Image via Peter Beste
Show your love of the game by subscribing to Passion of the Weiss on Patreon so that we can keep churning out interviews with legendary producers, feature the best emerging rap talent in the game, and gift you the only worthwhile playlists left in this streaming hellscape.
Danny Brown didn’t plan on quitting smoking weed when he checked himself into rehab earlier this year. He wanted merely to begin recovering from a particularly brutal pandemic, a years-long stretch of drinking, drugging, isolation and loneliness that culminated in a messy break-up with his former girlfriend. But when he got to rehab he found that he needed a more radical change than originally expected. The weed would have to go too, Danny thought, as he looked forward to beginning a new chapter of his life away from an ever-changing Detroit, having relocated to podcaster-haven Austin, earlier this year.
In the 12 years since Danny’s breakout mixtape, XXX, the Detroit rapper has rarely slowed down from a schedule of constant touring and recording music. He’s released four critically-acclaimed albums, each record earning its own special cult following. In recent years, he’s been welcomed into the often insular world of comedy. He films and records his own podcast while also making appearances on other more famous comedian’s shows. In fact, it was a drunken appearance on one of those podcasts that catalyzed the decision to check himself into rehab with the help of a grant from the Recording Academy’s Musicares program. Now, with nearly six months of sobriety under his belt and fresh off his first sober tour with JPEGMAFIA, he’s finally releasing Quaranta, a long-awaited unofficial sequel to XXX.
The majority of Quaranta, which means 40 in Italian, was recorded in the early days of the pandemic. It didn’t take shape as the spiritual successor to XXX until after the songs were recorded and everything assembled – which Danny says is usually his process when crafting an album. It’s an undeniably dense record with moments of chaotic instrumentation and rabbit-holed introspection. Danny grapples with his legacy, taking stock of everything that’s changed around him in the past decade. In Detroit, gentrification turned crack houses into organic gardens and drug spots into electric scooter charging ports. NPR reported in July that the city has made significant progress since it became the largest municipality to file for bankruptcy in 2013. But to Danny, Detroit’s inevitable rehabilitation has zapped out some of the magic that made the city special.
Danny possesses a rare vulnerability. He’s an artist who, for better or for worse, has allowed us into the spectacle of his actual life. A good portion of his music from the last five years has directly reckoned with the psychic damage of being constantly perceived as the funny, f*cked-up guy. The video for “Ain’t it Funny,” directed by Jonah Hill and starring Gus Van Sant, is premised around a sitcom where Danny plays the skeevy uncle to a wholesome white family, acting like an exaggerated version of himself by smoking meth and drinking hard liquor straight from the bottle. A laugh track kicks in as Danny sullenly tells the audience, “I have a serious problem…stop laughing.” It’s a not-so-subtle comment on the prison of celebrity and the pressure to remain a stagnated version of himself that’s marketable enough to make a living. Would people still love a sober Danny Brown?
He spends a good portion of Quaranta reconciling with everything he’s lost in pursuit of his dreams. Which isn’t to say he’s not grateful. Danny tells me that hes spent the better part of the past decade getting drunk before recording music or performing, with an attitude of “f*ck it, let’s just get this done.” On “Down Wit It,” Danny says “lifestyle of this music shit, had me on some stupid shit, never woulda’ thought it f*ck up who I’m closest with.” I can imagine Danny coming to these realizations in the early months of COVID, his life finally slowed down enough to meditate on what’s truly important to him, like his friends, family and health. If “Down Wit It,” is Danny wallowing in everything he lost, “Celibate,” featuring MIKE, finds Danny on solid ground, confident the worst is behind him. Over airy production, he says “I used to sell a bit, but I don’t f*ck around no more I’m celibate.”
His love for making music and performing in front of thousands of fans has only grown deeper since getting sober. He no longer dreads going to the studio and can actually remember his live performances. He tells me during a phone interview in November that he now spends his days at home recording music and nearly has his next project after Quaranta finished. It seems as if the Adderall Admiral has left active duty and chooses now to live his days in peace and quiet, or buried in work. After everything he’s given us, it’s well-deserved.