UTG EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: A-Trak Talks Danny Brown At Spotify Listening Party

Danny Brown Spotify Party

“He’s the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly. It worked, he’s so unique.”

Last week, Spotify, in collaboration with Fool’s Gold Records, held an industry-exclusive listening party for Danny Brown‘s new album, Old. The party featured a plethora of pizza, champagne, beer and stylish professionals. The event was in celebration of the exclusive streaming of the record through Spotify, one week earlier than it hits shelves.

The New York City headquarters are just as cool as you’d imagine, featuring a pinball machine, bar, and Spiderman themed wall murals. The office is trendy and sleek, and we only got to see an eighth of the full location. Snug on the third floor of a historic Manhattan building, it was the perfect location for a great evening.

Before streaming the album in its entirety, Danny Brown (equipped with a bottle of Hennessy) and prolific producer and record label executive, A-Trak, took the stage to give the room a proper introduction.

“There was a time in my life where I felt like I had to rap about selling drugs, I had to rap about shooting niggas, and I had to rap about all that bullshit just cuz my homeboys listen to that shit. Now I’m at a time in my life where I rap about what I’ve been through, with this album, pretty much, I just wanted to let people know where I came from and where I’m trying to go in the future of my life, I guess that’s ‘Old.’ At the end of the day everything becomes old and everything becomes new, that’s life in general. I guess this is just a new beginning for me with my old past. That’s ‘Old.’ Thank you guys for coming out.” -Danny Brown

Once the party cleared out, Under The Gun sat down with producer, DJ, and label-owner A-Trak on some swanky white couches. Check out below the jump for an UTG exclusive interview with A-Trak about Danny Brown’s newest album and growth as an artist, along with some photos from the event.

When did you first come across Danny Brown? You said earlier you saw a lot of potential in him. What was that potential realized?

I run Fool’s Gold with Nick Catchdubs, we’re partners and we do A&R together. So Nick brought him to my attention. We’ll just email each other, “Have you seen this guy? Have you seen that guy?” I believe there was an interview on The Fader blog, and a couple of his videos from The Hybrid album, “Best Rapper Ever” and some of that stuff. I remember watching a video interview of him and he was talking about how he didn’t really care about going after a major label deal and he had his sound that was very Detroit influenced. He knew what he wanted to do and he was going to just continue doing what he did, that’s the kind of thing when you run an independent label that will turn on the light bulb on, “This guy would be down for a conversation.” Sometimes we approach a rapper and they’re like, “Oh yeah it’s cool, but Warner offered me X amount of money.” We don’t want to play that game, you know?

I’m speculating, usually when we go after an artist they’re looking for deals and when there’s a conversation when we’re the indie on one hand and there is a major on the other hand and the artist is looking at both deals and the majors have much more money, it’s a conversation that we sometimes don’t even want to have because it’s not worth it.

First of all, loving the songs that I’d heard and seeing how much of a character he was, even just with his speaking voice, and seeing how level headed his objectives were in terms of where he wanted to take his career even just seemed appealing to us. I even just liked his name, “Danny Brown, I like it.” A friend of ours was managing him and the introduction was super-easy.

You mentioned before how he un-did his cornrows and made a “Frankenstein transformation” to this crazy charismatic character he is now. Do you think it was a transition he was conscious of or it happened naturally?

He was definitely conscious when he shaved off half of his head and straightened the rest of his hair and started wearing tighter jeans than me [laughs], that was definitely a conscious effort.

It seems like we caught him at a time where he was reaching a comfort level with himself, you know? Danny is a lot older than most “new” rappers, he’s one year older than me, he’s 32 now. We met him when he was about to turn 30, XXX is roman numerals for 30, the title of the last album. So this is someone who has lived enough to understand where he fits in or what his place is in the landscape. I think that right around the time that we met him, he was reaching a comfort level of, “You know what? I can be this left field alternative rapper, it’s OK.” There is a certain confidence level, and I like to think that by signing him we gave him just that extra little boost of a support system, really on the confidence level of “let me be free.” It’s been amazing to see that. He’s the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly. It worked, he’s so unique.

Were you really involved in the recording process of this new album?

Not the recording per se. So Nick and I executive produced the album, we were very involved with the shaping of what he would bring to us. So Danny records on his own, he finds beats, half the time I don’t even know where he gets these beats. Paul White who produced half of the album, I’d never even heard of him before and he’s an incredible psych-rock-beat-digger guy who makes great rap beats out of it. Danny’s very resourceful and he has a strong vision of where he wants to take his music. Where Nick and I come in is on the curatorial level, critiquing, helping pick the stronger songs, helping just nudge the project as it comes along. I actually got quite involved with the mixing, that’s something that I have expertise in. I really got involved with just making the album sound the way that I envisioned it. He would give us these raw materials, him rapping over a beat; we’d choose our favorite ones and get them mixed. Danny did the track order; he has a very clear vision on how he wants to present that.

Earlier you compared Danny to Ol’ Dirty Bastard. He’s definitely got a unique sound and some of his beats even sound electronic. Do you think he fuses genres?

Absolutely. He did a Reddit Ask Me Anything today and I was reading some of the questions and answers. One guy asked him what his favorite album was and he named an album by Love, the psychedelic rock group from the late 60s. I love Love. I was pleasantly surprised that that was his favorite record, then someone else asked him what album was the biggest influence on Old and he said Joy Division, Closer. I think he’s very aware of various genres, I know growing up in Detroit he used to go to raves and stuff like that. He knows so much hip-hop that he understands how to pull from these sources and turn it into hip-hop. He knows just how far left to take it, because sometimes it’s corny when people take it too far. He really pushes the envelope but it never feels like a full reach.

Why did you guys decide to do this exclusive stream through Spotify and this big party at the Spotify offices?

That was brought in really in the last few weeks, really short notice, but essentially as we were plotting the release, we wanted to do a stream a week before. It’s just something that we like that we think a lot of people are doing now-a-days. It was important to us for the commercial release to be synchronized with the digital and physical. We wanted to have a synchronized release, but we also wanted people to get a sort of peek of it a week before. Then we had to choose a streaming partner — Spotify seemed like clearly the best option, then came this idea of a listening party.

Do you think tonight went well?

Yeah, I’m very happy with tonight. Even just for us on this sort of “giving birth” level, we’re all just so happy because we’ve been living with this body of work since the beginning of the year. This album took shape during the course of the whole year, so we’re really happy to have it coming out, for people to hear it, and it was great to play it for people.

On another note- what can fans of A-Trak expect to see from you in the near future?

I’ve got the Duck Sauce album which is finished, so our next single for Duck Sauce is coming out in about a month. I’m working on an EP myself so there is going to be some new A-Trak songs coming soon. I’ve been collaborating with more rappers lately, similar to what I did, I’ve got a beat on Danny’s album. Getting beats, getting in the lab with my friends. I’m surrounded by great rappers, you know? So I’m doing more production, executive producing, more of the full-length on Fool’s Gold and then touring my ass off.

Click here to see UTG’s review of the album.

Written and conducted by: Derek Scancarelli
To see Derek’s concert photography, check out D. SKANK PHOTOGRAPHY.

Derek Scancarelli

Derek Scancarelli is a feature writer, interviewer, videographer, photographer, radio-er and more. In 2015, he received his MA in Journalism in New York City. In addition to Under The Gun Review, Derek has worked with Noisey (VICE), Alternative Press, New Noise Magazine and many more. He also pushes some buttons at SiriusXM.

Comedian Jim Norton once called him a serial killer on national radio. Enjoy the internet with him on Twitter.
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