Strange Ways

Patrick Bowman
Photographed by Doug Coombe

For Danny Brown, being rap's biggest weirdo isn't so much a calculated shock tactic as an unyielding compulsion to be himself. The Detroit native is, and will probably remain, a deliriously talented outsider. He possesses a dexterous flow that lies somewhere between carnival barker and air horn, his derelict hipster fashion sense pretty much blew a deal with G-Unit (50 does not appreciate skinny jeans), and his Panic-at-the-Disco-via-Motown haircut and expressive gap-tooth visage became the muse for countless iconic GIFs.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of Billboard's Hot 100 can tell Brown's image and music are diametrically opposed to mainstream hip-hop (club bangers aren't his forte, either). And while his big-label relationships fizzled (Roc-A-Fella, G-Unit), Brown knew his work would be appreciated regardless of attention from A&R reps. "I realized [early on] that even if I never got anything going with my music, somebody might discover it someday," says Brown, "and it'd be like some cult-classic shit."

"Danny pretty much thinks as differently as anyone I know."    -- Mark McNairy, Men's Fashion Designer

But establishing that "cult icon" status has become imperative, and derivative, for any Internet MC, turning some rappers into meme-generating cartoons. Brown, on the other hand, can't turn his "weird" off. He's wanted to be an MC since kindergarten (augmenting his flow by reading Dr. Seuss with his mom) and wrote a song ("I Will") focusing on his genuine love of cunnilingus, complete with the hook "What he won't do, bitch, I will."

"Now, you have people trying to be weird because weird is cool. It's a trendy thing, any time someone comes along who's different, people try to copy that," Brown says. "As much as it looks like rap has changed and evolved, it hasn't."

But for all his apparent strangeness, Brown's talent remains palpable and vivid. This was especially evident after he dropped the batshit crazy, masterpiece of a mixtape XXX in 2011 to almost universal acclaim. Standout cut "Monopoly" is an unending barrage of surreal takedowns, a dis track with no apparent target, with threats ("Ready to hit the studio and shit all on your mixtape/No, literally, shit all on your mixtape") as legitimately menacing as they are laugh-out-loud funny.

"My music is an expensive, acquired taste," Brown explains. "You gotta have mature taste buds for my shit."

So far in 2012, Brown has killed damn near every guest spot he's gotten a hold of (check El-P's "Oh Hail No" for evidence) dropped the unabashed summer jam "Grown Up," and found himself as the unlikely subject of borderline heartthrob gushing. At Brown's concerts, his female fans are not shy ("I get too close to the crowd at shows, and girls always grab at my dick and shit.") and the rest of his fan base shows their love the only way they know how.

"[Fans] are always giving me drugs and shit," Brown laughs. "Usually Adderall. But I mean, that's cool. I'll take them."

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