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Danny Brown Comes Clean: ‘I Didn’t Know How Long I Was Going To Be Living’

Fresh out of rehab, he’s rapping better than ever and trying to stay away from drugs and alcohol

Danny Brown

Photograph by Justin J Wee

Danny Brown sits quietly at a hotel restaurant table in Manhattan’s West Village, staring off into the distance with a stoic expression. The outdoor seating area is absent of any other guests besides the rapper and his manager, but he’d stand out even in a crowded room: Today he has on a vibrant look that includes a blue-gradient collared shirt, an extremely baggy pair of jeans, and the bright red, Astro Boy-esque MSCHF boots that had the internet in a chokehold earlier this year. When a waiter comes by to take any beverage orders, Brown immediately asks him to take away the alcohol menu. “I’m in a good space mentally,” he says afterward. “I’m happy and stuff. I just don’t want to be around that right now.”

This interview was originally planned to take place in Detroit, Brown’s hometown and the place where his addiction issues began. Instead, we’re here in New York on an afternoon when Canadian wildfire smoke has blanketed the city in a gray haze. Since relocating from Detroit to Austin in 2021 — and especially since going to rehab this spring — Brown, 42, has been trying to take on a healthier lifestyle. When the waiter returns, he orders duck breast and a Coke.

Brown’s fondness for drugs and alcohol has been a key subject of the music that made him one of the wildest, most acclaimed rappers of his generation, going back to his breakthrough 2011 album, XXX, where he rapped about taking shots of Hennessy spiked with Molly and “sniffing Adderall off the counter in my kitchen.” Listening to him back then felt like falling backward off a cliff — his songs were filled with adrenaline, euphoria, and an uncertainty that felt thrilling.

Brown has warm memories of recording XXX during off hours at a Detroit studio where he knew an engineer. “I’d be having to wake up at five in the morning, and we’d sneak in there and he’d give me an hour or two to knock out what I can,” Brown recalls. “I’d probably knock out three or four songs.” In retrospect, that time was also tinged with hints of darkness. “I was wilding,” he continues. “I had just started experimenting with drugs and shit. That was when it was the fun stages. But I was old enough to know what I was getting myself into.”

Life changed drastically for him following the release of XXX. He began touring heavily as he entered his thirties, making consistent money off of music for the first time. “Back in those times, I would make albums and I would stress myself out so much about the reception of it,” he says. “I would almost do drugs to cope with that shit. I wouldn’t sleep. Be up worried that if people said it sucked, my career is over.”

Brown sees his seventh studio album, Quaranta, due out this fall, as a chance for closure. It’s his most personal album by far, a confessional spurred by pain, isolation, and hitting rock bottom. Compared with his past works, he sounds more serious and focused, taking aim at his own shortcomings along with mediocre rappers. “It was almost like, ‘I got to get it out,’” he says. “I didn’t know how long I was going to be living. It was one of those ‘I’m going to say what the fuck I want to say on this shit. I’m going to let everybody know how I’m feeling.’”

As we talk, a man walks by the table and engages Brown in conversation about the changes in fashion among younger generations, sparked by those viral boots. Soon he’s offering to sell us some weed. “He would’ve been my homie a year ago,” Brown says with an exhale as the stranger walks away disappointed. “I didn’t have any intentions of stopping smoking weed. I was just going to rehab for drinking. But once you get in there, you learn so much shit.”

In late March, after a disastrously drunk podcast appearance where he criticized his label, Warp Records, Brown checked into rehab thanks to a grant provided by the Recording Academy’s Musicares program. “I started eating healthy when I was in there because they had good-ass food,” he says. “The rehab that I went to, it’s fucking $50,000-a-month rehab.”

Along with a healthier diet, Brown found faith, spirituality, and a new outlook on life in rehab. A decade ago, the idea of death scared him. “I was scared of this shit,” he says. “Now, I just look at it like, ‘Man, when it’s the time, it’s the time.’ It’s almost like life is a school, and when you die, it’s graduation. When the higher power is ready for you to graduate, you’ll graduate. And obviously, I haven’t done what I’m supposed to here.”

This realization didn’t strictly begin during his sobriety, he admits: “I had a crazy-ass mushroom trip one time where I saw my grave and shit. So ever since then, I became a lot more comfortable with it.”

As recently as last summer, he claims, he was taking up to 14 grams of psilocybin mushrooms each day. “I think that really fucked my brain up,” he says. “Because I can lay down and get ready to go to bed, and I can see visuals and shit. A person that never took mushrooms before, they’d be freaked out by the shit I see when I close my eyes.” These days, he’s sleeping eight to 10 hours a night. “I guess I’m catching up for all the sleep that I wasn’t getting when I was drugging. And I’m having vivid, movie dreams.”

Brown has arguably never been sharper as a rapper than he is right now. Quaranta comes after his 2019 album, uknowhatimsayin¿, executive-produced by Q-Tip; his surprise collab with JPEGMAFIA this year, titled SCARING THE HOES; and perhaps best of all, a skull-liquefying verse on billy woods’ “Year Zero.” “I still love hip-hop,” Brown says. “I got to the point where I stopped worrying about the negative and started just looking at all the positives about it.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember much about that session with billy woods, due to being blackout drunk at the time. “I was an alcoholic; I am an alcoholic,” he says. “I was walking around the Lower East Side, stopping at bars, drinking everywhere.… I probably shouldn’t have gone based on where I was at physically. But when you’re blacked-out drunk, you’re trying to do whatever’s fun. I’m like, ‘What? billy woods at the studio? Fucking let’s go over there!’ I went over there and rapped. And I don’t even remember that shit.”

He wrote most of Quaranta at the Bruiser Brigade house in Detroit, where Brown and the artists signed to the label he founded would stay and work on their own projects all day. It was a rough time for Brown: He was going through a bad breakup, and he’d moved to rapidly gentrifying downtown Detroit just as the pandemic set in. “I’m stuck in this fucking penthouse apartment,” he says. “Can’t even have guests over. The security at the door. I’m in there by myself, depressed, doing fucking coke and getting drunk every night by myself.”

At the same time, he was facing financial pressure due to shows getting canceled, including a booked European tour. “I literally was going broke,” he says. “All my savings went bad. My credit card was over. But I was putting it on myself, too. I was doing drugs still. Before I know it, I just sniffed up my house, and I’ve got no money coming in.”

In the past year, he’s been rethinking his early life in Detroit in the Eighties. For the most part, he had a good home life as a kid, with incentives like video games to distract him from going into the streets. Knowing Brown was into rap music, his dad got him a set of turntables to record. “I was raised around low-budget studio equipment,” he says. “I didn’t get to go to a real studio until I turned 18 and I got my own money — and by then, I already knew how to fucking do shit.”

He says that he and his siblings were often left unsupervised by their young parents: “In some sense, they still wanted to be kids too. They wanted to be able to live their life. My mom still wanted to go to the nightclub on weekends. So she’d leave us with anybody who will watch us — uncle or somebody, cousin type shit. And that’s where we got into a lot of the bad shit that kids aren’t supposed to be getting into.”

But he’s also learning to take accountability for his actions. He’s been practicing the Serenity Prayer, which he learned in rehab. In his mind, making an album like Quaranta — a cathartic release of everything he was going through before getting help with his drug and alcohol problems — is a chance for him to start over.

“It’s almost like that was my way of just getting shit out,” he says. “I was so fucking caught up in ‘Am I going to live tomorrow?’ It was almost like, if I died, this is what I have to say. That’s where I was at with it. This is all my shit.”

From Rolling Stone US