Danny Brown
Tom Keelan

Danny Brown Talks Sobriety, Comedy, Mac Miller, And Q-Tip's Guidance

When Q-Tip gives advice, you listen – and Q-Tip wanted the old Danny Brown.

In 2017, when Danny Brown first connected with the rapper, producer and legend from A Tribe Called Quest to begin working on the former’s fifth studio album, uknowhatimsayin¿, Q-Tip referenced “Greatest Rapper Ever,” the intro track to his 2010 mixtape The Hybrid, as the artist that he wanted to hear and work with. But while Q-Tip wanted the old Danny Brown, Danny had already spent the last few years trying to get away from that artist and person altogether.

“I mean, I wasn’t happy about it,” Brown recalls when he got that request. “Because I’m always trying to chart new territory. If I’m not creating, I’m discovering.”

Over the past decade-plus, Brown has become one of the most distinctive artists in rap – whether it’s concerning his music, his look, or his personality. He had a broken front tooth, a result of being hit by a car in a KFC parking lot when he was younger. His laugh is unmistakable, a charming, goofy shriek that both slips out or is used as a way to disarm an audience. He regularly morphs his voice from a guttural snarl to a cartoonish high-pitched yell, recalling the likes of ‘Ol Dirty Bastard circa 1995. And around the time he signed to Canadian EDM DJ A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold Records in 2011 to release his seminal mixtape XXX, he changed his hair from hood-centric braids into an anime-inspired swoop that made him look more like a heavy metal rock star than a Detroit street rapper.

The Danny Brown sitting here today – in the back of a Brooklyn bar with his manager Dart Parker – is far different from the guy whom I last spoke to in 2011, when he was depressed and wondering why his hometown shunned his art and his appearance.

"Detroit's a close-minded city. People always talking sh*t back home, but it's been embraced outside of home. It's depressing at times," Brown said during that 2011 interview. "Can you imagine me walking round Northland (Center, a now shuttered shopping mall in suburban Detroit) on a Saturday? Sh*t's crazy. But let me walk through the Beverly Center (in Los Angeles) on a Saturday, no one pays me any attention."

And his last album, 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition, integrated shadowy rock, punk and techno influences while delving into the drug addiction that fueled his own personal nosedive. “Back then … I was emotional, and I think I cared too much. I started to realize that in life you only have so many f**ks to give, so you might as well only give a f**k about the things you can control,” Brown tells me today. “I didn’t even do press for (Atrocity Exhibition), I wasn’t mentally stable at the time to talk to people like that. I would just be going on these binges, man. It got to the point where (I realized) there are so many people that this sh*t takes care of. Me risking it like that, one bad day and everything can go wrong.”

He describes his process of ditching drugs as a normal coming of age. “I was never the person who was depressed and doing drugs by himself, getting high for no reason. It was always about partying. I’ve just gotten to the age where I’m not partying no more.” Brown got his Fool’s Gold record deal at age 30 (the album XXX is titled after the roman numeral), later than many other rappers who get their shot. So as he’s approaching 40, he’s living the washed life, accepting invites to parties but staying at home when it’s time to leave. He attests that if he got his deal in his 20s, that he may have made even worse mistakes and ruined his career beyond repair.

While speaking about his pursuit of sobriety, he shared a story about the late Mac Miller. Early on he didn’t like Mac’s music, and he would spend time in interviews talking trash about him. But over time they would eventually become friends – “I miss the you that said I was the worst thing to happen to hip hop,” Mac once tweeted to Brown – and in fall 2018, Brown got a call from the Pittsburgh vocalist/producer.

“That week that he died, he called me, almost on some clarity sh*t. He’s like “‘Man, are we good? You should come out to LA and make music.’ I’m like hell yeah, man,” Brown remembers. “This was the time that I was cleaning up, so I wasn’t doing sh*t. I booked my flight to go to LA, I’m going to hang with Mac. But as the week was going, I know what I’m going to do when I hang with cous’. The day I was about to leave, I had my flight and everything, and I just canceled it... I was literally in the car, and they announced on the radio that he died.” Brown was shaken by the news.

Along with leaving behind substances, he also changed his look. When he showed up to shoot his scenes for White Boy Rick, a 2018 film about teenage FBI informant Richard Wershe Jr., he was required to cut his hair – he now sports a short, neat taper. Then there’s his grill: his snaggletoothed look has been replaced by a new set of pearly whites.

“Getting my teeth fixed was more of a health issue. As bad as my teeth was, I’m still going to the dentist all the time just to maintain that sh*t. They was telling me about weird gum diseases and all types of sh*t, they said, ‘at the rate you’re going you’re going to need dentures by 40.’ I’m thinking like a ni**a. ‘I don’t give a f**k, I’ll just put a grill on them bitches and we rocking out,’” he laughed. He Googled "Terrell Owens teeth," and surprisingly found a surgeon in Michigan who did dental work for Owens and other athletes. He got bone grafting, a process that replaces damaged bone with new ones.

He says that process took a year, which was a big reason for the gap between Atrocity Exhibition and his new record. “It was the beginning of us working on the album and I couldn’t even work a lot. I didn’t have any teeth in my mouth,” Brown remembered. “We were working, but I couldn’t really do sh*t. I’m telling Q-Tip, ‘I’m in pain right now, I can’t even leave the crib. My face looks crazy right now,’ so it took a lot of time for me to do that sh*t, it took a year for me to get my teeth fixed.”

* * *

Q-Tip wanted the lyrical, back to basics Danny Brown, not the EDM aesthetic that made up the second half of Old in 2013, or the genre-bending music from Atrocity Exhibition three years later. That meant that Brown would have to tone down some of the adventurous proclivities he was planning before.

“I knew where I wanted to take it after Atrocity Exhibition, I had something totally completely different in my head about where I was going to go with it. Which probably wasn’t the best idea, because it was in that same lane. I was just going to get crazier. I got to the point of ‘f**k it, I’m not on the radio and I’m making hit songs, I can go as crazy as I f**king want.’

“I love that [JPEGMAFIA] album, that sh*t is amazing to me, it probably would’ve been something closer to that,” he said, referring to his experimental friend and collaborator's new record, All My Heroes Are Cornballs. “But thank God, every now and then somebody needs somebody to tell them to geek down a little bit, turn it down a little bit, you ain’t gotta do all that. Thanks for Q-Tip for doing that.”

In an email to VIBE, the artist known as Peggy said that the respect was mutual. "Love working with Danny. He welcomed me with open arms to his studio and took me in like a brother,” JPEGMAFIA said. “He was already one of my favorite rappers ever but he’s solidified himself as one of my favorite human beings I’ve ever interacted with."

uknowhatimsayin¿ isn’t exactly boom bap or jazz-inflected like Q-Tip’s previous classics with Tribe, but it’s much more firmly rooted in hip-hop than Brown’s more recent work. Q-Tip provides three beats himself: the buzzy kazoo sounds of “Dirty Laundry” that have Danny sharing crude sex stories and clever laundry metaphors, the feel-good rags to riches “Best Life,” and the highlight “Combat,” which flips a horn sample and ends with a drum solo. He also helped pick other beats, or would insert some of his own signatures into sound beds from other producers on the album, and would keep Brown in the booth to record verses over and over until they were right.

Brown still tapped into his old habits a bit though. Nigerian vocalist Obongjayar lends emotive choruses to “Belly of the Beast” and the title track. And his buddy JPEGMAFIA provides the hook for “Negro Spiritual” and the beat for “3 Tearz,” which has abrasive verses from Run The Jewels. “Change Up” and “Shine,” the album's respective intro and penultimate tracks, bookend the record by digging into his humble roots, sharing lessons from his upbringing and lamenting on his struggles. The result is a taut, 11-song album that’s as digestible as anything he’s ever made, but still reflective of his recent years of experience. So Q-Tip’s suggestion ended up successful.

“Danny’s never really been produced, he’s done it all himself. It had to be someone he respected to listen to,” Dart Parker shared, when explaining the idea to connect him with Q-Tip. “He was going crazy doing the same verse a hundred times … but who from that era that we love, is a professional, and still just as hungry as he was 20 years ago? He I s competing every day whether you hear the music or not. He’s one of the best bass players I’ve ever seen. … [Q-Tip] is hyper intelligent. One of the f***king channels went out on the board, he put on a soldering mask and went under the console and fixed it with a soldering gun!”

Despite his early hesitation, Brown also found even more appreciation for lyricism and learned to dedicate more time to his music.

“(This album) taught me that that’s a harder style of rapping than anything else. If I did double time songs with big trap bass beats, it’s so much going on that it’s an entertaining listen. When you’re doing it like this, the main sh*t is the words,” Brown added. “The beat is the backdrop at this point. Before, I was doing a lot of songs where the beat was the main thing, and my voice and how I’m coming across it is so off-kilter. With this, you ain’t giving a person no choice but to pay attention to the words. So if you ain’t saying sh*t, it’s going to be trash. The beats is banging either way it goes.”

Another key element of uknowhatimsayin¿ is Danny Brown’s humor. Jokes have always been integral in his lyrics, so his music has always been hilarious and self-deprecating. But that comedy is even more central in his life lately: his new VICELAND show Danny’s House plays like a combination of Eric Andre meets Peewee Herman, with inanimate objects like a burrito and a microphone serving as cohosts as Brown welcomes guests like ASAP Rocky, Schoolboy Q and El-P to discuss weed-worthy topics like sex with aliens, ghosts, and more. He also brings in comedians, who will come as guests or test jokes with him at the end of episodes. He says that he hangs out with comedians more than he does with other rappers these days, and they tell him that he could have a future in stand-up if he wanted to. That’s apparent during our conversation, too: he shares multiple stories, like a trip overseas and several recent incidents of peeing in his pants, that could be great comedy bits. It’s refreshing in a genre that can sometimes take itself too seriously with machismo posturing.

“Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest) was the first person to tell me, ‘you’re like the Richard Pryor of rap. You need to dig into that and study Rich,’” Brown recalled. “Some sh*t you don’t have to say the way you say it, you can say the same thing wording it the right way and get an exciting reaction. A lot of times, I used to say sh*t for shock value. Richard Pryor was saying things for shock value, but it still had depth to it. That’s what I was going for.

“I feel like that's the best emotion to have while listening to a song, is to just laugh at some sh*t. The only thing other than that is crying. To make a motherf**ker laugh at a song, that’s hard.”

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Mark Barboy

Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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