Danny Brown on Sober Living and Rapping in Advanced Age

Foto: © Warp Records
Danny Brown was one of the main figures in rap during the Tumblr era. Alcohol and drugs were involved. Now he’s clean. A new album has been released. We spoke to him.

Danny Brown is sober. And in a bad mood. Yesterday, the rapper, who has just released his sixth album »Quaranta« and is one of the few hip-hop artists on Warp Records, flew from Austin to London. Today, two jet-flagged eyes are looking at me in front of a blurred background. Down for an interview? Not really. But we still have 20 minutes. So we talk about the alcohol withdrawal that the 42-year-old recently underwent and about a temporary happy ending down the rabbit hole.

I just saw this video of your listening session in Austin, hosted by a tequila company. Wasn’t that weird?
Danny Brown: Sponsorships are sponsorships. You play the NBA, it’s sponsored by Heineken. Everybody drinks, I just don’t anymore.

You’re 245 days sober, if my math is correct.
I get a message on my phone for that, but I stopped looking at it. So wait a second, I will check now just to make sure you’re right, it’s… 245!

That’s great!
Well, I am happier now, but I don’t think that I deserve an award for doing something that I should have done a long time ago.

You should, though.
I guess, but if anything I want to inspire other people that they can change too if they want to.

You talked about good advice on your show, what was the worst advice somebody gave you?
Probably the bad advice would not even had stuck with me. It’s all about who you are talking to and who you trust.

»Everyone drinks anyway, I just don’t anymore.«

Danny Brown

What did people that you trust tell you?
Some of the best advice I got was that a lot of the times drinking comes from a place where something bad happened. So, you try to avoid the problem. I realized that drinking won’t save the problem, it makes it worse. So, I had to change my thought pattern around it. In rehab they also taught me that I need to be around people who drink and do stuff. If you try to hide and run from it, it will get back to you. If you condition yourself to be around it, it’s not going to be a big deal.

So, you’re …
I am not hanging out in bars because there is no reason for me to be there. Still, I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable around me, thinking that they can’t be themselves, have a drink or smoke weed and stuff.

Do you think people act differently around you now?
In the beginning they were. I then let them have the confidence that they can do whatever they want to, but I am not because if I do it, I will die.

Do you feel annoyed when strangers like me ask you about that?
Not at all. You know why? To keep myself sober is to help other people — it keeps me focussing on my sobriety, there’s nothing wrong about that.

In another interview, you said that you sleep 10 hours a night and have vivid dreams now.
I’m catching up on all the sleep that I missed, but some of that dreams get a little too extreme.

What they are about?
I can’t remember now, but it’s often something that I lived through during the day. Then again, it’s not the exact situation, but with something different happening. Also, some of these dreams last forever, but I am dreaming like three different dreams in one night up to the point where I don’t remember that I dreamed. I just know it because I went through it.

Do you reflect on that?
Nah, but you know what? Sometimes I dream that I relapsed. That’s fucked up. I feel like a failure in my dream. Then I wake up and be like thank god, just a dream!

Is this the Daniel you want to bring back in Danny Brown, like you said recently?
That’s what »Quaranta« is about. I humanize Danny Brown. I go back to being me. And it was about time because I over-glorified who I was, pretending to be a super-hero or a wrestler. I really believed that I was this character.

The album traces back almost three years, long before you were checking in for rehab. How do you relate to it now?
It’s part of my story that has a happy ending. If I had put this album out, still doing the same things that I was doing when I had recorded it — I would be the boy that cried wolf. Now I look at my life and I realize that I can inspire others that want to do better. I mean, I don’t want to be the guy who says if he can do it, I can. But really … You can do it.

Ever feel nostalgic?
It makes me go back to that time, yeah. But I look at my albums like my kids. Once they are out, they are 18 — they have to get out of my house and live on their own.

Never feel like those were the days?
Definitely! Especially with my shit pre »XXX«. Back then, I was still pure. I wasn’t using substances to feel better. I just wanted to be a rapper.

Do you sometimes think you had wasted your time?
Of course! Anyone who’s that deep into the rabbit hole would think so. It’s just not a productive way to live life, even though I thought so back then.

What was the key moment for you to seek help?
I had it in on my mind for a long time, I just didn’t know how to go about it because as a man you feel weak to ask for help. That gets to a point where you just humble yourself.

What made you ask?
My life. I knew that continuing what I did could lead to … You know, I knew that every day could be my last day. But I didn’t want to be one of those stories and end up being a statistic.

How is Austin related to that?
I needed to change my environment. Only through this I could change my thinking pattern. I probably wouldn’t be able to be sober if I still lived in Detroit because it would be all around me. Having my family and friends there, it would be much more stressful. Austin just provides me with a cleaner lifestyle. Also, I get a lot more Vitamin D!

Do you ever go back?
All the time. But where you are from, don’t make you. I feel like I outran Detroit.

In terms of like looking at rap differently now?
To be honest, I feel back in love with it. During my drinking phase and everything, I was just so busy worrying about what wasn’t happening instead of looking at how blessed I was to be part of it. Now, I focus on the positive things that I got going.

There’s also a lot of low voice Danny Brown on the new record.
I think a lot of the albums were half-half. Q-Tip always wanted me to bring it out more, though. Now, I am comfortable with being me and not the Danny Brown kid.

When you use the low voice, you’re serious Danny Brown.
Yeah, I use that.

Not so much on albums like »Atrocity Exhibition«.
It was a form of comedy. The jokes hit more hard in that voice.

Would you give up rap for comedy?
Nah, I love comedy as an art form too much — it’s something that takes time. It would take me another ten years probably to be good at it. And I’ve bombed a lot with music already. I don’t know how I put myself through that emotional turmoil again, learning something new.

Joe Rogan put you up on it.
All those guys want me to get up on stage. And eventually I will. But it’s something that I want to take seriously — especially with the writing. That’s the only part that I really don’t get. I can go up on stage and rip and say anything. But I want to learn how to write jokes.

It’s kinda like writing punchlines, isn’t it?
Yeah, that nearly. A lot of the time I could say stuff that would be funny, but I don’t recognize what joke to write. I have a lot to tell, I just don’t have the premises like most comedians do.

One last thing, what’s something that you love about yourself?
How good I look!

That’s a quick and honest answer.
I really do. Look at me.

How often do you change your hair?
I try to make it seasonal. So, yeah …

Looking good, thanks for taking the time!