Danny Brown Interview

July 10, 2008

Detroit emcee Danny Brown has already gone through the whole “Visit New York to find a record deal” drill. After catching the attention of a Roc-A-Fella A&R in 2003, he went to the East Coast and recorded several mixtapes—his famed Detroit State of Mind trilogy—on other artists’ studio time, with beats from the likes of 9th Wonder and Kanye West handed to him. But the Roc’s untimely demise, along with Brown’s lack of chemistry with the crew’s already-established brand, landed him back in the Motor City.

But Danny’s glad to be home. From Motown to The White Stripes to the birth of the techno music scene, Detroit boasts a rich multi-genre musical history. It is against this colorfully chorded backdrop that Danny and producer Nick Speed (Elzhi, 50 Cent, Talib Kweli) have released Hot Soup, an album dedicated to the city’s melodic legacy. And if they keep up their engaging, meticulously-arranged yet blissfully simple brand of Hip Hop, they leave the door open for themselves to continually add their own pages to Detroit’s blue-noted archives. In an interview with MichiganHipHop,com, Danny Brown talks about his time out East, his chemistry with Nick Speed, and why he and the Stripes’ Jack White should collaborate.

How did you hook up with Nick Speed?
When I first had my group, Reservoir Dogs, we had a couple of songs on the radio. I think he heard one of our songs on the radio and he kinda liked it, so he just started searching around for us. He got my number through somebody, and he hit me up because he wanted to play me some beats. He came through, played some beats, and he had some shit. It wasn’t all of that crazy impressive, but I asked him what he was using; I thought he had a keyboard, a Triton or a Motif or something. But he said he had an MP, and I ain’t ever heard no nigga make no beats like that with just an MP. So that was kind of special in a sense. I hooked up with him, did a couple songs. Even back then, I had an idea of Hot Soup, to make an album that was real Motown and funk influenced. Ain’t too many producers that can make that come to life for me, but even back then in ’03, we were talking about doing it. He was looking for an apartment or whatever, and I stayed in the midtown/Wayne State area. I helped him get an apartment over there, he moved over there and we’ve been kickin’ it ever since.

Who all was in Reservoir Dogs?
It was me, my little cousin Mike Louch, and Chips Dinero. The group was a spur of the moment thing. I taught my little cousin how to rap, and he got super nice extra quick. We met Chips, and he was kinda nice, so we decided to do a group. We made the album in like two weeks, put it out, got a lot of radio spins. Performed at probably every venue that’s around the D—Ypsi, Inkster, Pontiac, all that. Opened up for a lot of mufuckas.

How did you start working with Roc-A-Fella?
[Working with the group] was the seed that let labels and shit hear me. I took that out to New York, and somebody at Roc-A-Fella hit me up, and he wanted me to do some more shit. At the time he was A&R, he was working on Purple Haze with Cam. You know how when niggas get they deal, they don’t be in the studio like that, everybody else be fuckin’ up they budgets and shit. Cam’s not the studio, so I’m recording on Cam’s time when he isn’t there. That’s how all the Detroit State Of Mind [mixtapes] come from. We’d be running around, and whoever’s got studio time, if they ain’t there, if the engineer lets us record, we’d record. So I got to record a whole bunch of music, for free.

I thought I was going out there to get a record deal, but I don’t think he was a strong A&R like that where he could just get artists signed. He figured, “You nicer than a bunch of them niggas, so come out here.” He was mad cool with all the producers. I was getting beats from all the top producers, but I’ve still got to make these songs, and when they hear that shit, they’ll like the shit. They didn’t know how to market me though, they don’t understand what Detroit is about. Since I had a country type accent, they’d rather me do some down south shit than to rap off a Kanye beat or something. So as far as the record deal aspect, that the only thing they saw of it. They don’t care about no niggas kickin’ no freestyles or none of that shit. … So I came back to the D.

The label was starting to break up too, though…
That’s around the time when Roc-a-fella started going through they little shit, they were crumbling and shit. I remember I was in New York for like a month or something, then I went home. I was supposed to go back in like a week, then he called me like, “I got fired.” But he started DJing for Juelz Santana. … Juelz is pretty cool, he goes on tours and shit and has a lot of shows. … They paid for me to come out and ride around with them, look at business with them. I learned a lot of shit from that. It was a good experience; it’s like a nigga got to chill on the sideline for a minute.

You don’t ever look back and think, “What if the Roc-A-Fella situation would have worked out?”
Naw. Cuz like I said, when I first really came, it was kind of fucked up already. I ain’t never meet no fuckin’ Jay-Z; he had his own flow, with his own offices. I was really fuckin’ with Dame’s people, I fucked with Dame a couple of times, Dame and Biggs. So I was on their side, their side was a totally different side from what Jay-Z’s side was, and that’s the whole side that got fired. Everybody I was meeting on that side didn’t really matter, ‘cause they couldn’t really help me do nothin’ anyway. All they could do was take me around, show me the business a little bit and understand what’s going on, but they couldn’t do shit for me. Even the Dipset situation, they couldn’t really do shit for me. They ain’t know how I could fit in that situation.

What direction did you go in with Hot Soup?
We just wanted to keep the core of Detroit: from the techno, to the Motown, to J Dilla, to Blade Icewood. We wanted to put everything that was Detroit that we could possibly get in there, from Anita Baker to Parliament. We just wanted to rep Detroit music in the right way. Even with me on certain flows…stuff a mainstream audience wouldn’t understand, but just people here. I really did this for them.

What makes you and Nick Speed work together so well?
Maybe we’re on some child prodigy type shit. I knew how to rap since kindergarten, and Nick Speed’s been making music on the beats and shit forever. It’s like we’re some child prodigies with this shit. We just push each other. We want to progress, both of us. There’s a lot of shit that I might be scared to voice my opinion with other producers making music…it’ll be too far for niggas, they don’t understand it. Speed, he don’t be scared of that type of shit. He wants to take it far, he wants to take chances. That’s how Hot Soup came about; it wasn’t just like the nigga was making beats and I’ll go write some raps and we’ll record. We really sat down and put this production together, came up with the flows and the rhymes, how we’re going to approach these songs. We strategized it. “On Motown songs, we’ve gotta come like this.” “Here’s our techno song.”

We didn’t want to force feed it on nobody. When somebody listen to “Whatup Doe,” he don’t feel like he’s listening to no techno shit. We want them to feel like it’s still Hip Hop, though. We’re just reppin’ all our cultures for the city.

If you had to pick three of your favorite songs from the album, which would you pick?
I think I’d pick “10 G’s A Week.” To me, that song is Saturday night, mama playin’ cards and shit. They ain’t even really listening to the song, but the song’s on. Everybody’s wild, smokin’ and drinkin’, but you hear that beat in the background, on some Al Green type shit. It’s like some Saturday night car playing shit to me.

“Gun In Yo Mouf” totally just happened by mistake. One day I was in the studio with Speed, just chillin’ or whatever. Nick Speed made a mistake and loaded the beat up in the wrong program. When he pressed play, that’s what came out. He cut it off real fast. I’m like, “Damn, what the fuck was that?” Then he cut it back on, and I’m like, “Aw, shit! I can rock off that shit!” I came up with the verse in like ten minutes. My homeboy Chips was there, and he heard it, so threw his verse on it real quick . A couple months down the line, MarvWon heard it and wanted to throw a verse on it. That just showed me how sometimes, music don’t need to be planned. You’ve just got to let shit happen. … Sometimes, I over-think songs; I may go home and write some shit for months, and keep playing with the beat, playing with melodies in my head. But that song literally happened in ten minutes. And that song is crazy! One of the most creative songs I think I did. Not lyrically creative, but just from the production aspect, even for a nigga to even rap over something like that. Then the hook doesn’t really rhyme. There’s a bunch of unorthodox shit about that song, but I fuckin’ like it!

The third song would probably be the first song, “Dance.” My mom told me she liked that song. She supports my music, but she wouldn’t just tell me that she likes a song. But she heard “Dance” the first couple of times, and she came and told me, “I really like that song.” So I’ll say that because my mom liked it. And if you make something your mom likes, you’re doing the right thing.

Squeeze Precisely” was crazy—from the way that y’all go in as soon as it starts, to how Big Pooh kills it. How did that song happen?
I recorded that when I was in New York last summer in the Fourth of July. I always go to New York for the Fourth of July. My homeboy is from Brooklyn in Crown Heights, but I’ve got a cousin that lives in New York that lives in Bed Stuy, the same block that Biggie used to live on. So one day I had went over there to smoke with that nigga and shit, me and my man caught a train to Bed Stuy to go kick it with him. I had my iPod on me, and I was listening to the beat I was going to rap off of or whatever. … We were listening to Biggie’s freestyle of the Funk Flex show, because that was one of my favorite verses. I used that shit as the hook; I had the hook, but I never had the rhymes. We’re on the train, I’m playing with the hook and playing with the melody of the song. I had did a year in jail, so I had these mad notebooks that I wrote in jail. I would never use a whole rhyme, ‘cause I like to rhyme to the beat ‘cause the melody will be a little better. So if I write something, I might go to it for lines. Maybe if I’m stuck somewhere. But I was on some 80s shit: these jail rhymes; fuck it, I’m bout to use these lines! I ended up using the “Paint a perfect picture” shit, I used that line and the shit matched, so I’m like fuck it! That shit was crazy.

I brought it back and played it for Speed, and at the time, Pooh had done something off it too. He played me Big Pooh’s song, and it was crazy. He hit them up niggas up like, “Hey, my mans did a song off it.” They wanted to shoot a video for it or whatever. He sent them the original, the one I did, and them niggas liked that shit. So they said fuck it, just put them together and we’ll just shoot the video off it like that.

Does working with Nick Speed at this point, after he’s worked with the likes of Talib and 50, add any pressure to your musical approach?
No, because at one point in time, I had been working with all the top producers in the game, for free. I’ve got beats from pretty much everybody, man. That shit scared me then. … I had shit from Kanye, anybody with Roc-A-Fella pretty much. If a beat CD floated through Roc-A-Fella, or you had some type of contact with Roc-A-Fella, or if you were trying to get a beat to Jay-Z—which is nine times out of ten, what 99 percent of these niggas are doing—I’ll jack one of your beat CDs, and rap over one of your beats if the shit’s hot.

I think that probably set me up, ‘cause Speed’s got some challenging ass beats. He ain’t like no average producer where you can just get the shit and murder the shit. You’ve got to go in on his shit, cuz the beat will kill you! You’ve got to be a strong nigga to rap on a Speed beat. … You listen to D-Tour, and you think, “One nigga made all these beats,” that shit’ll make your fuckin’ head explode. You’ve got to understand, one nigga made all these beats! He’s a monster, man.

I hope me and him can make this last forever, no homo. You don’t get that a lot no more, man. You get a mothafucka, you might get an album with a nigga. His next album comes out, he’s got 50 different producers on that shit. You get someone that sticks with one producer and makes albums. That’s like old school shit, Eric B. and Rakim. Where niggas had they one producer, and that’s their sound and they stick with it. That’s what we’re trying to do with this. Hopefully we can, man.

These past few years, Detroit’s scene has really grown. What’s it like being a part of that?
That’s what I came back home for. In the same token, if artists don’t really come together with it, and be like the linemen and the cornerback, if all of us aren’t on the same team it’s not going to matter. But I can see that it’s changing, and we are understanding that before us, mufuckas didn’t have their shit right, and mufuckas weren’t together like that. But we are coming together, and that’s making us even stronger. If you came to my listening party, everybody was there! I expected a lot of cats to be like, “Man, fuck Danny.” Phat Kat, T3, Black Milk, everybody came through and showed love. You can pretty much see shit changing when you see shit like that, when them niggas are coming to support the up and coming niggas. It didn’t use to be like that. So I’m thankful for that—to be a part of it right now, than to be a part of it in like ’96 or something, when niggas wasn’t trying to help you for shit.

If you could work with any three artists in Detroit, who would they be?
You’re going to give me a minute, hit the blunt a couple more times. … I know for a fact I would like to work with Jack White from The White Stripes, but they don’t really fuck with Hip Hop shit like that. He could produce some fucking good Hip Hop; even though he don’t know it, he could produce some fucking good Hip Hop. There’s some shit off of Elephant I would have rapped off of, I would have rapped off of “Seven Nation Army.” … Of course, I [would have] liked to work with J Dilla, that’s a fucking fantasy for real. And fucking Eminem! I’d love to go in with Eminem, who wouldn’t want to see me and Eminem go 24 bars a piece right now? And that’s a fantasy to me, because I think that shit’ll never happen! [laughs] … If I get one of them out the three, I did my job in Hip-Hop.



  1. Malaki the Most Hi says:

    Em’s on line 1…
    Danny Brown to the bat mobile!!!!!

    July 21st, 2008 at 12:09 am

  2. Vince says:

    Danny Brown is the future

    July 27th, 2008 at 10:31 pm

  3. Ketch-Up 7/12/08: Danny Brown x Maestro x Amanda Diva « Speech Is My Hammer… says:

    […] have an interview with previously-blogged about Danny Brown up on Check it out: he talks about working with a Roc-A-Fella A&R in New York, his studio chemistry with Nick […]

    August 11th, 2008 at 1:58 am

  4. girlie says:

    oh danny… keep up on this boi

    April 3rd, 2009 at 5:57 pm

  5. david rudolph says:

    @danny brown. can you please tell me how can i get a reservoir Dogs cd. im from detroit and can’t find it. i really loved it and will pay up to whatever for the disc. its like that.

    October 15th, 2010 at 6:23 am

  6. bp says:

    he doesnt mention anything about the nigga dirtybird….thats who who did all the trax on resevor dogs album and got they shit to the labels and the radio….wow

    March 28th, 2011 at 2:47 am

  7. dirtybird says:

    hit me up if you want a copy of resevor dogs @dirtybird4sale is my twitter

    March 22nd, 2012 at 3:19 am

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