. I probably wouldn't have listened to that St. Vincent album if it didn't get good reviews, but it's pretty good. As far as indie rock, I think Sufjan Stevens is probably my favorite though.
Since you've had pretty well defined concepts with your last two albums, do you have any sort of vision for the next project?
Now, I'm just trying to make the best possible songs that I can. As I record more with this album, it'll eventually take on a life and a concept just like XXX did. It's not like I'm ever thinking I'm going to make a certain type of album. I just start making songs, and influences from other albums I've studied help me to start crafting it.
Thanks for your time. We'll be looking forward to the show.
Yeah man, I'm anxious to get out of this gloomy weather and get out there.
Danny Brown performs at the Echoplex on Jan. 24 with Main Attraktionz, Party Supplies and Thee Mike B.