The Detroit rapper’s third solo album – though he’s been releasing records for around a decade, originally with Detroit crew Rese’vor Dogs – arrived in October 2013 accompanied by a slew of press. With Brown giving several interviews around the album’s release – including a particularly illuminating piece on Complex – we thought it made more sense to hear the Danny Brown story from other people’s mouths: the producers, rappers and label owners who’ve witnessed his rise from close vantage points.
We tracked down Triple Black, an old sparring partner from high school and one of Brown’s comrades in his Bruiser Brigade crew, UK producer Darq E Freaker, who teamed up with Brown on last year’s ‘Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)’, frequent collaborators Paul White and Skywlkr (the latter is also Brown’s live DJ), A-Trak, whose Fool’s Gold label released Brown’s last two albums XXX and Old, A$AP Mob’s A$AP Ferg and hometown hero DJ House Shoes. This is Danny Brown’s story, told not by him, but by those who know him best.
Triple Black: We first met at Northwestern high school. My first memory of him was when class was let out, he ran down the hall, jumped in the trash can and started rolling down the hallway.
A$AP Ferg: My first encounter with Danny’s music was the ‘Blunt After Blunt’ music video shoot. I was in the video and I thought it was dope. He reminded me of a young Old Dirty Bastard because of how raw he was.
House Shoes: I was working at Melodies and Memories, a record shop on the Eastside… Danny had a group called Rese’vor Dogs and they brought some music up to the shop. Gave me a promo and everything. I always get mad promos that I never listen to. This was one of them… Can’t front, I slept.
Triple Black: I used to carry a notepad with my raps in it, and he noticed it and told me he rapped too. I told him I had recording equipment at my crib so he would come through and we’d make tapes.
Skywlkr: My first time seeing Danny? It was a good amount of years back. There was a Hex Murda benefit show in Detroit and Rude Jude was hosting. I was just getting into the local Detroit hip-hop scene because my room mate was turnt up on the scene. I remember Rude Jude calling out to the crowd “look at all these pussies in Detroit wearing skinny jeans and shit,” something like that, and I was thinking in my head like “WTF?”, ’cause I had skinny jeans on at the time. The next rapper to come on stage was Danny Brown, and he had on skinnier jeans than I did. So that made me pay attention, ’cause dude was obviously on that next shit, unlike every other rapper in the building. He had style, which is something that always went hand and hand with music.
Paul White: The first track I heard from Danny was ‘The Greatest Rapper Ever’ off The Hybrid. Loved it straight away, the beat was dope and Danny was tearing all through it, crazy home made video of him in raw Detroit, kinda reminded me of where I grew up in London. His hype energy spoke to me straight away and I knew I wanted to work with this guy.
Skywlkr: I remember hearing ‘Gun in Yo Mouf’, and I never heard a flow and beat like that ever in my life. Shit was crazy.
A-Trak: The first time I came across Danny’s music was at the end of 2010. Nick [Catchdubs] and I were exchanging new music and he showed me the video for ‘Greatest Rapper Ever'”. The Hybrid album was already out and Danny was starting to get write-ups on Pop & Hiss and The Fader blog. I remember watching an interview with him – he still had cornrows – and he was talking about not wanting to make songs for the radio, not wanting to sign to a major… he seemed really grounded. I really dug his personality and his taste in beats.
Triple Black: I got my first car in senior year and Danny was out the T-top like 2pac giving the teachers the middle finger… [laughs]
House Shoes: They brought me back to the D to DJ the release party for Hot Soup, Danny’s debut album, back in ’07 or ’08. The party was at Oslo, a dope sushi spot owned by a couple of the homies. The club was in the basement. A real intimate low key spot. There was about 100 people there, half of which knew all Danny’s shit and half that were completely unfamiliar. Three or four songs in, everyone was sold. This dude was about to be a star. That night was proof positive. I played nothing but Danny joints for damn near four hours. And this was damn near six years ago. Cats were losing it. That may be my favourite party I’ve ever done back home.
Skywlkr: I had a little name for myself locally from doing beat battles in the city, and I ended up producing and recording a song for a local rapper named Chip$ who’s in Bruiser Brigade and used to be in a group with Danny called Rese’vor Dogs. After me and Chip$ made the song together I started to hang out a lot with the Bruisers and I’d be around Danny. Eventually me and Danny found out we lived less than 10 minutes from each other and we used to smoke and play X-Box together when we was bored. Eventually it turned into a music relationship.
A$AP Ferg: He told me early in his career he worked with Stack Bundles, 50 Cent, Tony Yayo and Nicki Minaj. I thought it was dope cause I never thought he would work with these artists. It’s testament to how far he’s come in his journey.
Paul White: We’d only met once briefly before, and after the album was all done I went to meet him again after a show of his in London. We were jumping around the room crazy hyped on it all, the energy was right there in front of us for once instead of in a track! He puts his heart into his music and so do I so to have a finished product with them both in there, we were both hyped to shit!
A-Trak: Right away Nick and I wanted to approach him to sign to Fool’s Gold. We found out that a friend of ours was managing him and it all happened very fast from there. He was already a fan of the label. He came to New York for a show where he opened for Das Racist. I remember hanging with Q-Tip that day and him telling me he was a Danny fan as well. We linked up and it was a wrap!
Triple Black: When he signed with Fool’s Gold that was a definite high.
A-Trak: He’s actually very easy to work with. He’s one of the most reliable and responsible artists I’ve ever worked with! He’s been doing this for a long time so his priorities are straight. He knows what he likes, he makes amazing songs pretty much by himself, and when he says he’s going to do something he delivers. I wish more artists were like him!
Triple Black: I’ve seen the transition from rapping like his favourite rapper to developing his own shit. He changed as a person and got more mature.
House Shoes: Danny is cool as fuck. Just a regular ass dude. I will say that he hasn’t changed much at all, which is refreshing because cats can get a lil funny when they get it popping out here.
A-Trak: This is kind of silly but I just remember when we first put out XXX I brought him to Tony Touch’s radio show on Shade45 and they asked him to freestyle… We hadn’t spent much time together yet and I hadn’t seen him rap in person that much yet. When he started rapping he did this thing with his eyes where looked up to the ceiling and moved them around as if he was possessed. I remember looking at him and getting a glimpse of his crazy side and thinking “I like this guy”… [laughs] We knew he was eccentric but didn’t quite now how much of a character he would turn out to be.
Skywlkr: He sat me down and played me XXX, and basically told me I’d be the fill-in producer, and would add the finishing touches to the album. We talked about what the album lacked at the time and the ideas he had in his head, and we went from there. He liked a lot of my beats, but he gave me some homework, in a way where he introduced me to a whole bunch of music I had literally never heard before. He had me listening to grime, he had me listening to Def Jux shit, he had me bumping ghetto-tech.
A-Trak: We really let him govern where he wants to take each album, creatively and sound-wise. He makes songs, sends them to us in batches and we give him feedback on which ones we like best or least. Then with Old we got pretty involved with getting them properly mixed. It was important to us for the album to sound great without compromising its grittiness.
In the months before his album came out I know he was getting a bit anxious for the release, but that’s also because he had never dealt with the official process with sample clearances and whatnot. None of his previous albums were even professionally mixed and mastered. But if he ever got impatient, I could always pick up the phone and speak to him and we’ve always had a very open dialogue. That’s my homie, I speak to him regularly.
Skywlkr: I come from a metal background, where music to me is all about energy. I’m all about getting hype. So XXX was kind of all experimentation on my part, toying with different inspirations. With Old, we’ve grown together. So basically he heard me working on all the beats I’ve sent him. and he’d be like ‘who the fuck made that?’ or shit like that. Not to mention I heard the album through all the stages, so in my head I was working with what I had heard. But when working with Danny, he seems to pick the beats I’m not even confident enough to play for him. I always end up giving him all my exported instrumentals, no matter what.
A$AP Ferg: Danny is smart as fuck, he’s very spontaneous. You never know what he’s going to do next.
Paul White: It’s all about energy! It’s real easy and natural with him, he feels the energy I put into a beat and will ride it with his. It’s always been that way from the start. He sent over a ton of tracks he did to my beats around the time of XXX that showed me what type of artist he was. I loved his choices. It’s pretty quick working with him and that’s the way I like to do it, just leave that raw energy there unpolluted, that’s what all it’s about.
Skywlkr: I was DJng an after party in Paris, for our Old and Reckless tour. He was hyping my DJ set, in the sense that he was holding the mic and keeping the crowd turnt up at all times. I got done DJing and I was walking to where we had a booth, I was trying to collect my payment, and I see the security guard tripping out. As I get closer I see Danny on the ground all dirty, with the security guard kicking him out the club, damn near trying to push him out the club. Since I played the show, we had bottle service, and the bottles they gave us were gold so I give Danny the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know how much he was drinking. He was literally the drunkest foo in the club. Shit was hilarious. He ended up calling our cab driver the WB [Warner Bros] frog guy. There was countless quotes that night. That was the night The Grinch was born.
Darq E Freaker: I saw him receive fellatio on stage, then turn to the crowd and say “You better check the blogs tomorrow ’cause that thang was swangin’.”
Skywlkr: Danny is human. He’s like anyone else. Sometime he’s happy as fuck and turned up, and sometime he’s emo as hell and doesn’t want to talk to anyone. It’s normal. I feel like me and Danny are alike in a lot of ways, and know when to leave each other alone. I’ve literally had the funnest times of my life on tour with Danny, but with that being said, sometimes we’re pissed as hell and it seems like everything is fucked up. But at the end of the day I don’t think I’d rather be touring full time with any other artist.
Paul White: Working with Danny is all highs, no lows! The best part for me was doing a track where I’m singing all over it and playing everything and that turned into ‘Clean Up’! I cracked up to myself after it was all done thinking funny this one is going to be on the album with me singing and stuff. It’s an honour to have someone pour out their heart on a track, because that’s what I do, and that feels real special!
A$AP Ferg: No lows, only highs.
House Shoes: One word? Star.
Darq E Freaker: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.