Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Better than: Danny Brown's stained reputation might lead you to believe.
Attend a Danny Brown show on a Tuesday night in Oakland, and you'll quickly realize that there are a few certainties inherent in the experience.
You will doubtlessly witness a dizzying and impressive array of marijuana-related behaviors. Blunts will be rolled, offered, passed, dropped, hurled, and flicked. They will be smoked everywhere imaginable -- from the line that shivers and ripples 100 feet past the venue's entrance, to an ad hoc mosh pit, to the VIP section of the venue's balcony. Audience members will spark them dexterously while jumping up and down. They will puff them in the midst of aggressive makeout sessions. Security personnel will hand lighters to those whose ganja is scandalously, inexplicably unlit, and a man will spill his own doobie's ash onto his iPhone screen, then gently curse his clumsiness.
Another certainty: When Danny Brown rattles onto the stage in a neon zip-up, afro askew and resembling a cross-sectioned mushroom cloud, he will command every ounce of attention available. This isn't exactly a ton of attention, given that his opener, the L.A.-based crunk-psych quartet Overdoz, just jerked and throttled through an impressive 40 minutes of their own stuff (one of their central credos, we learn through studied repetition and call-and-response training, is as follows: "I wish I could fuck, smoke weed, and sleep all day, but I gotta get this money."). But it's enough to create the sort of frayed, half-manic environment in which Brown's music is most effective.
Up close, Brown is lanky and feline. Though it's hard to tell from more than 10 feet away, you feel pretty safe betting that his fingernails are creepily long. His voice is an infectious bray, and his raps pop off in abrupt, declarative statements. Among his first tunes is "WitIt," a relatively run-of-the-mill boast-banger. Set over a nerve-wracking sample that, depending on your state of mind, sounds like either a slasher film or a mountain lion approaching climax, it's loaded to the gills with your common hip-hop tropes -- money, women, substances, etc. Its trashiness is immediately jarring, but it's also effective when Brown uses it to contextualize himself a bit: "I don't know no Diddy/But I got dirty money and women." The Detroit rapper isn't aiming for a lofty lifestyle; he's just hoping to sate his most base whims. God knows he has before.
Soon thereafter, we have "Lie4," a clipped and catchy ode to class ascension. When Brown launches into the song's refrain, the crowd is right there to chant "I got that income tax swag!" with him. He's lost the windbreaker now and is wearing some sort of tight-fitting t-shirt/dress thing over his jeans. When he dances, he does so as if trying to shake out several different painful Charlie Horses that came on all at once in different zones of his body.
Yet another certainty: If nothing else, you will be won over by Brown's sense of humor -- even as the show erupts into a full-blown assault on the senses. "Oakland, what the fuck is up in this motherfucker?!" he shouts, before quickly dialing back his tone to something more coquettish. "My name's Daniel [banshee laugh]."
Equally funny are the lyrics to "Radio Song:" "They say you need a hit/A chart-topping single/That's why it's all commercial/Because you need a jingle." Though it may seem initially seem like a cop-out -- indeed, why not just produce a great radio hit rather than rapping around the idea of one? -- it ends up feeling like an incisive rejection of pop radio schlock. That the entire crowd knows every single word seems like a sort of poetic justice for Brown.
To an extent, your enjoyment of Danny Brown's live shows hinges on how eager you are for a contact high (in this journalist's case, not very eager), and how long you're willing to sit still and listen to someone shout about sex positions and their bank account. It's tempting to write him off as a loudmouth who delivers exquisitely filthy raps that are at best boisterous and jagged, but that's really only a half-formed critique. On the other side lies something exciting, if not hugely sophisticated. Something fun.
"Everyday is a motherfucking Saturday in Danny Brown's life!" he exclaims near the end of his set. We should all be so lucky.
Jokes, relating to Danny Brown's recent onstage antics, cracked on the way to the venue:
"I can't wait to see what pops up at this Danny Brown show."
"I'm excited to see what goes down at this Danny Brown show."