2011 saw the breakthrough release of XXX, a fully realised concept album, put out for free online by firebrand Detroit rapper Danny Brown. Not only was it a star-making record, but its distinct and druggy style went on to reverberate as an influential force throughout broader pop music. Following on from the long-time-coming ascendency to fame, Brown has stepped things up yet again for Old, a sprawling and dichotomous insight into the psyche of one of modern rap’s most compelling minds.
You might expect Brown to be in the midst of a whirlwind of activity in the wake of Old’s release, but it’s apparent this isn’t the case as he answers the phone. “I’m in my home, man, in Michigan. Just chillin’, haven’t been doing too much.”
Brown’s emergence onto the world stage happened as he entered his 30s, sparking some literature about whether rap is no longer just a young person’s game. Whether that’s true or not, Brown says the title Old isn’t a self-descriptor. “I don’t feel old at all. The name of my album has nothing to do with age or anything like that. Rap music gave me the chance to never grow up. I knew what I wanted to do from a young age, so I just stuck to that.”
After the phenomenal response to XXX, Brown’s next move was a hotly anticipated one. The two sides of Old could very well make for satisfying standalone releases, an indication of the MC’s resolve to provide a comprehensive package. “I just took my time, to be honest. Everyone was like, ‘Are you gonna do some tapes?’, so I made it with that in mind – like a tape or a vinyl.”
As for the lasting influence of the molly-drenched XXX, Brown hasn’t exactly measured its cultural reach. “I dunno, I haven’t listened to it in a long time. It was where I was at in my life at that time. That’s what I do, I just write about what I’m going through, and that’s it. So XXX,it’s just me in 2011, you know?”
Old features a variety of guests from a range of genres, with artists from all across the globe. “I was pretty much just working with my friends, to be honest. I play them something and they say, ‘Lemme help out on that’, or something like that. Like Charli XCX and Purity Ring, y’know, I had the songs and really wanted them to be a part of it. It was fun, but they take music really seriously, I take music really seriously, so it was great working with them.”
After a series of Australian club shows in mid-2012 – “I remember having a good time, but I don’t remember much else” – Brown will return for a run of Laneway Festival dates in 2014. The festival environment, as Brown explains, is the most conducive one for his live show. “I didn’t make [the songs] for the club, I made them to perform at festivals, if anything.”
As for what the future holds, Brown is philosophical. “I’ve been doing this since I was in kindergarten, so as long as I’m able to breathe and talk I’ll be rapping. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
Danny Brown plays St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2014 withHaim, Lorde, Chvrches, Jamie xx, Savages, Jagwar Ma, Earl Sweatshirt and more at Sydney College of the Arts, Rozelle on Sunday February 2.Oldout now through Fool’s Gold/Warner.