Danny Brown’s got one foot on the monitor in the Academy, headbanging, lurching forward and pulling out the devil horns, egged on by the swirling mosh pit and flying ping-pong plastic pints. It wouldn’t look out of place if you dubbed some Slayer over the top, instead of stabby synths and stuttery kick drums. It’s one of the many contradictions that make Brown so engaging – the “hipster by heart” skinny-jeaned Detroit rapper with the metal poses and techno beats; the self-styled pill-popping party animal who tweets about his own mental health issues; the new hip-hop kid on the block who only broke through in his 30s.
Brown’s in Dublin on the Old Danny Brown tour, and the ODB acronym isn’t too far off the alter-ego he’s created on his albums Grown Up, XXX and Old. He’s hip-hop’s molly-brained, gap-toothed crazy fool in a “blunt after blunt rotation”. Latest album Old backtracks a bit from this persona, split into two distinct sides, mixing rollover drug hits with his comedown demons and reflections on growing up dirt poor in Detroit, living off food stamps and dodging dope fiends. On Old’s title track he laments that “they want that old Danny Brown”, but that old Danny Brown is the one who’s selling out shows on both sides of the Atlantic – the hyped up mosh machine armed with vicious grime beats and churning dubstep drops.
Brown’s live show also shits all over hip-hop cliche, not least his support act Vic Mensa, who honestly does play House of Pain’s Jump Around, then splits the crowd down the middle to see if the right side is more muthafuckin crazy than the left. Mortified. Brown travels light and gets on it straight away – no hype man to prop him up, no stop-start antics, no choreographed hand sways, and not a single T-shirt to flog. It’s heavy on Old’s B Side material, with producer and DJ SKYWLKR dropping bass-heavy hitters Break It (Go), Side B (Dope Song) and Handstand early on, playing full tracks with no spin-backs or air horns. On record, Brown summons a range of voices to spin his tall tales, but on stage it’s the deranged staccato squawk that rules – part ODB, part Dizzee Rascal, part Zed from Police Academy.
There’s no off switch, no interludes, just a constant tizz of harsh kickdrums, brittle trap and electro, front row high-fives and more tongue protrusion than Miley Cyrus on form. Introspective Danny is left at home, so the set is split between songs about getting wasted (Molly Ringwold, Blunt After Blunt), giving head (Lie4, Handstand) or both. The only let-up is the sugary chorus of 25 Bucks, sampled from the Purity Ring collaboration, and the woozy refrain of Kush Coma. Call and response choruses are roared back on beat, social commentary blitzed in the football terrace chants of Smokin’ and drinkin’ and Dip.
So he sticks to his own script after all – and stays true to the mantra of keep them wanting more. Bounding onstage at 9pm, he’s wrapping up as the second hand approaches 10. Bang on the hour, no encore – a typical summer festival set dropped into a drizzly February school night. It’s cheeky enough, but he’s earned his pay cheque, according to the sweaty mosh pit survivors lining up next door to catch him next door at the Twisted Pepper after-party. They want more of that old Danny Brown.
Originally published in State. Photos by Aisling Finn for Golden Plec