Four or five years ago Microphone Check co-host Ali Shaheed Muhammad told Danny Brown that he's the hip-hop Richard Pryor. "And I got it, too: making things funny that don't supposed to be funny," says Brown. "It's like putting the pill in the pudding."
Since then Brown has released three albums under his own name (with October's Old being the most recent), fully infiltrated the festival circuit, and become both a regular fixture on critics Best Of lists and a character in GrandTheft Auto V. He spoke to Muhammad and co-host Frannie Kelley about his grandmothers, reading bad reviews and what he would do with $100,000.
FRANNIE KELLEY: You guys know each other.
DANNY BROWN: Yes miss, this the big homie right here, man.
BROWN: He helped me out way early, early, just giving me advice, just talking on the phone with me. That was something I needed for real at that time because I ain't know what really I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to make music, and somebody like Ali — just to even take his time out to even talk to me, that encouraged me to keep going. So, thank you to Ali.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: You hear that out there? Go mentor somebody.
BROWN: That's right. Go mentor somebody. That's real.
KELLEY: Give back. What advice did he give you?
BROWN: Pretty much just telling me trust my heart and stick to my instincts and don't care about what's going on in the outside world or what I hear on the radio, what I see on TV. Just do what I felt was true to me. And that's what I took from it, and that's what I did.
KELLEY: When was that?
BROWN: That was like around the time I was making The Hybrid album.
MUHAMMAD: It's like '08, was it?
BROWN: Yeah, it felt like, yeah.
MUHAMMAD: It was in '08 or '09, something like that.
KELLEY: That's nuts.
MUHAMMAD: It's been a minute.
BROWN: That's a long time.
MUHAMMAD: In rap years. Dog years and rap years.
BROWN: Yes, this is true. This is true.
KELLEY: And how old were you then?
BROWN: I mean, I'm 32 now, so I was in my late twenties. I was a grown man then, I was living on my own. I still feel young though, so I don't know.
BROWN: I don't feel old. I think that's a state of mind. I do the same thing I did when I was in high school. I haven't changed too much, man, besides paying my own bills.
BROWN: That's about it. But other than that I do the same stuff. I never learned how to drive a car, so maybe that has a lot to do with it.
MUHAMMAD: You gotta fix that. You don't want to be 85, still like, "Yo."
BROWN: I know, everybody say that.
KELLEY: Nah, they take your license away eventually, come on.
MUHAMMAD: What are you trying to say?
KELLEY: When you get old, you can't drive anymore.
MUHAMMAD: What are you trying to say, Frannie? You trying to say I'm old already?
BROWN: My grandma, she's pretty old and she drives real slow. I've been in the car with her a lot of times and people be driving past, cussing her out. It's my grandma, but I feel where they coming from. You was just tripping right now grandma, but that's tight. So old peoples, they do not really need to drive though.
MUHAMMAD: He's ahead of the game.
KELLEY: Exactly. Is your grandma in Detroit still?
BROWN: Yeah, she lives in Detroit.
KELLEY: How often do you get back there?
BROWN: Any time I'm not on the road, doing shows or doing this type of stuff, I'm home. I'm not a hangout type of person. I just stay in the house, chill, play video games, play with my cat.
KELLEY: You have a cat?
BROWN: Yes, I have a Bengal cat.
BROWN: Named Siren.
BROWN: Yeah, I actually just bought her some kitty toys just now, before I got here not too long ago.
KELLEY: Why did you name her Siren?
BROWN: Because when I got her, she was screaming, like "Ahh, ahh," and it sounded like a siren.
KELLEY: Oh, I get it, siren.
BROWN: She still do that little scream too, when she want me to get up.
MUHAMMAD: Who looks after your cat when you're on the road?
BROWN: My girlfriend, she watch her.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, that's tight. You don't have to put the kitty in a little kennel. They hate that. They show their emotions after that happens, speaking from experience.
BROWN: No, I'm not with that. She crazy too, man. She be pissed every time I come back and then she see me packing to leave, she like, she already know what it is. Like, "You about to leave already?"
KELLEY: She sees the bags?
BROWN: Yeah, she already know, like, "You about to leave again?"
KELLEY: That's funny. I thought you said "Cybotron."
BROWN: Cybotron. That would have been tight.
KELLEY: I thought it was gonna be a little Juan Atkins reference there.
BROWN: That'd have been a tight kitty name: Cybotron.
KELLEY: That's the thing that people talk about a lot with your music and that maybe is a little bit of a misunderstanding is how much Detroit techno is in there and how normal that feels to you, right, to sort of do both?
BROWN: Yeah. I think I was hearing that way before I was hearing rap. Even as a kid, if we went to a house party, they wasn't playing no rap songs. They was playing that, playing Model 500, stuff like that, Egyptian Lover. Even to go there. I think that was a lot of influence on what they did, Juan Atkins and them.
And even just being on the radio, you get the little mix shows. They didn't play rap, they played that. And even if they did play a popular rap song in the club, they still was speeding it up to like 140 bpm. So, maybe that's our heart pace, that's our heartbeat — 140 bpm. I like my music fast. I know that much.
KELLEY: What did you grow up listening to?
BROWN: I remember as a kid, my mom listened to a lot of Loose Ends. That was her thing. And my dad, he was a house DJ so he listened to whatever was cracking in the house or ghetto tech scene. But he started listening to rap — I think his first rap album he bought and was listening to all the time was Ice-T, Power. Then NWA, then Tribe, and then it just went on from there.
MUHAMMAD: So was that your influence? That was your introduction?
BROWN: Yeah, my pops. 'Cause he took me to school and picked me up, so that's how I knew what was ever hot in that world, I guess. Even sometimes he might be listening to something, the new tape that was out and then when I'd get picked up from school, there'd be a new tape in there. I don't know who this is, like, "Dang, who is this?" This something new. I'd get the kid, look, show me the cover, I'd get to look at the credits, like, "All right, this is brand new then." And that's how it was.
But then I started discovering music on my own from my friends 'cause he wasn't playing me that type of stuff: the Spice 1s and the South Central Cartel, the E-40s and stuff like that. I started finding that from my friends and it was like, dang, my whole mind was blown on that.
KELLEY: Yeah, see, we're the same age. I had the same stuff at the same ...
BROWN: OK, see, that's tight.
KELLEY: When I needed to be driven around still.
BROWN: That was when we was dubbing tapes, putting tissue in the top of an old Roy Ayers tape or something.
MUHAMMAD: Oh yeah, that's right, to get the little "record" button activated.
BROWN: And make a Spice 1 tape outta that.
MUHAMMAD: So what was the first rap show you went to?
BROWN: I don't know if it was a Fresh Fest or not but it was Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Run DMC.
BROWN: And my pops took me to that.
MUHAMMAD: What was that like? You remember it?
BROWN: I don't remember it but he said from the first time somebody grabbed the mic and started rapping, I just was mimicking everything I seen on stage. I was like in kindergarten so I can't remember that too much. I remember going, but I can't even remember the actual show.
MUHAMMAD: Do you remember the first show you wanted to go to?
BROWN: The first show I wanted to go to?
MUHAMMAD: You couldn't go to?
BROWN: Probably on my own, it was a Nas show that was coming, but it ended up, the last day got cancelled or something. But I remember that was the first time I was like, "I don't care if nobody go, I'mma get on the bus, I'mma go see Nas. He's playing at Saint Andrew's," but the show didn't even happen. You know how stuff was back, then so ain't no telling what that was.
KELLEY: You talked a lot about Illmatic to other people.
BROWN: 'Cause Illmatic was the first album that I kind of bought on my own. And then the first time I heard it in its entirety, it was so descriptive — I'd never been to New York before but I felt like I was in the middle of Queens after it was over with. Like, looking outside type of point of view. 'Cause I was in that same world in some sense, like, me going to my bedroom, listening to tapes, that was my mama way for me not being in the streets. So that's what I did. I listened to music in my room. I wasn't running around. So that's what that was.
KELLEY: Yeah. My dad was in the Navy and so, you have that six months where you don't really have friends or you have new friends and so you end up listening to a lot of music by yourself, in your room.
BROWN: I feel you. I feel you. That makes a lot of sense.
KELLEY: Yeah. So is that why you did the two halves of the album? Going back to cassettes in the car?
BROWN: Just going back to listening to tapes in general? I guess yeah, in some sense 'cause that's what I learned to make music from, listening to tapes. But I didn't think of that going into making the album at first. It just that — I had too many different types of songs at one point in time. It was like, "How am I going to be able to put all these type of different songs on one album?" So I ended up finding one beat that I felt like married it together.
KELLEY: What was that beat?
BROWN: That was "Dope Song" by Rustie 'cause it was a — you could consider it to be a trap, but it has a 30-second intro and outro and the song is only two minutes in general. It's only like one verse and the hook, and then an eight-bar verse and the hook, and that's straight punk rock to me though.
KELLEY: What are you doing with the album? Why did you call it Old?
BROWN: Old, the idea initially came from my homeboy Kwele. He was like, "I was talking to Roc Marciano, and he was like, 'You should name your next album ODB,' like, 'OG Danny Brown,' like, 'Old Danny Brown.'" More and more I was just thinking — that conversion would pop in my head, pop in my head. So I was thinking, "What does that mean to me?" You know?
And then I would start making the album and then I figured it out and it was like me going back to the original of what I used to do: telling my old stories, over that old style of production. But still at the same time, I want to do something new with my life and with my music. And that was just the flip side to that. Where everybody think it's about my age but it has nothing to do with age.
KELLEY: Or you hit a certain age and old is not a bad thing.
BROWN: Yeah, that's true. I don't think — old age is never a bad thing. I don't wanna die young. Let me die old. I judge my life by video game consoles. I want to see what the PlayStation 7 look like, you know? I made it to see the 4, I gotta get to the 7.
KELLEY: So you're in GrandTheft Auto V?
BROWN: Yeah. That was a big deal for me.
KELLEY: Who are you?
BROWN: I'm a lifeguard that was an ex-football player, and now he's addicted to cocaine.
KELLEY: I don't really play video games. I don't ...
MUHAMMAD: Me either. I'm just imagining. I was like, "Lifeguard? Oh, that's dope. Wait a minute, ex-football player? Hold on."
BROWN: So you just gotta go on the beach and find my character. I'm on the beach and you find me and I always try to fight you, so.
KELLEY: You always try to fight?
BROWN: Yeah, if you interact with me, I'mma try to fight you. So, I always get killed. People keep shooting me.
KELLEY: Is that something you want to do?
BROWN: That's what I wanted to do, yeah, I wanted to get into voiceovers real heavy. It came about — I met with them to do music. And I just was like, "Man, I don't really care about --" like, 'cause I really play video games so I know after six months of me playing this game I really get tired of the song anyway. So I don't really want my song in the videogame like that.
BROWN: Maybe the instrumental would be better than the actual song. So I was like, "Just let me get a voiceover, let me do a character, let me do something like that." And they was like, "No, we can't really do that." And then as I started getting a little bigger and bigger, they called me back. And I went up there and I had, like, 30 lines, maybe, the first time, and I knocked it out in like 15 minutes 'cause it wasn't nothing too different for me — it's going in the booth, reading words on paper. That's what I do anyway. And they was like, "Dang, you tight." So then they called me back and I had like 140 lines. So it was like, dang, that's tight.
KELLEY: Oh No did most of the soundtrack, right? And you work with him on this album too?
BROWN: Yeah, that connected on his own right there.
KELLEY: Oh, OK.
BROWN: He had hit me up early and he like what I'm doing and I'm of course a huge fan of him. And the thing is about producers, they might send you three beats or two beats. He sent me like 100 beats and I picked three beats. And it's probably the three beats that he probably would have never thought I'd pick. So that's how I like it.
KELLEY: I like "Red 2 Go" a lot.
BROWN: Yeah, me too. Actually, he replayed it. The original, original would be — you know how that's always how it go. I liked the raw version but it's still a great representation of what I wanted to do with the song, though.
MUHAMMAD: Is that because of samples? Sample clearances?
BROWN: Yeah, of course.
MUHAMMAD: You know I was really concerned about The Hybrid. You kind of had this like, "Oh well, whatever I don't really care. I just want to put this out," kind of attitude. And I was like, "Man."
BROWN: "Somebody gonna come holler."
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. So whatever happened?
BROWN: I mean, I had trouble — nothing ever happened with The Hybrid but I had trouble with XXX.
MUHAMMAD: How much trouble?
BROWN: Just one song. Got sued for one song.
MUHAMMAD: Just one song? Oh, that's not bad.
BROWN: So this album they was extra cautious and made sure we got everything cleared or we had to replay it. And we had to replay a lot of them, but they ended up coming out better than the actual sampled ones, to be honest.
MUHAMMAD: So when you go in, especially now, compared to when you first started, are you more conscious of that? Or what's your process now?
BROWN: No, I'm not gonna be more conscious of it.
MUHAMMAD: You just still free with it?
BROWN: I'mma do still what I do and then we gonna have to figure out a way to make it work. 'Cause that's gonna lose my creative edge if I start thinking with any rules. So I'm just gonna make what I want to make and then I might can use it, I might can't. I might can figure out a way to make it as best, as close to what I was trying to get it to. So that's just gone be what I gotta do.
MUHAMMAD: Do you still grind hard trying to put the album together? Because I remember you were really ...
BROWN: Yeah. This one took two years! And it's not like I'm on a major label and they give me big budgets and I'm sitting in the studios all the time. So I'm pretty much taking a year to write the album and then I'm recording it the next year. So that's pretty much how I did it. This album made me be like, "I have to get my own studio now. I can't keep going through this." So I finally got me a studio now so I'm cool. I don't have to worry about that no more.
MUHAMMAD: That's dope. So you got other people working in your studio when you're not around?
BROWN: Yeah, my homies. They there right now probably.
MUHAMMAD: So you building up a label?
BROWN: I mean, right now — I came from a group, and they still with me today rapping. And I feel like they just as good as me.
MUHAMMAD: You talking 'bout Rese'vor Dogs?
BROWN: Mm hmm. I feel like they peeking at — they getting up there, in age and stuff, so they about ready. I just took it more serious than everybody else. But them seeing where I'm at now, it's making them take it more serious.
MUHAMMAD: That's dope.
BROWN: 'Cause I really want to do a group project with them — I mean this year. But everybody gotta be focused. 'Cause I'm focused. I can't do another Danny Brown album for like another two years. So I gotta do something to kill the time.
MUHAMMAD: That's a good way: get your crew together.
BROWN: Mm hmm.
KELLEY: How do you write?
BROWN: It more so a feeling type of thing 'cause I get so many beats so I just listen, listen, listen. And maybe I might hear a beginning or I might get a beginning line or I might get a hook or I might get something and I just make sure I jot it all down and jot it all down, then one day the whole song might come together. Just sit there all night and piece stuff together and just write songs and write.
Then after that I'll practice it for maybe a few months before I go and record it 'cause I hate feeling like I'm reading. 'Cause I want to be able to put more emotion into that and if I know the rap, I can close my eyes and say it. And then sometimes when I even get there and I close my eyes and say it, words change on they own, lines change on they own. Like "Dang, I wrote it like this but it end up coming out like that." So, I leave it like that. Because it was raw emotion. So I mostly want to capture an emotion than to actually say a perfect rap. I might say words wrong, I might say something that don't even make sense, but I'mma keep it.
MUHAMMAD: So does the music inspire it?
MUHAMMAD: Do you ever write before you get the song?
BROWN: No. I gotta write to the beat.
BROWN: And it gotta be a feeling, too. 'Cause it's mad beats that I get that I love and I want to write a song to that beat, but nothing happens. But then I might get a beat that somebody might not feel that good, but it struck somewhere in my emotion, to me to feel some type of way, and then words start coming from that emotion. And then when I want to record it, I want to capture that emotion. So I guess that's like putting energies in the world or something. And the person that feel that energy and get that more so than even what the beat is doing or what the song is doing. That's some weird — I guess, I don't know.
MUHAMMAD: Nah, I feel it. Most of the stuff I write is after I hear the music. It's kinda rare that I'll just write a line I'm like, "Oh, yeah."
BROWN: I used to do that all the time but I feel like that's a battle rapper kind of mind state. I want to be more of a songwriter so I have to write to the beat. If I just write a rap and then try to put it to a beat then it's OK.
MUHAMMAD: You had a lot of battle rapping in the early days?
BROWN: Yeah, of course! In like high school; school days.
MUHAMMAD: You roast them dudes? You ever get roasted so bad that ...
BROWN: Yes, I did, a few times. I'm in Detroit, man, everybody rap. So a lot of times I got too big for my britches and I got humbled and it was tight. I'm glad that happened.
MUHAMMAD: Does it happen now that people come up to you, wherever you are — Detroit, New York, Europe, somewhere?
BROWN: And just try to rap on me?
BROWN: I don't know if I could really take that 'cause I don't feel like I'm that kind of guy no more. You automatically won if you do it 'cause I can't even come back. I know how to write but I can't just sit there and bust a freestyle no more, man. I know it's gonna be wack so I'm already coming into it with low self-esteem.
BROWN: Yeah, I forfeit man. I'm like, "You got it, cuz, 'cause you hungry."
KELLEY: Yeah, but what you said about taking a long time to get it right and just relying on your emotion — you must trust yourself.
BROWN: Yeah. But sometimes it's risks too 'cause I'll be sitting around with a song for a month and be listening to it and be like, "I love it, but is anybody else gonna like it?" Like, "I don't know if people are gonna get it." And then you put it out and people like it. And then it's gonna be some people that don't like it, but that's just the way the world go.
MUHAMMAD: Man, we love your music. If you don't know, you're the picture of Microphone Check.
BROWN: Yeah, I saw, it's dope. That is so tight.
MUHAMMAD: It's been like that from day one so ...
BROWN: That is so cool.
MUHAMMAD: You represent the fourth generation, the through to now for Microphone Check so ...
BROWN: That's what's up.
MUHAMMAD: A lot of love for you. And just the content — it's people out there that's not gonna understand or connect with it but I don't know if you remember the first thing I said to you about your music. I said, "Yo, you like ..."
BROWN: Richard Pryor.
MUHAMMAD: That's right.
KELLEY: You did? What?
MUHAMMAD: He remembers.
MUHAMMAD: I was like, "Yo, you like the hip-hop Richard Pryor."
BROWN: That's real.
BROWN: And I got it, too: making things funny that don't supposed to be funny. It's almost like you can be socially conscious, in a way, and entertain people, too. It's like putting the pill in the pudding.
So that's what I like doing now. This album is totally way more mature than the last one. I didn't want people to put me in a box of just trying to be a shock rapper or saying something, 'cause they just caught that part of it. They didn't get the pill, but it was the pill still in there though. They starting to realize the pill is taking effect of 'em.
MUHAMMAD: Just starting to feel a way?
BROWN: They start realizing there's some medicine in that. You know what I'm saying?
KELLEY: That's crazy though 'cause "Scrap or Die" was so like, "This is happening."
BROWN: Yeah. I'd rather put somebody right in the middle of it than to be like, "This is how it is and I wish it wasn't." I just tell the story of how it usually is. That's it. I don't have a solution to the situation but I can make you aware of what's going on.
KELLEY: I understand how people are gonna find your music and everything but you've said you don't expect to hear your stuff on the radio ...
BROWN: Mm hmm. The Internet. End of the question. I'm living and I'm seeing inventions — the Internet got to be one of the coolest things ever. Imagine a person 50-years-old seeing the Internet, they're like, "What? I used to listen to the TV on the radio. I used to watch John Wayne," or something, "in my head. And just heard 'em shooting cops and robbers on the radio. And now you on the Internet and you can just see whatever you want in the world?" So I'd rather be a star on the Internet than a star on TV at this point. Video killed the radio star; Internet killed the radio.
KELLEY: What about playing out? Playing festivals, playing shows.
BROWN: Oh, what about it?
KELLEY: You know, putting the pill in the pudding. How do you do that live?
BROWN: You don't. That's the thing. I make certain music just to perform. 'Cause I remember the time when I didn't have nothing but those songs and I'm playing in front of a whole crowd that want to have fun and dance and I'm sitting there kicking backpack raps and stuff. There's only so much head nodding and waving your hands you can do. Some people just really want to release and dance. And I do, too. So it wasn't too hard for me to be able to make those songs now. So that's what that is.
BROWN: I don't make club bangers. I make festival bangers.
KELLEY: You know about that. You told a story not that long ago about Tribe watching Too Short perform.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, yeah. It was mind-blowing. It wasn't a studio song, it was — the people came to see Short, they came to party, he knew they came to party. Later for all that being cool, whatever, whatever. It was just ...
BROWN: That's how I do. That's how I came to do, man, for real. So you can buy my albums and then you can hear that. But when you see me live, we turning up and having fun.
MUHAMMAD: What do you enjoy most about the whole music process, from looking for the music, creating it, recording, performing?
BROWN: I think more so, my favorite part is sitting there — just wrote something, I'm sitting there in my drawers and my computer and then rapping it back to myself and I'm like, "That's gone be so hard; it's gone be so tight." Then the song come out and people be like, "Ooh, this so hard," and make me feel even cooler 'cause I knew that a year ago sitting in front of my computer, be like, "Ooh watch, they gone go crazy." And the next thing you know, you got a big ass crowd singing it. So that's tight to me.
MUHAMMAD: What does your daughter think of your success?
BROWN: I try to keep it as normal and away from her as possible.
MUHAMMAD: How do you do that?
BROWN: In Detroit, you know it's not — she sees stuff on the Internet. She's old enough to where she on the computer and stuff like that.
MUHAMMAD: How old is she now?
BROWN: She 12 now. So for the most part, we go hang out and we kick it. We do normal stuff when we hang out — go to the movies or go out to eat. And people don't really mess with me like that, so I don't really feel like she feel like I'm no big celebrity or nothing like that.
MUHAMMAD: So is she introducing you to music? 'Cause you know your children do that.
BROWN: She like the One Directions and stuff like that.
MUHAMMAD: One Direction is massive.
BROWN: Yeah, she like that type of stuff man. It's cool. I want to keep her to like that. Watching Disney Channel and stuff. So she's still into that.
KELLEY: Are you already working on your next album?
BROWN: No. I can't really just work like that in the studio. I think I have to live life to have stuff to write about. So I want to live a little life and then I'll have something to talk about again.
MUHAMMAD: What are your life experiences through the hip-hop industry? Just the life of making music and being successful. But it has its, sort of, dark sides. You grew up hustling and stuff like that. How do you get through it?
BROWN: I don't know. I don't think I've figured that part out yet. The more you grow, the more you know. I just know now, I have so much respect for everybody that came before me and that stuck along and been around for years. 'Cause now it's like, "Dang, that's what they've been doing for the past 10 years." Like, how can you not respect somebody like that?
It's easy to sit on the outside and be like, "Man you wack," or, "His music ain't crackin' like that no more," or just hate on another artist or whatever. But if a person has been doing this for a consistently long time, there's obviously something with they business that's working right. I just respect everybody that's been around and been doing this so much 'cause this ain't for the weak at all.
MUHAMMAD: What would you like for your music to do for you? Like, you took a path growing up. You selling, and that was to get you from one place to the next. What place is music gonna get you? What would you like to see it do for you?
BROWN: I think now with me and my music, it's just something that I want to leave behind when I die. If people could still go back and they can get my album 30, 40 years later, after I'm gone, they be like, "It's tight." I'm happy with that, like leaving behind. And then they still understanding what we was going through in this time the same way a kid right now — they buy vinyl, could go buy Marvin Gaye, What's Going On, they hear what was going on in that time. I want to be able to be like that.
MUHAMMAD: Is there something that — you had two grandmothers raise you, sort of?
BROWN: My Filipino grandma, I was with her a lot.
MUHAMMAD: Is there anything that she taught you? Is this right — she had property so she was a real estate owner?
BROWN: That's my other grandma — my black grandma. She worked at Chrysler 20-some years, so she bought a lot of houses and stuff.
MUHAMMAD: Is there anything that she taught you that sticks with you?
BROWN: I can't really say too much. My grandma's crazy to be honest.
BROWN: Both of 'em, my grandma used to beat me with golf clubs and stuff like that.
BROWN: I mean, not like on no crazy stuff but she went to action, man. My grandma was the type to be like, if you got into something in the street and you came home crying to her, man, you wish you stayed out in the street crying. That's what's up.
MUHAMMAD: So she's a true GrandTheft Auto character right there, huh?
BROWN: Yeah, she was, yes, my grandma never played no games, for real. So I know how my moms probably grew up. But I love her for that. So I guess if anything man, she gave me heart. I can say that for sure. My grandma ain't raise no punks.
KELLEY: Is she still here?
BROWN: Yeah. She's still here doing the same thing she been doing as long as I can remember. So I always see her all the time.
KELLEY: Does she listen to your albums?
BROWN: Nah, my family don't listen to my music like that, to be honest.
KELLEY: Why not? You don't want them to?
BROWN: I don't know. It's not nothing that I push on 'em. I mean they watch videos off YouTube or see me do interviews but it's not — they listen to what's on the radio like everybody else. Which is cool to me 'cause I like being Daniel. I don't like thinking about this Danny Brown stuff all the time. So when I'm around my family, I'm Daniel. They not trippin' on that. They happy to see that I'm doing good with myself with it. That's it.
MUHAMMAD: Who's out now that you feelin'?
BROWN: I like Kevin Gates. I've listened to his album a lot. So I say Kevin Gates right now.
KELLEY: Southern stuff?
BROWN: Yeah. He's talking the normal street stuff everybody talk but you can see there's a lot of emotion in it and he's not glorifying anything — it sound like it's all bad to be honest. If I was a kid hearing him, I wouldn't be like, "Yeah, I want to be up in the streets." So, I like his point of views and where he coming from.
KELLEY: He's a melodic dude also.
BROWN: Yeah. So it's a lot of lyrics there, I would just say that. There's a lot of lyrics with his music.
KELLEY: Do you do that when you write? Like, do you hear a melody in your head? You hear the beat first and then you wait for the words to sort of like present themselves?
BROWN: I mean, I get a flow first. You gotta have a flow. But for the most part, I try to come up with hooks first. Then I build the song from the hook. But a lot of times I could have the hook, but it might take me forever to just come up with the first line of the verse. 'Cause to me, beginnings is everything. You gotta come in perfect. So I done had songs with hooks for months and then finally just get one line and wrote the rap that night. Finish the song. It's all about that first line with me.
KELLEY: Erykah Badu calls it downloading time. Let it come out.
BROWN: That's right.
KELLEY: Do you remember — did you have a moment where like you wrote something, you recorded something and you're like, "That's it. I can do this. This is my job."
BROWN: It was more so I would record early in my days and all of my friends be like, "Man, that's so wack." 'Cause it was! In hindsight when I think of it, it was wack. So all my friends be like, "You so wack. You can't rap, man. You don't need to rap."
KELLEY: Some friends.
BROWN: "You could rap, like, a capella," being like, "but when you go in the studio, your songs is wack." And I'd just be like, "You right." So I don't know. It took a long time.
KELLEY: Like you may be not sure you feel it yet?
BROWN: I mean, I'm confident in what I do now. I can say that. Before I wasn't. I was going into making music with low self-esteem. And that would make you try to make stuff that people like.
BROWN: Just for them to be like, "It's tight."
KELLEY: Mention people's names?
BROWN: Yeah, I'm like, nah. I'm OK. I have confidence.
KELLEY: So you started writing like two years ago, right?
BROWN: This album? Yeah.
KELLEY: And so now you might be sort of thinking about different things.
BROWN: Right now, I just feel so much of a weight lifted off my shoulder that this album is finally coming out and it already got great reviews, everybody already saying it's one of the best rap albums of this year. I was just so worried about that. A lot of people might care about how many albums they sell. I care about me not getting a good review, man. All across the board, there's nothing worse than putting out an album that everybody said sucked.
MUHAMMAD: So you read your reviews?
BROWN: I read all of them.
KELLEY: Oh, man.
BROWN: I read all of 'em. And I take the good with the bad. I know how to take constructive criticism.
MUHAMMAD: Have you ever contacted anyone that you didn't agree with their review?
BROWN: No, I wouldn't do that. I just feel that's distasteful, in some sense. Like, if I got a bad review, that's still my homie.
KELLEY: Wow, I don't think I could do that.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, that's real — you're real humble.
BROWN: Like I said, gotta go across the board. He one of many, you know what I'm saying? Everybody else said it's good, he just — and that's my homie! But that would've been good for somebody else. He gave me a 7 out of a 10. Me, I feel like it's an 8 or 9. The only reason I'm saying it's not a 10 because I feel like I know I'mma do a better album than this one.
BROWN: Yeah. So that's the only reason why I can't get a 10 'cause I know I'mma make a better album.
MUHAMMAD: Now that you said that — I'm glad you said that, 'cause you know what I was thinking? Your next album, if you haven't already thought this, definitely go in and, from top to bottom, make it the best thing you ever could make. Your albums — everything is dope and it's a steady incline and your stories always come off fresh. Your lines like — you're a fierce MC and you're a great storyteller. But I was wondering what Old meant. I kind of sensed that it meant you're going back to your old self. But I was wondering if it was from start to finish, was there a completed concept? I think you should definitely, your next record, top to bottom, I know the beginning of the story, the middle, the end.
BROWN: Yeah, I totally want to do something. And that's crazy that you say that 'cause that's totally what I want to do. One of my favorite albums is The Streets' A Grand Don't Come For Free. And I feel like that's something so hard to pull off, it's so much of a risk.
MUHAMMAD: You in that position now.
BROWN: And that's what I'm about. So I could totally see if I could pull that off, how big that would be for my legacy.
MUHAMMAD: You can. I already know you can.
BROWN: And my career. I would love to even bring him in and have him talk and help me. I'd love to have Mike Skinner talk 'cause he really wrote an audio movie. I don't know too many people that just did that. I mean, you could say the good kid: m.A.A.d. city is an audio movie but it was more so through skits and the songs just tied the skits in. But he literally made song after song, a continued storyline from beginning to end.
MUHAMMAD: It's in you. It's definitely in you and I think that's — your next album has to be that.
BROWN: But that's for sure what I want to do. Even me — I've been making these albums by myself. You know what I'm saying? I want to start to bring in people. Not necessarily writers but people like you — people that just know, to guide me through stuff now; getting other opinions. That's why they say the top two rap albums right now, review-wise, is Yeezus and mine. But Yeezus probably took like $4 million to make. I've paid like $2500.
KELLEY: And four million people, too.
BROWN: So if I just had $100,000 to make an album, what could I do?
MUHAMMAD: You hear that corporate America on the music side of things? Can we help Danny Brown out a little bit? Just a little, just give him a little. It's guaranteed.
BROWN: It's guaranteed I'm gonna make Purple Rain. For sure.
KELLEY: So that's what getting positive reviews means for you? As you get to make the next album, you get to make it for more money, you get to make it the way you want?
BROWN: You get more freedom.
KELLEY: They're gonna let you take risks.
BROWN: Yes. If I'm in school, I want to get a good report card, right? If I played in a league, I want my status to be right. So that's how I look at it. This is my game, so I want to stay high, high on scores on Metacritic, all across the board.
Like I said, I don't have a problem with getting a bad review, I don't have a problem with getting a good review, I just want to make sure I have lasting power with these albums, too. 'Cause it's a lot of albums that come out and they get high reviews but we can go back five years later and be like, "That album wasn't that good — it just hit for that time." That's what more I care about — if it's not even big for that year but we go back ten years later and be like, "Man, that album, it got better with time, almost." I want to do things like that.
KELLEY: It's crazy from a journalist's perspective 'cause reviews, they matter emotionally but they also — it's business.
BROWN: I feel like a journalist should look at — the same way I look at my album, that the same way they should look at they review. That's the best reviews. As much work I put into that album, as much work as they should be putting into reviewing the project. Then write a good review even if it's giving it a positive review or a negative one. But don't just come in here half-assing it.
KELLEY: 100 percent.
BROWN: And just trying to just beat the case and just write something real quick. Even if you saying it's a good album or a bad one — I hate that. 'Cause I can get a good review but the write-up suck.
KELLEY: Yeah. I think we want to go out on a song. You want to talk about "Dip"?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, you was reading my mind.
KELLEY: I used to love that song so much when I was a little girl.
BROWN: Freak Nasty? That's right. He gave me some problems, too, man. He said that song wasn't a good representation of whatever "Da Dip" to him meant, but it's cool, he cleared it. We actually had to get Jay Z and Kanye to clear it so I don't know how many major artists would clear an indie rapper like me. So shouts out to them for even doing that. They could have hated on me.
MUHAMMAD: That's what's up.
BROWN: But they showed love, so I love them n----s.
KELLEY: Thank you so much. You're the best interview ever. Usually it takes much longer for us to pull it out and work it around and whatever. I'm like, "We're done!"
BROWN: No, Ali the homie, man, so I'm already comfortable with y'all. Sometime you might come into a room, be like, "I don't know if I want to open up to these people. They might try to take advantage." But it's all love in here.
MUHAMMAD: Before you go, is there any words that you live by that you want to share with people?
BROWN: I guess, never trust a girl that'll have sex with you with her socks on. So we can go with that one.
KELLEY: Why? Why don't you trust her? What do you think she's gonna do?
BROWN: That's like a prostitute thing. She might have to make a great escape or something. If she don't wanna pull the toes out man, then something is wrong, just watch out for her. She might steal something from you.
KELLEY: That's funny 'cause I have a rule about guys taking their socks off. I'm like, "Show me some respect."
BROWN: That's right.
MUHAMMAD: Oh my God.
KELLEY: On that note ... Thank you. Thank you so much for coming by.
BROWN: Thank you guys, man, it was fun.
Songs In This Episode:
Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.