Danny Brown didn’t enter the radar for most people until 2011, when his album XXX, was released as a free download by the A-Trak-founded Fool’s Gold Records. Prior to signing to the Brooklyn-based indie label, however, the Motor City native had been on a life long grind to make his mark as a rapper, having a bucket of mixtapes, numerous guest appearances, and even a previous studio album, under his belt. Danny was garnering attention — albeit on a smaller scale — as far back as his first mixtape, Runispokets-N-Dumpemindariva (2003), as part of the trio, Rese’vor Dogs (feat. fellow Detroit rappers, Chip$ and Dopehead). With that tape landing in the hands of an A&R for Roc-A-Fella, he began recording tracks for what was expected to be his debut album only to find him running into a dead end with the label and having those cuts resurface 5 years later as his mixtape, Browntown. Over the years, he had made strides forward and, even if everything didn’t always pan out, his experiences and connections forged through his travels from Detroit to New York and back again, recording in studios, and working with high caliber producers like Black Milk provided him with enough tangible knowledge, understanding, and confidence for him to really buckle down and take things seriously, after being released from another prison stint in 2007. The material flowed, including a 2010 mixtape with G-Unit member, Tony Yayo called Hawaiian Snow, but regardless of the collab, it was always clear that Danny‘s style was far too unorthodox to ever see him signed to 50-Cent‘s label. That same year came The Hybrid, which was, by all accounts, his first real official full-length. This would be the album that caught Fool’s Gold‘s attention with its title track being credited as the first time Brown would ever employ his unmistakable nasally vocal delivery. Next was XXX, followed by the critically acclaimed, Old in 2013. Since then, Danny has been incredibly active spreading his talents to everything from a TV show theme song to writing a childrens book, but as far as his next solo album is concerned there hasn’t been a clear indication that it was coming anytime soon… until now.
Just yesterday, we received the video to a brand new single titled, “When It Rain,” the rapper’s first new release since Old hit shelves 3 years ago. Equally as exciting as the track itself was the news that it was being released via digital retailers, WARP Records. A UK label that initially built its name on groundbreaking electronic artists like Aphex Twin, Authechre, Black Dog Productions, Squarepusher, Boards Of Canada and Guillermo Scott Herren (Prefuse 73, Savath Y Savalas, Diamond Watch Wrists), WARP has branched out to welcome artists like Grizzly Bear and Gang Gang Dance onto their roster in more recent years, both of which rely on slightly more traditional instrumentation and are more closely associated with the indie rock world than one of pure electronica. Of his new association with the label, Brown made the following statement:
“With the blessing of my Fools Gold family by my side, I’m excited to be working with Warp on new material. They’re music fans to the same high degree I am and I’m looking forward to breaking some rules together.”
The artist elaborated about his new partnership even further, during an exclusive interview with Zane Lowe that aired this morning on the New Zealand-born deejay’s Beats 1 radio program.
“You know Fool’s Gold is still my family, they still helping me out with this project… Warp came in, and I was always a fan of what they did too. They have a big strong history and legacy. I feel like I could progress a little more in that world.”
Speaking to Lowe about the creation of “When It Rain,” Brown stated the following:
“When I first heard the beat it reminded me of one of those old ghetto tech instrumentals we’ll be like jittin to, you know what I’m saying, at the house parties and stuff. That’s why I put the jitting in the video. To me that’s what it reminded me of, just a Detroit party in the basement jittin in a circle. It took me back to them days. That was like middle school days.”
While the beat in question was supplied by UK producer Paul White, who previously worked on a trio of XXX cuts and recently put out an entire full length as a duo with Open Mike Eagle, DB‘s first verse name checks 2 other producers, right out of the gate: Detroit booty-bass/ghetto tech icon, DJ Assault, and legendary ghetto house/juke producer, Traxman, out of Chicago. He later makes references to Chicago House deejay, Cajmere‘s 1992 hit “Coffee Pot (It’s Time for the Percolator),” as well as to old school Detroit dance moves like the Rambisco. The line in the chorus that goes “When it rain, when it pour, get your ass on the floor now” is both a warning to drop low to avoid gunfire and a tribute to the idea of dancing and partying as a means of coping with the chaotic hellscape that Danny grew up surrounded by in Detroit. I’m already a huge fan of this song and the way that, as a lyricist hailing from the City Of Boom, Danny Brown has been able to successfully draw that correlation between the concepts of high energy dance parties and inner city street crime as separate, yet equal, forms of survival, while weaving each of them together so seamlessly. Truth be known, the footwork heavy, acrobatic moves of The Jit, actually, find their roots in 1970s gang culture, as acknowledged by the McGhee brothers (bka The Jitterbugs) who pioneered it. “When It Rain” is even more than a stunningly coherent concept record, it’s a promising best case scenario for what the future of this merger between a hip hop artist from “The D” and a UK electronic powerhouse might hold, as well as a synthesis of everything that represents the unique, multi-dimensional nature of Brown himself.
At face value, the idea of Danny and WARP working together might sound off — albeit interesting — to a large number of people, but as “When It Rain” easily demonstrates, that relationship actually makes a lot of sense. While the overwhelming masses outside of the city seem to, historically, associate Detroit music with Caucasian emcees like Eminem, Kid Rock, and Insane Clown Posse, or the R&B/Soul Pop legacy of the Motown sound, it’s criminal how under recognized Detroit has often been as the official birthplace of Techno music, by the general pubic. The foundation of the British label has always had an indirect tie to Michigan‘s most populous city. It’s hard not to recognize Danny Brown for his unorthodox approach to music and view him as somewhat of a fringe artist, even within his home city, but the reality is that Detroit has a strong history of innovative musicians carving out their own unique lanes, from a teenage Esham helping to pioneer Horrorcore through his trademark hedonistic “Acid Raps,” to one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time, the late J Dilla, pushing out beats that are, to this day, still well ahead of our time. As I continue to witness his evolution, it becomes clearer to me that it’s not so much about Brown veering away from what some may view as a typical Detroit style, but that he embodies a much broader scope of what the city represents, overall. This is exactly why he can hear a beat from a UK producer and instantly associate it with jittin and ghetto tech to put out a track that is as hit-you-in-the-throat Detroit as anything. And, make no mistake, this thing is SUPER FUCKING DETROIT with its grainy VHS video showcasing the landscape; Brown critiquing the horrific lead-poisoning of Flint‘s water supply; a Pistons nod; and even references to “Uncle Trick” and the Goon Sqwad leader’s “No Fly Zone” policy, which has resulted in the intimidation of well-known rappers — Rick Ross and Trick Daddy, among them — who he didn’t feel showed enough respect to the city and, in turn, didn’t have his clearance to tour through his home turf. The references, both lyrically and sonically, are undeniably deep here, but the over-all product is surprisingly fresh, a welcomed step forward for Danny Brown and the rap game, as a whole.
The irony about The Hybrid being the vehicle to springboard Danny Brown‘s trademark vocal style into the public consciousness is that the title itself is a reference to the emcee’s versatility, not only his cadence and tone, but overall sound, in general. While his high pitched delivery might be the first thing to come to mind for those familiar with his work primarily through guest verses that he’s provided, or the occasional single, the truth is that Brown has a ridiculous amount of range. Those skills were already evident by XXX, but each time that I listen to Old, I still catch myself trying to figure out who’s providing specific appearances, only to realize that it’s simply just Danny again, spitting in a completely natural, yet entirely different voice. As for the legitimate features on his last album, they ranged from Freddie “Gangsta” Gibbs to Canadian synth-pop duo, Purity Ring; the disparate influences never sounding forced or out of place, only working to highlight his rare adaptability as an artist even further. When I saw Danny Brown perform at the 2014 Bumbershoot Music & Arts festival, he came out wearing a Hot Rats shirt and it seemed like much more than a fashion choice — somehow, it made perfect sense that the “Smokin And Drinkin” rapper would be a fan of an artist as innovative and eclectic as the notoriously sober, Zappa. A vast pool of interests and references to draw from can only help when you’re working to create something new and push any art form forward. In fact, Brown has even stated that he was listening to Joy Division religiously, during the creation of XXX.
While confirming that a full album was definitely on the way, during his Zane Lowe interview, Danny explained that there was another iconic late-70s / early-80s outfit providing inspiration for the new project:
“Talking Heads were a big influence on this album. I was listening to a lot of Talking Heads and just studying. It started out with my manager buying me a book. I read about them before I even started to really listen to their music. He bought me the book about ‘Fear and Music’ so I was reading about that. The way they had prompted that album at that time and the way they was doing a lot of that stuff is what I’m incorporating into what I’m doing right now. Right now I’m messing around with Little Creatures. More so even their approach to how they brought it to you visually is what I’m more intrigued with. David Byrne is a legend. I look up to people like that and I try to incorporate that into rap music.”
The hook on the title track from Old claims that, after his continued artistic exploration on projects like XXX, there’s a percentage of his fan base that “want that old Danny Brown,” and miss the classic Dilla-esque beats and drug-slanging focus of his earlier mixtapes. Fortunately, Brown has not allowed that to deter him from trudging forward with what is much more than a simple evolution — not only is it difficult to gauge where he’ll shift next, there’s no telling what he’s been keeping locked in his arsenal, all along. Much like how he continues to study and incorporate knowledge from established greats like David Byrne, and has absorbed so much from every facet of the community that he grew up in, Brown doesn’t simply abandon his past, rather he manages to incorporate and mutate his old sound into something entirely new. The hook for this latest track addresses that concept of utilizing the past as a foundation for transitioning into the future. “You aint never seen this before. They don’t do it like this no more.” Then again, maybe things aren’t as linear as we might assume.
Here’s what he lets us know about the upcoming release:
“Pretty much with my albums they just always document what I’m going through in my times. So I guess this album is really about pretty much after XXX is over with and me making Old and what I was going through around that time. Every album is like a documentary. With ‘Old’ it was about going back and taking you to the future. So with this one it picks up right after ‘XXX’ leaves off I would say.”
As we continue to wait patiently for more details about the new album and when it will actually drop, the entire Zane Lowe interview with Danny Brown can be heard through HERE.