Q&A: Danny Brown On Cataloguing Rhymes, His "Rookie Of The Year" Status, And Joy Division

The way Danny Brown raps isn't identical to the way Danny Brown talks, but in conversation with the Michigan MC, a few similarities pop up: the wheezy hyena chuckles, the dry sense of humor, the easy confidence, the sense that he can murder this interview shit day or night, awake or asleep, braided or permed. Rapping, Brown works in two modes: a parody of a steroid-case bruiser spitting through and a strained, crazed yelp that's half Eminem, half Ol' Dirty Bastard, with the former's ear for intricately structured rhymes and the latter's willingness to play the ham.

A decade into Brown's rocky rap career, the mean streets of Detroit are his inspiration; poverty, depravity, and how one fuels the other are as much his grand themes as exhibitionist cunnilingus or dreaming up funny nicknames for strains of marijuana. And if 2010's The Hybrid, his first high-profile solo mix tape, established Brown's urban diorama—abject gross-outs, debauched slice-of-life vignettes, thinly veiled PSAs, a brief history of his family's history with illegal substances—last year's XXX (Fool's Gold) exploded it to feature-film dimensions with the no-holds barred hedonism of its first half giving way to a series of heart-scarring sequels and prequels: straw-woman party girls like the ones Brown's been mounting emerging as broken souls, hard-knock childhood tales, gangs of metal-stripping marauders. XXX (which clocked in at No. 28 on the most recent Pazz & Jop poll) takes root and wraps its branches around the listener, the encyclopedic spiral of referents jibing with the devilishly psychedelic array of daring, wide-earred beats, the apparently endless, compressed strings of marvelous couplets. Brown has more winners in two songs than most rappers manage in an entire album. If you've only familiar with the 31-year old's breast-beating, scene-stealing spots on Das Racist, Mister Muthafuckin' eXquire, or Mach Five tracks, you haven't heard the full Danny Brown.

Earlier this month, Brown filled SOTC in on his writing process, his love for Joy Division, and what it means to take "blunts to the face."

Where are you at right now? What's happening?

I'm in Michigan. I actually have a show tonight and I'm at sound check, outside smoking a cigarette. It's a Metro Times blowout fest—they're kind of like the Village Voice of Detroit—a big event with a lot of artists performing.

What brand are you smoking?

Newports, man. I'm black! The cigarettes my mom smoked.

Was it weird to be a part of XXL's 2012 freshman class, to even be asked, after the 2011 you just came off of and the age you're at?

No. I feel that this was the first year of me being a professional artist. Before, it was me uploading music to The Internet; I wasn't on a label. I look at it like an accolade, like "rookie of the year." And, I mean, I was more excited about being on the Fader cover than on XXL.

When you put albums together, do you think in novelistic terms? I ask in part thinking of XXX, which did something most rap albums don't do—it felt like the first half was a lure, then midway through you pivoted from a lot of gratuitous excess into an examination of root causes/morality tales for the debauchery that came before. It was maybe the cleverest album I'd ever heard in that sense.

For XXX, I wrote the whole thing before I recorded it. I'm not the guy to go to the studio to do random things. XXX, I didn't have a direction for it [beforehand], it just came as I worked on it. I was a big fan of the Streets' album, A Grand Don't Come For Free, and I think that album really influenced the sequencing of XXX.

In a way, it's like you took the ideas from The Hybrid and sharpened them.

Yeah. In general, I always have this problem of "Where do I take it next?" I just do what I do; I just do me. However it comes out, it comes out. But I was like, "How do I top The Hybrid?" So XXX was like trying to improve on what I was already doing.

At the end of XXX, you rap "I always tell myself 'it's gonna get better.'" Has it gotten better?

Yeah; of course. I'm talking to you guys, right? The movie had a happy ending.

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