Danny Brown hasn't picked up a trumpet for at least 20 years, but when his childhood years spent on the instrument come up in conversation, the emcee quickly points out similarities between his former and current weapons of choice.
"It makes sense if you listen to the way I rap," says the rapper, a dyed-in-the-wool Detroit native who was born Daniel Sewell. "I don't really ride the beat. I weave in and out, and then with the sound in my voice, it's like I'm tryin' to do a trumpet solo."
It's an astute observation — Brown's inflections are stretchy, loud, off-kilter and occasionally obnoxious — from someone who overflows with peculiar and astute observations. Though just hitting his stride in the hip-hop and indie music worlds at 31, his interest in rap dates back to at least kindergarten. One time he rapped during show and tell. But after accumulating a back story rife with tantalizing bits — jail time, crack dealing and having a house DJ for a father among them — the rapper began gaining attention and growing more prolific in 2010.
Brown calls himself "The Hybrid," a reference to his 2010 record of the same name that also does an excellent job of encapsulating his style. The man is both open-minded and resourceful, willingly trying different tones on different songs. He's inspiring and self-effacing on "Grown Up," hostile and gritty on "Greatest Rapper Ever," trippy and sardonic on "Monopoly" — while nailing the right notes, mostly. He's as entertaining as he is doggedly individualistic.
For a glimpse inside Brown's brain, take his comments on the development of "I Will." The track off his acclaimed 2011 mix tape, "XXX," covers his love for performing cunnilingus in graphic, cheeky detail. Aside from being a tool for flirting and bragging, "I Will" functions as a counter to all the misogynistic humor Brown found on his own record. Because several hip-hop songs are about men receiving oral sex, why not pen one about giving it, too?
"I figure girls can't look at me like I'm misogynistic if I get on my knees for 'em, you know?" he says. "I did it for a whole song. Now I can say as many dick-sucking jokes as I want."
Also, Brown has dreams beyond his genre. In his high-school days, he dissected popular picks for best-records-ever lists — say, the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" — to figure out what made them work. He maintains vague ambitions of someday becoming a David Bowie-type performance artist, leading a band or, most important, being regarded as more than just a rapper.
"I don't feel like I'm doing nothing different than any other songwriter. I'm a songwriter. I just don't like that tag 'rapper.' Only reason I rap is because of the environment I was raised in. That's what we listened to and that's what was around me. If I grew up in the suburbs, I'd probably be in a band," Brown says. "I was going to be a musician regardless." S
Danny Brown performs with A$AP Rocky, A$AP Mob and Schoolboy Q on Friday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m., at the National, 708 E. Broad St. Tickets cost $25 in advance and $28 at the door. For information, go to thenationalva.com.