True to Himself

Published November 7, 2016

ABOVE: DANNY BROWN. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TIMOTHY SACCENTI.

Atrocity Exhibition (Warp), the fourth studio album from Detroit rapper Danny Brown, takes its name from a 1970 J.G. Ballard novel and a 1980 Joy Division song, and is inspired in part by a documentary Brown watched on the Talking Heads. Featuring guest spots from erudite lyricists Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt, Atrocity is Brown at his finest—all menacing beats and off-kilter swagger. “I was just a fan of the Joy Division song, talking about how you feel like some type of freak show, sideshow. I related to that,” he explains. “For this album, I just wanted to make it Danny Brown. Nothing else. It’s a smoother ride when you’ve got your own lane.”

EMMA BROWN: Where are you right now?

DANNY BROWN: We’re in London, just chilling. Just doing some press—shaking hands and kissing babies.

EMMA BROWN: How long have you been working on this album for?

DANNY BROWN: I wrote it for two years and then I recorded for, like, a year. I like to take my time and be patient with it. I like to be able to sit on the records. Sometimes you really don’t know; I might make a song that I don’t really like that much and then three months go past and it’s the best thing I ever made. And I might make a song that I like a lot and then six months later, I hate it. So I’d rather give myself time to sit on it so I know what stands the test of time. Sometimes, I write songs without recording, and I’ll know the ones that stick out, ’cause I sing it in the shower before I even record it. I know the songs already. I’ll change lyrics on the fly because it came out that way or I said a word different or something might change. I improvise a little bit, but I take my time. I tell people that all the time when artists be like, “Come to the studio.” “I’ll go to the studio, but I don’t think we’re going to record, because I don’t work like that.”

EMMA BROWN: You’ve said in the past that being able to rap doesn’t mean you’re a good songwriter. Do you feel like you’ve gotten better as a songwriter over the course of your career?

DANNY BROWN: Yeah, I feel like with every album I get better. That’s my goal—to try and make something better than I did the last time. I feel like this is my best album I’ve made to date. It’s the most me. When you’re a rapper, you might get influenced by things you heard in the past before, so you try and recreate that, or you might just be doing what’s trendy at the moment. With me, originality has always been a big thing.

EMMA BROWN: Do you feel like who Danny Brown is has changed since you first started releasing music?

DANNY BROWN: Yeah. Some for the better, some for the worst. I would say I was happier when I was broke, because I guess I’ve got more responsibility now. But it’s not a bad thing. It made me have to grow up, which is not that bad of a thing, but I don’t have as much fun as I used to before.

EMMA BROWN: Do you write when you’re not working on an album?

DANNY BROWN: I feel like you get burnt out, so I like to give myself a break until I can’t wait and I get that bug, instead of just training myself.

EMMA BROWN: Do you ever get writer’s block?

DANNY BROWN: Every artist does. When I do, I think that’s just the time to study music—looking at music documentaries and older artists. Doing the history. Trying to figure out what made you like that. That’s when I do homework.

ATROCITY EXHIBITION (WARP) IS OUT NOW.