For rapper Danny Brown, it's not the Adderall, the weed or the hood, it's dope skills, cred and the Internet
Published: February 16, 2011
On a blistery and cold Michigan night, Detroit rapper Danny Brown emerges from his Royal Oak apartment dressed like some kind of hood hipster. Sporting a bone-tight pair of stone-washed jeans, black Chuck Taylors, an old-school flat-brimmed Detroit Pistons hat, and a shoulder-slung Spider-Man bag that has seen better days, it's hard to imagine that this is the same emcee responsible for crafting some of the most graphically detailed street raps for the last year in underground hip hop — in the 313 and nationwide.
The spindly emcee hops into the car and heads toward his beloved Linwood Avenue neighborhood in Detroit proper. A self-confessed White Stripes fan and sports and videogame junkie, he talks of the evening's Miami Heat game, playing NBA 2K Live for most of the day, and the glories of living with his on-again, off-again girlfriend: "I don't know too many dudes that can live on their own like that. Some might, but I bet they ain't got clean towels," he says with a wry smile.
The jovial 29-year-old rapper immediately gives an impression of a kid who's used to things going his way. He's a riot in person, and it's all wrapped up neatly when he flashes a tooth-deficient grin. He's got confidence, a sense of self-satisfaction, to spare. One thing is certain: He's not afraid to take career chances, and things do, inevitably, so far, work out in his favor.
Depending on his personal level of excitement, his voice sways easily between gruff and falsetto, he carries himself like a cocksure Snoop Dogg in his prime, one who doesn't give a shit what others think of him. By the time we ease off the I-94 and roll toward a house off of Linwood, where he partially grew up, the street lights are all out, prostitutes stroll along the curb, and a speeding cop car flips down a one-way going the wrong direction. As luck would have it, this is Brown's street.
As we stop in front his grandmother's house, two squad cars close in on an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme parked a couple doors down. The cops bark at the occupants to put their hands in air. Brown's reaction: Just another night in the hood.
We walk into the well-lit home and Brown immediately hugs his mother, Toya, and heads for the kitchen. She's repainting the living room, holding a paint-roller in one-hand, and looks young enough to be the rapper's older sister. She gave birth to him at 17. Tonight, she looks pleased that her eldest son has arrived with a reporter in tow. It's a sign Danny is doing something positive with his life, by way of music.
Where exactly Brown fits into Detroit's musical lineage isn't easy to figure. The emcee shows glimmers that he could become one of the best street rappers in Detroit's history. His growing Internet celebrity is testament to that — but on an international level. Dude's clever wordplay, nutty-comical punchlines — often colored with commentary from his year-long jail stint — and his sometimes hardass disposition make Brown the wittiest hood rapper in the city, which says a lot, if you think about it. But Brown isn't interested in that.
His topics on his most celebrated album thus far, 2010's Quelle-produced The Hybrid, mostly involve rhymes about selling drugs, taking drugs, intricate details of urban poverty, and essentially being hooder-than-thou, which puts him in the league of other Motor City urban griots such as Trick Trick or Proof.
But unlike said rappers, Brown would rather wear the tightest jeans imaginable and rap to twentysomethings about abusing Adderall and staying on Twitter. He's a fan of both, by the way, and because of that, his flock of online followers are big fans. It doesn't hurt that Brown has that indefinable something — that inhuman quality — that draws others in. He openly courts crowds of chest-tatted, well-coifed hipsters across America, loves his skinnies, and admits he's more comfortable in the L.A. hills than he is in his hometown.
Brown's rising success in the last two years is due to the fact he's a part of a new breed of social media rappers (think Das Racist, Lil B, Odd Future), one who's part street, part hype, and whose fame is rising because he understands, and therefore does, the Internet hustle.
He recently inked a record deal with Brooklyn's Fools Gold Records, arguably ground zero for ephemeral musical hipsterists and up-to-the-moment social commentators. Label signees include a knot of DJ and producer crews such as Duck Sauce, Chromeo, LA Riots, Flosstradamus and various other artists popular with the party crowd. Hell, Brown even lopped his long braids for a crazy asymmetrical do several weeks ago. And when Brown ain't in Detroit, he's often in Williamsburg or Hollywood — hipster Meccas, to be sure. They're places where most folks have heard Brown's music online, and now they want him up close, in real time.
And that's only one side of Danny Brown. He plays the part and earns the money performing shows to that tweety twentysomething demographic, but Brown isn't easily labeled into any category. In hip-hop, er, internet culture, Brown's certified hood and a full-on hipster — a contradiction — and he's proud of both — partly why he's taken on the nickname, the Hybrid.
"It started as a line in a song, Brown says, chatting inside of his grandmother's house. "I was off Adderalls, and I wrote this dope-ass rap, and I said, 'I'm the Hybrid, y'all niggas gassed up ...' sort of referencing cars. I said that line, and it stuck. Then I wrote a whole song called 'The Hybrid' off Adderalls again and it started taking more meaning. Metaphor in that is that, y'all cats are old. And this is the new way.
Larger audiences began paying attention around 2008, shortly after Brown was released from Wayne County Jail for a probation violation stemming from a distribution and manufacturing weed charge. Brown tells the story of how he's gone from jailbird to music sensation that gets mad love in respected media, such as L.A. Times, Pitchfork, Pop Matters, FADER and others while having little more than wit, luck and that famous smile on his side. Brown earns his living from doing shows, hosting parties, such as the monthly Funk Night in Detroit, and selling what music he has pressed up. He also gets $500 to $1,500 for a recording guest verses on others' songs.
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