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How Danny Brown Became Hip-Hop's Misfit Hero

Danny Brown is back and he's bringing his brutal, beautiful and unapologetically strange music with him.

Unapologetic. If the word could be represented by a single face, that face would be a smiling, chipped tooth Danny Brown. Very few rappers would be a better fit to carry the word's definition.

Since his breakout mixtape, XXX, Brown has been a package of unorthodox and weird. The way he dressed, the sound of his voice, how he rapped and rhymed, it was like being introduced to an outcast who didn’t care to fit in with a single soul. A true outcast, even though he embodied the very essence of a pimp and a poet, he wasn’t Detroit's Andre and Big Boi - they were funk, Danny is punk rock. His world was dark, dirty, grimy, from dealing drugs to abusing them, Danny brought listeners in with imagery that brought every fiend, every bump, every pill popped, to life. He built a following with the outcasts and misfits, hardcore ravers and hip-hop heads, and he was able to reach all these demographics without the help of a major label. Danny went independent, stayed independent, and his unapologetic approach to being himself proved that you could go far without conforming.

2010’s The Hybrid is the mixtape that Danny first introduced the high-pitched, animated voice that has become something of a trademark. There’s an obvious refinement that can be heard on his later projects but that’s where he started to hone his voice. That voice was presented by indie record label, Rappers I Know. The Hybrid was a moment, not the big one, but big enough to put Danny on people’s radar. He was in the position to get with a record label; he told Complex in 2012, that he wanted to be signed to XL Records or Fool’s Gold. Both labels have rap acts but are more closely associated with other genres, ranging from indie rock to electronic dance. A lunch between Q-Tip and Fool’s Gold head A-Trak is where the conversation transpired, encouraging A-Trak to sign the Detroit wordsmith. The rest is history - the critically acclaimed XXX and his third studio album, Old, both came out under the Fool's Gold umbrella.

Three years. Three long years. It’s been that long since Danny Brown released Old in the middle of a chilly October. 15,000 albums sold in its first week, debuting at number 17 on Billboard. Despite it being his third album, it was the first to be sold through retailers and online. There was proof that Danny Brown had fans and they were ready to buy music. The album came, the album went, and Danny fell into a surprising silence. Very little music followed - a verse here, a song there, but mostly the rockstar rapper fell from the public's ears and eyes.

Time is of the utmost essence in a business that has a way of replacing the old with the new - silence is a tactic that rarely keeps interest but Danny has never been a traditionalist when it comes to rap music. He’s a pirate, he sails the seas his way and his way only. For him to follow the rules of this industry goes against everything that Danny Brown stands for. He is the untamable chaos, not the domesticated entertainer. Danny recently reemerged, with a new album title, the promise that it’s coming soon, and a new record deal. Once again, he has decided to keep thing indie. Danny Brown’s next album will be coming out through Warp Records.



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"It was time for me to renegotiate and Warp came in, and I was always a fan of what they do too, they have a big, strong history and legacy, I feel like I can progress a little more in that world." - Zane Lowe interview

Warp is a British record label that has been around since 1989. Their primary focus has been experimental electronic music - notable names like Flying Lotus, Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, Hudson Mohawke, Jeremiah Jae, and TNGHT are all Warp record signees. In his recent interview with Zane Lowe, Danny cites history as a reason why he decided to align with Warp for this next album release. As a fan of music that extends beyond hip-hop, he knows what they have done, and sees a bright future for what he could do with them in his corner. For a man more likely to collab with Purity Ring than Drake, more interested in working with The Avalanches than any hot rapper, Warp most feels like home to a man who seemingly only feels at home surrounded by other castaways.

Danny is a child of rap but his influences come from a range of genres. His upcoming album is titled Atrocity Exhibition. The title comes from a book written by English novelist J.G. Ballard in 1970 and was later used as the opening track to Joy Division’s second and final album, Closer. Danny is both aware of the literary and post-punk connection, he even posted the lyrics to Joy Division's song on his Instagram when announcing the title. This is the second rap album to come out in the last two years to pay homage to Joy Division. Vince Staples’ Summertime ‘06’s album cover is inspired by Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Rap keeping Ian Curtis' name alive shouldn’t come as a surprise, this is the same rapper who found inspiration for his new album from the band Talking Heads and their 1979 album, Fear Of Music.

There’s honestly no predicting what Danny will do, how his album will sound, what he will say. That has always been what made Danny such an interesting act to follow. He isn’t the artist that is here to make you feel comfortable, coddle his audience with what they want, even the album Old was an ode to the fact he was never going back to the artist that he was. He may be an older artist, but that old dog isn’t afraid to perform a new trick and he won’t wait for a welcoming applause.

Just listen to his new single, “When It Rain.” Sonically, it doesn’t walk in the footstep of rappers infatuation with trap music. His rapid flow stretches across this minimum but hollow production that feels like walking through a part of time where street lights don’t exist, the eyes of monsters shine in the darkness, and that acid will rain down from toxic clouds. Only Danny can be this unapologetically weird. But that’s what makes Danny so alluring, nothing is ever too strange. Three years have come and went and now rap’s Hunter S. Thompson is back. The rock star that survived to tell his tale has returned to bring us into his new gonzo ‘world.

By Yoh, aka Yohtrocity Exhibition, aka @Yoh31


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