Detroit rapper Danny Brown on 'Hawaiian Snow,' potentially signing to G-Unit, and what it means to be a mutant
Danny Brown can't clearly articulate how or why he started calling himself "The Hybrid." He was clouded at the moment of its creation, smoking on "that ninja turtle," and writing punch lines like Conan O'Brien if he'd come up selling crack.
The nickname just stuck -- a necessary alias to offset his no-nonsense handle. It also assumes a weird logic, even though his Detroit hometown is not known as a hotbed of automotive environmentalism.
Instead, the "hybrid" of his moniker is the biological definition of the word. Brown raps like he's crossbred and full of cold blood. He's a reconciliation of ostensibly antithetical schools. His voice is all nasal-drip and comic exaggeration, the rap equivalent of a Looney Tunes chase, a lunge at impressive velocities with bulging eyes, flying feet, and clouds of choking dirt. Raised on West Coast gangsta rap like Spice 1, E-40 and South Central Cartel, he developed a love for the Wu-Tang Clan and East Coast hardcore in junior high and high school -- influences found in his florescent slang, street tales, and tetanus-clawed Marvel attack.
During the last decade, his musical philosophy was heavily informed by the Def Jux label, particularly Aesop Rock, Cannibal Ox and Dizzee Rascal. In particular, Brown may be the closest American analog to the “boy in da corner” Rascal in the way he adroitly skates between high-brow, low-brow and occasionally searing introspection.
Yet Brown's style is inevitably most influenced by the Motown rap of recent vintage. At times, he boasts a rigorously patterned and hyper-lyrical flow reminiscent of Elzhi and his frequent collaborator Black Milk. At others, it's the unhinged and profane comedy of a "Slim Shady EP"-era Eminem (and his onetime Outsidaz crew). Accordingly, he's accumulated co-sign from various places, including those Lake Michigan-adjacent; the Lincoln Heights weekly party the Low End Theory (Samiyam, Gaslamp Killer, and Gonjasufi regularly tout him as a favorite); and Aesop Rock and his producer, Blockhead, the latter of whom have both raved about Brown's debut, "The Hybrid."
Unsurprisingly, his ascent to blog buzz has occurred without the help of a label. More impressive is his ability to do so without even a manager or publicist. That may change thanks to his partnership with G-Unit’s Tony Yayo. Of late, Brown has been in talks to sign to 50 Cent's imprint, and this week he and Yayo released, "Hawaiian Snow," Brown’s first commercially available release.
Because published interviews with Brown have been rare, Pop & Hiss spoke to Brown about his partnership with Yayo, his recording process and what it means to be a mutant.
How did you link up with Tony Yayo in the first place?
When I was recording [mixtapes] "Detroit State of Mind," Volumes 1-3, I was working with a producer who worked for G-Unit and was Yayo’s engineer. When Yayo got a movie role in "S.W.A.T. 2," he was shooting it in Detroit, so he hit me up and said, 'Come link up, chill and smoke.' So I went down there, and he was like, 'My homeboy told me about you.' I showed him the "Re-Up" video, went on my iTunes and played him a couple joints, and he said, 'You need to come up to New York with me.' So he took me on tour with 50 Cent all through July, and we built from there.
Are you going to sign with G-Unit?
I don’t know. Hopefully. We talk a lot about what we want to do with G-Unit, and how 50 is trying to build it by signing new artists and changing the whole brand. At the end of the day, the music [and stuff] that I rap about it isn't far from what G-Unit always does, nor is it very far from Eminem in terms of subject matter and wordplay. It's just a different approach to the same thing.
What's it been like working with 50, and what have you learned?
He's the smartest person I've ever met. I pretty much just watch and listen to whatever he says. You can learn a lot by not talking and just asking questions. I study the music business -- it's a fickle place and it's hard to stay relevant. You have to pay attention to what's going on in the streets and be able to adapt with the times and reinvent yourself. Aesop Rock once said something that's always stuck in my head: When an author writes a book, he doesn't write the same book twice. So I ask myself, what does Danny Brown need to do next? "Detroit State of Mind" introduced me and my city. "The Hybrid" was trying to show my range. Next time, I'm going to write a different book.
One of the more interesting things about your music and, by extension, your tastes is that you're just as big of a fan of Soulja Boy and Lil B as you are of Aesop Rock and Def Jux. That's rare for a lot of rappers that came up in the underground.
I'm all about making entertaining music. There's a lot of whack rappers who are really entertaining, and there's a lot of super-dope lyrical dudes that bore me. At the end of the day, it's a matter of what you want to listen to and when. I just want to be entertained.
What's next for you?
I'm going to put out some more videos, then I think I'm going to drop a tape rapping over all original beats next month.
Over the last two months, you really stepped it up in terms of releasing videos. Unsurprisingly, it led to you receiving a lot more attention. What led to that decision?
That was pretty much Yayo’s idea. There's a lot of faceless rappers, and he made me realize that the videos don't have to be good. It was just a way of people getting to see me rap. As I progress, you'll definitely see the quality of the videos improve.
You call yourself a mutant. Care to elaborate?
I'm the illest mutant ever, but I'm so humble at the same time. I know that I'm good at what I do, but I give props to everyone. I don't have the entitled rapper complex. I'm on the wave of some new stuff. People don't know how to take it. You're going to have to stay tuned and watch; there's going to be a lot of change.
Here's a download of the mix, but be forewarned: it contains graphic language:
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Danny Brown. Credit: Danny Brown /Tumblr