Interview: Danny Brown on the Detroit Bankruptcy

Photographer Ross Mantle
August 07, 2013

A post-industrial perfect storm has been hammering Detroit for decades, culminating this July with the city's bankruptcy filing, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history both in terms of debt (~$20 billion) and population size (700,000, just 40% of the city's maximum in the auto-boom ’50s). Detroit rapper Danny Brown's 2011 album, XXX, offered a number of bleak portrayals of life there—for some insight into his approach, read Willy Staley's essay "What's Really Pornographic? The Point of Documenting Detroit," and Danny's FADER cover story, "Coming from Behind," in which Danny concludes, "Fuck the hood. Fuck Detroit, bruh." Two years later, his perspective hasn't much changed.

What do you think about the bankruptcy? At the end of the day, it's probably something that should've been done 10 years ago. For the entire time that I've been living—born and raised here—we always had some hope that shit was about to change. They was about to do this, to build some new shit. We always thought things would get better. But now I'm a grown ass man and it's worser. Ain't nothing changed. A new football stadium, new baseball shit, but economically it declined. You ride around and see how fucked up it is.

Are you proud to be from Detroit? I probably talked to you about this [for the FADER feature]. A lot of rappers are always about repping they hood, but for me it's always about getting out the hood. I moved to Royal Oak, that's where I still stay. I love Michigan. I might not like Detroit so much, but I love Michigan. Don't get me wrong—I do love Detroit, I just know we got problems. You listen to how I talk about Detroit, and you listen to how a rapper like Big Sean talk about Detroit, and it's like we're talking about two different cities. Which is probably true, because Detroit is that type of city—he went to the best high school in the city, you know, he probably was real spoiled or sheltered, so it's like two different worlds. He can look at it and talk about guap, and we don't have any.

It's funny, I don't think of him as from Detroit. To me he's just a rapper on the radio. A lot of people in Detroit don't consider him that either. They say he from LA now. He ain't been to the hood in years, and I wouldn't either if I was him, to be honest. It's not a bad thing. I'm in the hood every day now, so I see the faces, I see the desperation. I have a studio now that's five minutes from where I was born.

Stream: Danny Brown, "Fields"

What do other people you know think about the bankruptcy? At the end of the day, it's a lot of people who've never left Detroit, so they don't know what's bad or good. A lot of them feel like they love Detroit, they feel like it's fun, it's happy. It might be a piece a shit, but it's they piece of shit, so they gone treat it like it's gold. Once you leave and you see shit is better, you start thinking different.

What's the first thing you think when you get home after a tour? Taking a shit in my own toilet. [Heh-heh-heh-heeeh] The biggest difference between here and overseas is, we let you do what you want to do here. Just buying a soda overseas will be 10 times smaller. If you want to eat till you obese and kill yourself, we let you do that. Over there, you buy a pack of cigarettes and it has a picture of a nigga with mouth cancer on that bitch to make you change your whole mind. They try to take care of you over there.

Had you been in charge of Detroit, what would you have done differently? I would've been more concerned with youth shit, because that's where the future is. It's never really been a concern. I would've been concerned with fixing schools and community centers and things for kids to do with they time. Because that's who's out here shooting people, that's who's breaking into your house, that's who out here robbing. It's not grown men, because we've been through cases already, we scared to do shit, we don't want to go back to jail.

What's going to happen to the city? They trying to stress us out so much to make us leave, so they can take over. You can see neighborhoods now that were straight crackhead central, and now it's hipsters building gardens. In some sense, they want everybody from the city to move to the outskirts and suburbs so they can take over—not saying white people or black people, just rich people.

Since I've got you, I have to ask about Old. When is the album coming out? At this point I guess it's still supposed to be a secret. It's supposed to be really soon. Everything is done, the music is done,the videos is shot, the cover is done. I'm just waiting on Fool's Gold to push the button.

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Watch Danny Brown talk about his childhood neighborhood in this 2011 video for vitaminwater #uncapped.

Interview: Danny Brown on the Detroit Bankruptcy