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Real Talk with Danny Brown

We met up with Danny in a parking lot to talk juggalos, Cartier glasses, Detroit's extreme tendencies, and how his stint in jail affected his music.

Danny Brown and Noisey's Kim Taylor Bennett.

So here’s what happened: Our location fell through 15 minutes before we were scheduled to shoot, so we decided to interview ZelooperZ and Danny Brown on the top of a parking lot. Glamorous. Both Danny and ZelooperZ were incredibly stoned. Of course. But they perked up, and Danny got pretty honest and real—particularly when he was talking about how his stint in jail affected his music. Below is all the stuff we talked about that didn’t make it into Made In Detroit episode. Like Cartier glasses people (apparently) kill for, horrorcore, strip clubs, and how Detroit has filtered into his music and the ethos of other Motor City musicians too.

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So I wanted to start off by finding out how you guys met each other and how Bruiser Brigade got started.
Danny: Bruiser Brigade was just the homies, it wasn’t no music thing. I met Zelooperz on Twitter, he put out a mixtape and just tweeted it to me, and I was like, “Yo, you dope brother.” We homies, we family now.

Were you excited when Danny reached out to you?
Zelooperz: Yeah, it was one of those moments when you like, “Alright, somebody give a fuck. Maybe I am going the right way.”

And now you guys have matching sunglasses. What’s up with that you guys, Cartier?
Danny: That’s the thing, Cartier, you couldn’t even buy these glasses at Cartier if you wanted to. These are from like early 90s. It was like a big deal here, and everybody wanted these glasses. So many people lost their lives over these glasses, so many people went to jail over these glasses that even now if you wear these glasses you have to have street credibility because somebody was going to rob you for them.

Zelooperz danny brown lance bangs

ZelooperZ, director Lance Bangs, and Danny Brown. Please note the Cartier shades.

They’re really considered that cool?
Danny: It’s just a Detroit thing because it doesn’t happen anywhere else. At one point in time it was like an epidemic, where people were getting killed for their Cartier glasses. I don’t really like these glasses that much because of that, but I wear it to represent for those people that lost their lives or went to jail trying to sell drugs to get them a pair of Cartiers—to show them that you can do something like what I’m doing right now and still have the Cartiers on. It’s more than a fashion statement. That’s my way of repping Detroit.

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Are there any songs that you guys have written recently that are specifically inspired by Detroit?
Danny: I would say everything we do in some sense. The way we walk, the way we talk, all our music is inspired by Detroit for sure. We doing something new for Detroit to be honest in the music we make. There’s also not really much to do so most of us are stuck in our bedrooms, plus with the cold winters you’re really stuck in your house for months sometimes. We have to figure out ways to entertain ourselves. It was a way to escape being bored and that’s how a lot of us get so good. At the same time, it comes from the influences of old Detroit where we had: J Dilla, soul samples, Motown, all the way to Juan Atkins and Cybotron and ghettotech. If you look at all my last album that shows my two sides: the soul side and the electronic side. That’s Detroit in a nutshell.

And when you were a kid it was your dad that turned you on to techno music, right?
Danny: I wouldn’t say techno. I would say ghettotech. Techno was created here, but it was a commercialized version of ghettotech so to us it was more ghettotech.

So what’s the difference between ghettotech and techno?
Danny: It’s the same thing with loops and stuff, but ghettotech had chants—it’s more instrumental based with techno. You know ghettotech had [sings]: “Hoes, take off your clothes, hoes get naked.”

Oh, that’s what’s happening?
Danny: You do that for three minutes straight: that was Detroit.

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And that’s why you like grime so much, right?
Danny: I love grime music. Even when I talked to Dizzee Rascal one of his big influences in producing was DJ Assault who is a ghettotech DJ from here. That blew my mind because that was the stuff that I listened to in middle school. It’s like a circle with Detroit and London: we just keep bouncing back and influencing each other.

Do Detroit people know how to party?
Danny: Probably a little too hard. Detroit is a real desolate city, there isn’t too much to do so when there is something, its like people really let loose. It’s like caged animals, once you really let them out, man, they go wild. That’s how I would describe the Detroit party scene. Everybody over here works, it’s a blue collar city, and most people ain’t got jobs, so they don’t work so they don’t got money so that’s all our release is.

Another thing I wanted to talk about was the Juggalos. You’re pretty tight with that community and Insane Clown Posse and it all came out of Detroit. How did you first become aware of them? [Watch Danny Brown go to the Gathering of the Juggalos.]
Danny: I first heard about Insane Clown Posse in maybe 8th grade. I didn’t understand it but at the end of the day I look up to ICP, not necessarily for their music, but more so for their business and for what they created for themselves. That’s kind of what I want to do: they came from Detroit, came from nothing, now they have their own festival. It proved that the work that you put into something, you receive the rewards. They did it big. I love them guys, they gave me so much advice on life about keeping your independence in music, in the business, and how to make money in this. I give them all the props in the world.

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I guess horrorcore is another form of escapism and being part of a crew like that also creates as sense of community and belonging. Why do you think that genre is so popular specifically in Detroit?
Danny: Shock value. Detroit is a place where there’s not much entertainment and listening to something like that is very entertaining. We’re always attracted to things that are extreme, whether it be music, movies, or anything entertainment-wise or artistic-wise. Like I say: we caged animals so we want to see the wildness and horrorcore is the most extreme you can get in rap. Look at Eminem, he’s the best rapper in the world and he was influenced from horrorcore.

Did you look up to him?
Danny: Yeah, I instantly took to it and studied him. I looked at it like, “Dang, this guy made it out of Detroit. I can too, so I gotta figure out what he did and study his moves and study his rap. I gotta be just as good as this if I’m gonna make it.” It gave me the challenge and that’s probably the reason why I’m here. If Eminem is your challenge—shit!

You better step up your game.
Danny: Yeah, a lot of people fell on that challenge.

You talk about getting out of Detroit but you’re still here.
Danny: I love it here, I just understand what’s wrong with it and I know it ain’t gonna change because I lived here my entire life and it hasn’t changed.

It hasn’t changed at all?
Danny: It’s got worse in a sense. It’s just bad politicians. Any messed up city or any messed up environment—you gotta look to the government. If you go back in time and look at Detroit history our mayors are always crooked. It’s just all for them; it wasn’t for the city. Once we get that right mayor, somebody that just cares about the city and wants to rebuild it, it’ll make it right. Hopefully I’ll see it in this lifetime.

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What do you think about the sort of influx of artists coming in here?
Danny: I think that’s great. Like I say, Detroit is a very desolate city and we have a real small police force right now. You put a tag up, it might stay up forever. Who gonna take it down? Don’t nobody care. That’s what’s been happening: we been getting these artists from all over the world coming up and putting pieces up and the city is starting to look better just because of it.

What do you miss when you’re away from Detroit?
Danny: I miss my cat the most.

Danny brown siren

Oh Siren. Just Siren, not your girl?
Danny: It go hand in hand. But Siren a baby, I gotta cuddle with her. Danny's cat Siren.

So I’ve never been here before, where would you take me out tonight? It’s a Wednesday.
ZelooperZ: There’s not really too much to do. We could go eat. That’s why we’re one of the fattest cities in the world.

So you party and you eat a lot in Detroit.
ZelooperZ: Get some barbeque, hit a bar, that’s it.

Danny: Strip clubs are a big thing here. I was going to strip clubs way before I was old enough to get into strip club, so by the time I was old enough to get into a strip club, I already realized that this wasn’t the place for me. I’d rather keep my money and spend it on clothes then throw it at the hoes. If I do, I do it on a trip. When you go to Vegas or Miami, “Oh go waste some money on hoes tonight just for entertainment.”

How’s your midlife crisis going?
Danny: I think I went through it. I’m 33 and now I’m just having fun. I’m enjoying it. I think I get better with time.

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Oh, you’re like a fine wine?
Danny: That’s what I figured out about life. The older you get, the funner it is. As long as you got your shit together and you work hard. You have a big boat, you can be naked on your boat at 50, with a couple 20-year-olds in Florida, just chilling. That’s what I’m trying to be.

How did your time in jail affect your music?
Danny: I used to record all the time and I was away from it for eight months in jail, so when I came back it kind of messed me up. I almost cried in the studio the first time because it was something I used to do it so easy and I couldn’t even figure out my first line. I was just stuck. I ended up making Detroit State of Mind 2, so if anybody hear that, that’s why the songs are so short. Then I made one song that was actually tight and I was like “Alright, I might be back. I got it.” I got my confidence back and before I knew it. You know what it was? I just wasn’t smoking weed that much. You know when you first get out of jail and you just like…

I mean no, I don’t, but tell me about it.
Danny: I was institutionalized in a sense. Once I got back ratchet and started smoking weed with the homies, being in the streets, it was right back like riding a bike.

So you inspiration can be boiled down to weed, Detroit, women, and your cat?
Danny: I mean I study a lot of music. I’m a big fan of Love, and Arthur Lee. One line from one of his songs might inspire a whole song of mine. I study music like Joy Division, I made XXX off Joy Division. I probably shouldn’t even be talking about this.

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Why?
Danny: Because it’s crazy, what I do. I get influences from other songs and I make songs out of that—but only older songs that aren’t rap.

Has there been any specific Detroit artist from the past that you’ve pulled from?
Danny: Jack White all the time. The White Stripes had great songs, but minimal on the music side. If you listen to Danny Brown, it’s real great songwriting, minimal music.

greg ahee protomartyr danny brown

Greg from Protomartyr and Danny Brown.

That’s funny because I interviewed Protomartyr—the guitarist of which is standing over there because he’s a big fan of yours—and he was talking about the minimalism of The White Stripes too, and how Protomartyr try and incorporate that ethos as well. And now you. Maybe this is is like a Detroit thing.
Danny: I guess it is, keeping it simple, straight to the point. I want my songs to be sucker punches. I make a song that’s two minutes flat and it just punches you in the face.

Well that’s well suited to people with no attention span. So, if I wanted to go dance—what’s the club scene like here? Do you fuck with it at all?
Danny: Hell no! It’s like two worlds of it. In Detroit you got the hood, the places where you go and you’re gonna get your cardi stolen, or you gonna get shot, or there’s gonna be some fighting in this club. The other world is you can go to some high-end suburb club and they might not even let you in just cause you’ve got a 50 hat on. We mostly party on our own, I guess people party in the basement. We just all get weed and drinks and play cards. But dancing, I guess you gotta go to a strip club and watch them dance and just do your thing together.[Starts dancing.]

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That’s how you dance in the strip club?
Danny: It’s the drunk two-step, “Ooh she getting it, oooh.”

It does feel like the city is quite divided. Understatement maybe.
Danny: I mean the man made it like that, they segregated it.

Do you think that informs the music that comes out of this city and separates the genres?
Danny: When you’re from a place so bad of course we’re gonna put some social content in our music, but a lot of the music that we make we make to escape from problems. The best songs that came out of here are the songs that are just about having fun. If you just harp on then it’s gonna make you upset and sad, the way to escape is to do something real light and real heartfelt. I feel like even with Motown or with ghettotech.

What’s your most escapist song?
Danny: “Alleys Of Your Mind,” by Cybotron [above]. I remember being a kid, my dad taking me to school in the Premier Eagle, we used to be bumping that on the way to school and it just felt like some baller shit. I was in Detroit, but I felt like I was in Miami Vice.

Kim is an Editor at Noisey and the host of Made In America. She’s on Twitter - @theKTB

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More stuff about Detroit and Danny Brown: Made In Detroit - Ft. Danny Brown, Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig and Protomartyr

Made in Detroit: Behind the Scenes with Danny Brown, Kevin Saunderson, Carl Craig, and Protomartyr

Danny Brown Goes To The Gathering Of The Juggalos