Rico Nasty and Danny Brown's first meeting happens over a blunt. It’s rehearsal day, the morning before their Red Bull SoundClash, and the two are gearing up to face-off in front of hundreds of fans at Chicago’s Radius event space. Yet despite the looming competition, everyone’s all smiles and hugs as they smoke and talk about how excited they are to finally partner up after years of online friendship. And that’s exactly what the Red Bull SoundClash is all about.

A nationwide celebration of artistic collaboration, Red Bull’s spin on the traditional Jamaican soundclash reinvented the traditional concert experience by placing two artists on opposite ends of the room for a night of head-to-head live performances, featuring multiple rounds with everything from covers to rap battles to unreleased tracks to guest performers like Chicago’s The Era footwork crew. And the goal of this bonkers back-and-forth format? To put the audience center stage and have them crown a winner by cheering as loud as they can for their favorite performer.

Like all of the other Red Bull SoundClashes though, Rico and Danny’s showdown was less about one-upping each other and more about coming together for a one-of-a-kind gig highlighting their versatility and ability to hype up the crowd. So ahead of the SoundClash, PAPER spoke to both artists about their mutual admiration and prepping for the big night, as well as how they planned to get fans going and working together to put on a truly unforgettable show.

What made you want to do SoundClash?

Danny Brown: I was always a fan of what Red Bull was doing and I actually watch Jamaican soundclashes on YouTube. The whole culture’s always interested me, so I was down.

Rico Nasty: I’m excited for all of it. Danny's really nice and I'm excited to see my fans. I think it’ll just be really sick to be performing songs that aren’t even mine. I feel like that's really the fun part because we don't really do covers. And there's gonna be moments where I'm not performing and Danny's before me, and we'll be finishing each other's songs. We get to build that chemistry, and give each other notes on this part and that.

Danny: I’m a little nervous because this is something different. And I've never really done it before, so that’s another element to it. I just want everything to go smooth.

What do you admire the most about each other? Both as performers and musicians?

Danny: [Rico's] energy. A lot of females that rap, they’re trying to be pretty and have these, like, sexy smooth bodies. Rico’s on her own shit and I feel like that's probably more relatable to real women. One thing I’ll also say is that she's very consistent. I ain’t never heard nothing bad. All her shit to me is fire.

Rico: I really like [Danny's] flows. I like when you rap fast and I like his voice, but I've never gotten to see Danny Brown perform and I don't think he's gotten to see me, so this is a real clash.

It's also gonna be an opportunity to see somebody’s breath control when they rap fast, which he's been doing for a long time. He has a lot of tips and tricks that he probably does. I see it as a learning experience. I love when I can learn from people. I think that's what I'm excited about.

Also, the first time I heard Danny was through this artist, LSDXOXO, on Soundcloud back in like 2012 or 2013. It was him sampling Danny Brown's “I Will.” That’s how I became a fan. Deadass, that was the craziest shit I ever heard. I used to listen to it every day.

That’s something that’s so weird to me. I remember these moments in my life where I would listen to one song a lot. Just one song. It would play for like six months. It was a part of my life and, then, getting in this music shit and those literal same artists like give me the head nod or I get to do fun stuff with them, I think that is so fucking cool. If I could have told myself back then while I was listening to it, “You're gonna be able to do a show with this guy...” That's crazy. It's really weird how life be working like that.

How would you describe your typical performance style? How are you adapting this to fit the soundclash format?

Danny: One thing I pride myself in is always trying to make the performance sound as close to the actual record as possible. I don't know if I really execute that a lot of times, but I really try. You know, a lot of rappers rap over the actual fucking song and stuff like that, and I’ve always just rapped. I'm from Detroit, the open mic scene and shit like that. Those were my first times being on stages and performing, so I come from that element. To me, it’s just a rap. I don’t hide behind the music, I don’t try to perform extra crazy. I want people to know I can rap. I mean, I’m still gonna have fun. I’m not gonna sit here and act like I’m doing fucking lyrical exercises for 40 minutes because that’s not the case. I'm still partying and having fun, too.

Rico: I normally [mash up all the elements you’ll see] at the show in the studio, so it’ll be really fun to bring that to life and see the live reaction to you sharing some of your favorite songs with your fans. It’s really different. And sometimes, when I go to the studio, I'm looking for inspiration or I'm looking for something to take me out of a bad mood, so I get creative and put on certain songs. I'm probably going to do that at the SoundClash.

[For the actual performance], we'll do some rockstar shit. I've been looking at a lot of ‘70s, ‘80s rock performances. How they kind of just, you know, stare out into the crowd and do a cool little gaze around. I really like that shit because it looks really cool. And then I like running around a lot, too.

That is extremely glam rock. Are you gonna stage dive too?

Rico: I’ve never really ever done that. Maybe in our early days. The crowd diving is really fun though. I just don't do it because — I'm not gonna lie to you — sometimes my wigs don't be all the way glued on. I have a fear, that shit catching onto something and the whole wig comes off. That would be just crazy.

I would be sad about that. No one wants to lose their wig, unless it’s intentional and you took it off yourself. I don't know about me performing in a wig cap though, because we're all about the hair flips over here. The helicopter helicopter.

Coming out of COVID, has it been a little strange to go back to performing? Especially for an event like this, which is extremely high-energy and crowd-centric.

Danny: We've been out for about a year now, but it's been different after we all been cooped up. I mean, I've been in Texas and they don’t give a fuck out there, so I think my perception is probably warped.

Rico: I think people are just happy to get the fuck out the house, but I also feel like they've become hella desensitized to shit.

What do you mean?

Rico: It’s just... everyone's been so mental, you know? You do something for so long, you start to think that it's normal. Like, people do shit in the house that they don't really do outside. You don't do that shit at work. You don't do that shit at school. You don’t do that shit nowhere else. And now they’re bringing what they do in the house outside. They can’t separate the two.

Yeah, I agree that the internet’s blurred a lot of social boundaries, especially when you think about things like those viral videos of people getting in fights and hear these scary stories about people going overboard with drugs and shit.

Rico: It sometimes merges communities that don't need to be merged, you know? Some people that are young and have never done drugs. People that shouldn't be able to have access to the things that they have access to due to the internet. Like, you could literally see somebody smoking weed and then message them, “Where did you get that?” or “Who's your plug?”

I just feel like, overall, it’s been really weird. My biggest thing was being scared that people wouldn't do mosh pits after the pandemic and they’d be scared to touch one another, but they still be moshing! I mean, that's one thing that I've always been inspired by. The people that come to my shows are fucking fearless, especially the girls, because they really be raging and they really be moshing and go home to work the next day. They go crazy and I love it, but maybe it’s also more like we don't know the next time we're gonna have to be locked in like that again. We don't know the next time that human interaction will literally be taken away from us, so I think we all just want to party like it’s 1999.

I think that’s why Red Bull SoundClashes are so special because they have this friendly competitive spirit, but it’s definitely going to be a party.

Rico: Danny and I said that early on. We wasn't going to do that [aggressive battle] shit.

Danny: We just don't have the energy. It would be a whole different vibe if that energy was there, you know.

Rico: We're not going to like, make it headass or anything, because I think this is really about people just seeing our versatility.

Danny: We both winners at the end of the day.

Photos courtesy of Red Bull

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