None of that is to suggest there isn't serious, regimented time spent crafting the songs. Danny works mostly from his home, on a fixed schedule. "It's a lock-in type of thing," he explains. "If I'm working on an album, then every night at 10 PM, I start writing, whatever I can get out. I might not even write; I might just be picking out beats. I call it A&Ring, I A&R myself. I come up with concepts, maybe write a hook here, maybe write a hook there. I might make a hook one night, then the next night when I come back to it, I might think of the first two lines, then it just go from there. Before you know it, the song's done." Often he's pulling from folders of beats that have been sitting on his hard drive for years:" There's beats on my album that I had three years ago, [even] some from the XXX batches. I wasn't ready for them yet."
"It's already in me—I can be dreaming, and wake up and have the words in my head. I don't sit there an force it."
Kendrick Lamar appears on Atrocity Exhibition, alongside Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt on a song called "Really Doe." Danny tackles the first verse, and while the guests all acquit themselves admirably (Earl says "I was a liar as a kid, so now I'm honest as fuck" and "I just broke up with my bitch 'cause we ain't argue enough"), no one ever really knocks him off of the marquee. He does it by going technical, finding variations on his patterns within bars, stopping on a dime and shifting the points of emphasis backward and forward at will. "I feel like when people talk about rap music, they talk down on it," he laments. "I don't like that. It's no different from any other musical genre. We're songwriters."Danny doesn't even bother to pretend that he's productive on tour ("I don't write when I'm running around like that, only at home"). But the isolation he craves doesn't mean he's stopped keeping up with rap: "I try to think of it all the time, like, who could be my competition? Who's in my lane? I was gone for three years, who took my spot?" He waits for a beat, maybe to see if I can think of someone he's missed. "Nobody! That don't normally happen with rap."
If Old's tension was of professionalism vs. nihilism, capitalism vs. personal identity, Atrocity Exhibition's is more purely creative.
Given his relationship with two of its members, I ask him what his favorite Tribe record is. "Low End Theory," he says. "My dad bought it for me. One thing I can say about music—it might not be the best music in the world, but for me, there are a lot of songs I really love because they trigger a certain memory."The conversation turns to how murky those memories can be—how Midnight Marauders and 36 Chambers came out in the same month, how the G-funk crescendo had counterpoints in Newark and mutations in Houston."The biggest [example of that] was Stakes Is High and It Was Written coming out the same month," he says. "That changed the whole landscape of shit. I think that day changed it. You gotta think: you picked a side.""Yeah, Stakes Is High almost sounds like a counterpoint," I say. "It Was Written was so glossy.""You understand what I'm saying! Nas was supposed to be the guy who would take it to… either you ran with Nas with that, or you backlashed and went with De La.""What did you pick?""It Was Written. Of course."
"There are a lot of songs I really love because they trigger a certain memory."
Hotel rooms, crushing pills and menus
Daughter sending me messages, saying, 'Daddy, I miss you'
But in this condition, I don't think she need to see me."Danny tells me about a night on Kendrick's tour bus: "I came on the bus, [Kendrick] had a beat on," he says. "He was writing to it. Then he went and did a show." After the concert, when the bus was full of people loudly partying, Kendrick "came back, cut the beat back on, and started writing again. I was like, 'What the fuck?'" Danny laughs for a long time. "I can't do no shit like that, but you understand why he's where he's at. [For me] it's too many distractions."Danny still won't touch any of the cold cuts; he appeases his manager by toying with an oyster shell. I think about that line he raps sixty seconds into XXX: "I barely leave the house / Ain't slept in three days." I think about him putting his phone on airplane mode every night at 10 PM sharp, beats from a half-decade ago rattling off the walls in an otherwise empty home."Do you enjoy writing?"I expect him to hesitate, to hedge what he says next. I think he might talk about the strain of expectations, or the fear of repeating himself after years in indistinguishable hotel rooms. He doesn't."Oh, yeah!" he says. "That's what I like more than anything. The writing part is the funnest part. There's nothing like writing some shit and singing it back to yourself, and thinking, 'I'm gonna fuck 'em up with this shit.'"Danny finishes his second tequila. He pauses. Then he squints into the sun, looking East past downtown Los Angeles, past Boyle Heights, over what's left of the LA River. He says it again, quieter this time. "I'm gonna really fuck 'em up with this shit."Paul Thompson is a writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.The1point8 is a photographer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Instagram.DANNY BROWN 'THE EXHIBITION 2016' NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES
9/14 Philadelphia, PA - Theater of the Living Arts
9/15 Providence, RI - Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel
9/16 New Haven, CT - Toad's Place
9/17 Clifton Park, NY - Upstate Concert Hall
9/18 Boston, MA - Paradise Rock Club
9/21 Columbus, OH - Park Street Saloon
9/22 Chicago, IL - House of Blues
9/23 Grand Rapids, MI - The Intersection
9/24 Milwaukee, WI - The Rave II
9/25 Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
9/27 Des Moines, IA - Wooly's
9/28 Lincoln, NE - Bourbon Theatre
10/1 Salt Lake City, UT - The Complex
10/2 Boise, ID - Knitting Factory
10/4 Seattle, WA - Neptune Theatre
10/5 Portland, OR - Roseland Theater
10/6 Vancouver, BC - Vogue Theater
10/7 Spokane, WA - Knitting Factory
10/8 Eugene, OR - WOW Hall
10/11 San Francisco, CA - Regency
10/12 Santa Cruz, CA - The Catalyst
10/14 San Diego, CA - Observatory North Park
10/15 Los Angeles, CA - The Fonda Theatre
10/16 Santa Ana, CA - The Observatory
10/17 Phoenix, AZ - Crescent Ballroom
10/18 Albuquerque, NM - Sunshine Theater
10/20 Houston, TX - Warehouse Live
10/21 Dallas, TX - South Side Music Hall
10/23 Austin, TX - Emo's
10/25 New Orleans, LA - Republic New Orleans
10/26 Nashville, TN - Exit In
10/27 Atlanta, GA - Masquerade
10/28 Charlotte, NC - The Underground
10/29 Carrboro, NC - Cat's Cradle
10/30 Asheville, NC - The Orange Peel
11/1 Silver Springs, MD - The Fillmore Silver Springs
11/2 Pittsburgh, PA - Mr. Small's Theatre
11/3 Buffalo, NY - Town Ballroom
11/4 Toronto, ON - Phoenix Concert Theatre
11/5 Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop