Danny Brown is the type of performer who dares to be different. While other hip-hop artists are desperate to prove how hip-hop they are, Brown is known to flirt with other genres like he’s speed-dating. When asked about his favourite albums of all time by Complex, he waxed lyrical about his love of Joy Division, Korn, Radiohead and System of a Down. He’s obsessed with folk singer Natalie Prass, and wants her for his next album. He doesn’t just talk the talk, either – Brown’s music is known to incorporate elements of rave, EDM, grime and indie-pop; particularly on his last album, 2013’s Old.
Now, Brown is finishing up his fourth album, with a projected Q3 2016 release date. He’ll also be in Australia very soon to tour around the place as a part of Groovin’ the Moo, joining the likes of MS MR, MUTEMATH and Ratatat. The man’s got plenty on his mind, though, as he dishes to Music Feeds about Talking Heads, being a big kid and what RiFF RaFF is really like…
Music Feeds: It’s been a little while now since you wrapped up touring in support of Old. You’ve been focusing most of your attention recently on starting up your label. Where did the idea for that stem from?
Danny Brown: I suppose that it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I guess what spurred me onto doing it the most was seeing someone like Jack White – seeing what he has done with Third Man Records has just been so incredible to watch. Even being a part of independent record communities through working with places like Fool’s Gold… that came to really motivate me, too. I’m just out here doin’ it for Detroit, y’know what I’m sayin’?
MF: You mentioned Jack White as an influence there. Let’s talk briefly about your eclectic tastes. You’re one of the few rappers who has an outspoken love of Sufjan Stevens, for instance, and you once listed the Korn album Issues as your favourite album ever. Has being invested in as much music as you can muster something that’s always been important to you?
DB: I wouldn’t say that. Mostly because when I was growing up, I didn’t know I was supposed to only like rap. [laughs] I had no idea it wasn’t common or that it was weird. It wasn’t until I started dealing drugs in high-school that I kinda caught onto the fact none of the other kids were into what I was into. They’d catch me on the corner in some band’s shirt and be like, “Man, you’re listening to rock & roll? Shit’s weird, man!” That’s just how we did in my household. My dad always listened to Roy Avers records. My mum always listened to Motown. No music was “banned” in my househould. It just was what it was, y’know?
MF: You’ve been working on your fourth album intermittently – what’s been influencing your creative process as far as that’s concerned?
DB: A lot of Talking Heads, actually. That Fear of Music album really did something to me, man. I feel like, when I heard that album, I just instantly got it. I don’t get that with a lot of music. I’ve never met David Byrne, but man…I would be honoured. I really would. I’d love to know how he came up with this stuff.
MF: What do you think it is about Talking Heads that’s resonated with you?
DB: I don’t know. See, that’s the thing: I don’t really judge music with my ears – even the music that I make. It’s more of a heart thing to me. It’s about emotion. It’s about feeling. I guess, when it comes to Talking Heads, it’s connected to when it came out. They were probably most popular in the early 80s, and that’s when I was born. Their music makes me feel like a kid, in a way – like I’m just discovering music and that everything I hear is new again. It’s music I never heard as a kid, but it’s music that I’m connecting to my childhood because it sounds and feels like the early 80s to me.
MF: You’re a fairly frequent collaborator. Is there anything you’ve been working on with others recently – either for your new album or for other projects?
DB: Not so much at the moment. I’ve more been focusing on putting together my parts for this album, as well as getting this label off the ground. Above everything else, though, I’ve just been trying to become a fan again. That’s been really important to me. When you’re an artist, it can be so hard to just be a fan of your artform sometimes. Sometimes, it can even restrict you from having an opinion on stuff. I just wanted to shut up and listen for a change. I wanted to stay at home and just listen to music. Getting too into collaborations or extra work was just going to distract from that.
MF: You’ve made time for at least a couple quite recently, though. Your song with Westside Gunn, Bodies on Fairfax, just dropped the other week…
DB: Oh yeah! I’m just a huge fan of his, man. I was inspired by what he was doing with his music, so I gave him a shout-out on Twitter. He just hit me up from that – we clicked, and then he asked me to do a joint.
MF: Simple as that.
DB: Simple as that! [laughs] It’s tight, hooking shit up through Twitter. Sometimes, you can kinda be unsure about it – like, you just wanna be a fan, like I said. There’s a lotta people that I normally wouldn’t have collaborated with… but, y’know, they asked me on Twitter! [laughs] I mean, like, I did a song with RiFF RaFF. What more can I say?
MF: From your first-hand experience – what the hell is he like?
DB: He’s always on, man! He ain’t got no off switch! He never turns it down for nobody. I love him, though. He’s great. What you see is what you get with that motherfucker. He’s a little much, but hey – so am I! He’s not fake. It’s not an act!
MF: What, then, of album number four? Stylistically, Old featured some of the most explicitly different material you’ve ever worked on in comparison to earlier work. Will this new music continue on in the same vain or can we expect something different entirely?
DB: I’d like to think that every new album is a clean slate. Every new album is a chance to do something completely different to previously. I always want to keep listeners engaged. I want to be unpredictable. Look at a record like Old – that wasn’t an album anyone saw coming. Especially when you put it next to [second album, 2011’s] XXX – which no-one saw coming after [first album, 2010’s] The Hybrid! Y’know what I’m saying?
It’s never gonna be what you think it is. I’m always gonna be able to flip that switch and turn what you think I’m gonna do into something else. It’s in my nature. I’m always trying to build on ideas. I’m always trying to configure things. I never want people to think they know what they’re in for when they listen to a new Danny Brown record. I’m always trying to keep people on their toes.
MF: When it comes to your live shows this year, what do you have planned? Do you try and incorporate tracks from all of your records in your headlining sets?
DB: I mean, there’s some stuff that’s so old that I can’t even remember it no more! [laughs] The thing with me is that I have two different mindsets when I’m making certain songs. Some songs I make with the element of performance in mind. Others I make with the element of listening in my mind. There are some songs that I know I’ll always perform and songs that were meant for that. There are also songs that are quite deep and quite personal for me, which I make pretty much just for people to listen to.
I don’t perform them live because they don’t have that element to them. They’re just meant to be listened to. They mean a lot to me, and I’ll get way too emotional if I ever do them live. It’s part of my music, but it’s not what my live show is about. It’s about having fun, singin’ songs about having fun!
MF: The last time that you were in Australia, you told triple j that you had a children’s book in the works. Do you still plan on putting one out?
DB: It’s definitely something that I want to get around to doing. Hopefully, I can start work on it this year. I think I might have jumped the gun a little when I started talking about it. I still got a lot to do with music right now. I got ideas for a whole bunch of ’em though, man. I just wanna do a whole heap of children’s books. A whole line of ’em!
MF: You seem to be really excited about the possibilities of your endeavours outside of music – all the while music is still a big part of your life.
DB: It’s all exciting to me, man. I pretty much want to do everything that makes sense to me in my life. I’d love to do voices for cartoons and for video games. I’m a 13-year-old 35-year-old, man – there will always be a heck of kid shit that I’mma want to do. [laughs]
MF: You’ll be here at the end of next month as a part of the Groovin’ the Moo festival. You’ll be doing your own headlining shows while you’re out here, as well as visiting places you’ve never had the chance to play before. Do you get out to many places in the States that are somewhat out of the way, away from the bigger cities?
DB: I like to play anywhere that’s got a bit of culture to it, y’know what I’m saying? I see the appeal of the big city, but sometimes it can be a bit too Hollywood. There’s too much goin’ on! I always like going to the smaller places. They appreciate it a lot more, I’ve found.
MF: Do you think you’ll have any new material ready to go by the time you’re out here?
DB: I’m keepin’ my fingers crossed, dude! I’m hoping to have a few things ready to go real soon, so I’ll hopefully get to share that with y’all. I can’t wait to get back!
Danny Brown plays Groovin The Moo 2016, as well as some sideshows. Grab the tour deets below!
Photos: Danny Brown – Splendour In The Grass 2014, Byron Bay 27/07/14
Danny Brown Groovin The Moo Sideshows 2016
Friday 22nd April
The Tivoli, Brisbane
Tickets: Live Nation
Tuesday 26th April
The Forum, Melbourne
Tickets: Live Nation
Tuesday 3rd May
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Live Nation
Sunday 8th May
Metro City, Perth
Tickets: Live Nation