11 Songs, 33 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

If there is an overarching concept behind uknowhatimsayin¿, Danny Brown’s fifth full-length, it’s that it simply doesn’t have one. “Half the time, when black people say, ‘You know what I'm sayin',’ they’re never saying nothing,” Danny Brown tells Apple Music. “This is just songs. You don't have to listen to it backwards. You don't have to mix it a certain way. You like it, or you don’t.” Over the last decade, Brown has become one of rap’s most distinct voices—known as much for his hair and high register as for his taste for Adderall and idiosyncratic production. But with uknowhatimsayin¿, Brown wants the focus to lie solely on the quality of his music. For help, he reached out to Q-Tip—a personal hero and long-time supporter—to executive produce. “I used to hate it when people were like, ‘I love Danny Brown, but I can't understand what he's saying half the time,’” Brown says. “Do you know what I'm saying now? I'm talking to you. This isn't the Danny that parties and jumps around. No, this the one that's going to give you some game and teach you and train you. I've been through it so you don't have to. I'm Uncle Danny now.” Here, Uncle Danny tells you the story behind every song on the album.

Change Up
“‘Change Up’ was a song that I recorded while trying to learn how to record. I had just started to build the studio in my basement. I didn't know how to use Pro Tools or anything. It was really me just making a song to record. But I played it for Q-Tip and he lost his mind over it. Maybe he heard the potential in it, because now it's one of my favourite songs on the album as well. At first, I wasn't thinking too crazy about it, but to him, he was like, 'No, you have to jump the album off like this.' It's hard not to trust him. He’s fuckin’ Q-Tip!”

Theme Song
“I made ‘Theme Song’ when I was touring for [2016’s] Atrocity Exhibition. My homeboy Curt, he’s a barber too, and I took him on tour with me to cut my hair, but he also makes beats. He brought his machine and he was just making beats on the bus. And then one day I just heard that beat and was like, ‘What you got going on?’ In our downtime, I was just writing lyrics to it. I played that for Q-Tip and he really liked that song, but he didn't like the hook, he didn't like the performance of the vocals. He couldn't really explain to me what he wanted. In the three years that we've been working on this album, I think I recorded it over 300 times. I had A$AP Ferg on it from a time he was hanging out at my house when he was on tour. We did a song called 'Deadbeat' but it wasn't too good. I just kept his ad libs and wrote a few lyrics, and then wrote a whole new song, actually.”

Dirty Laundry
“The original song was part of a Samiyam beat. He lives in LA, but every time he visits back home in Michigan he always stops over at my house and hangs out. And he was going through beats and he played me three seconds of that beat, and I guess it was the look on my face. He was like, 'You like that?' and I was like, 'Yeah!' I had to reform the way the song was written because the beats were so different from each other. Q-Tip guided me through the entire song: 'Say this line like this…' or 'Pause right there...' He pretty much just coached me through the whole thing. Couldn't ask for anybody better.”

3 Tearz (feat. Run the Jewels)
“I’m a huge fan of Peggy. We got each other's number and then we talked on the phone. I was like, 'Man, you should just come out to Detroit for like a week and let’s hang out and see what we do.' He left a bunch of beats at my studio, and that was just one. I put a verse on, never even finished it. I was hanging out with EL-P and I was playing him stuff. I played that for him and he lost his mind. El got Mike on it and they laced it. Then Q-Tip heard it and he's like, 'Aww, man!' He kind of resequenced the beat and added the organs. That was tight to see Tip back there jamming out to organs.”

Belly of the Beast (feat. Obongjayar)
“I probably had that beat since [2011’s] XXX. That actual rap I wrote for [2013’s] Old, but it was to a different beat. Maybe it was just one of those dry times. I set it to that beat kind of just playing around. Then Steven [Umoh] heard that—it was totally unfinished, but he was like, ‘Yo, just give it to me.’ He took it and then he went back to London and he got Obongjayar down there on it. The rest was history.”

Savage Nomad
“Actually, Q-Tip wanted the name of the album to be Savage Nomad. Sometimes you just make songs to try to keep your pen sharp, you know? I think I was just rapping for 50 bars straight on that beat, didn't have any direction. But Q-Tip resequenced it. I think Tip likes that type of stuff, when you're just barring out.”

Best Life
“That was when me and Q-Tip found our flip. We were making songs together, but nothing really stood out yet. I recorded the first verse but I didn't have anything else for it, and I sent Tip a video of me playing it and he called me back immediately like, 'What the f**k? You have to come out here this weekend.' Once we got together, I would say he kind of helped me with writing a little bit, too. I ended up recording another version with him, but then he wanted to use the original version that I did. He said it sounded rawer to him.”

uknowhatimsayin¿ (feat. Obongjayar)
“A lot of time you put so much effort when you try too hard to say cool s**t and to be extra lyrical. But that song just made itself one day. I really can't take no credit because I feel like it came from a higher power. Literally, I put the beat on and then next thing I know I probably had that song done at five minutes. I loved it so much I had to fight for it. I can't just be battle-rapping the entire album. You have to give the listeners a break, man.”

Negro Spiritual (feat. JPEGMAFIA)
“That was when Peggy was at my house in Detroit, that was one of the songs we had recorded together. I played it for Flying Lotus. He’s like, 'Man, you got to use this,' and I was like, 'Hey, if you can get Q-Tip to like it, then I guess.' At the end of the day, it's really not on me to say what I'm going to use, what I'm not going to use. I didn't even know it was going to be on the album. When we started mixing the album, and I looked, he had like a mood board with all the songs, and 'Negro Spiritual' was up there. I was like, 'Are we using that?'”

Shine (feat. Blood Orange)
“The most down-to-earth one. I made it and I didn't have the Blood Orange hook, though. Shout out to Steven again. He went and worked his magic. Again, I was like, 'Hey, you're going to have to convince Q-Tip about this song.' Because before Blood Orange was on it, I don't think he was messing with it too much. But then once Blood Orange got on it, he was like, 'All right, I see the vision.'”

Combat
“Literally my favourite song on the album, almost like an extra lap around a track kind of thing. Q-Tip told me this story of when he was back in the late ’80s: They'd play this Stetsasonic song in the Latin Quarter and people would just go crazy and get to fighting. He said one time somebody starts cutting this guy, cutting his goose coat with a razor, and [Tip] was like, 'You could just see the feathers flying all over the air, people still dancing.' So we always had this thing like, we have to make some s**t that's going to make some goose feathers go up in the air. That was the one right there. That was our whole goal for that, and once we made it, we really danced around to that song. We just hyped up to that song for like three days. You couldn't stop playing it.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

If there is an overarching concept behind uknowhatimsayin¿, Danny Brown’s fifth full-length, it’s that it simply doesn’t have one. “Half the time, when black people say, ‘You know what I'm sayin',’ they’re never saying nothing,” Danny Brown tells Apple Music. “This is just songs. You don't have to listen to it backwards. You don't have to mix it a certain way. You like it, or you don’t.” Over the last decade, Brown has become one of rap’s most distinct voices—known as much for his hair and high register as for his taste for Adderall and idiosyncratic production. But with uknowhatimsayin¿, Brown wants the focus to lie solely on the quality of his music. For help, he reached out to Q-Tip—a personal hero and long-time supporter—to executive produce. “I used to hate it when people were like, ‘I love Danny Brown, but I can't understand what he's saying half the time,’” Brown says. “Do you know what I'm saying now? I'm talking to you. This isn't the Danny that parties and jumps around. No, this the one that's going to give you some game and teach you and train you. I've been through it so you don't have to. I'm Uncle Danny now.” Here, Uncle Danny tells you the story behind every song on the album.

Change Up
“‘Change Up’ was a song that I recorded while trying to learn how to record. I had just started to build the studio in my basement. I didn't know how to use Pro Tools or anything. It was really me just making a song to record. But I played it for Q-Tip and he lost his mind over it. Maybe he heard the potential in it, because now it's one of my favourite songs on the album as well. At first, I wasn't thinking too crazy about it, but to him, he was like, 'No, you have to jump the album off like this.' It's hard not to trust him. He’s fuckin’ Q-Tip!”

Theme Song
“I made ‘Theme Song’ when I was touring for [2016’s] Atrocity Exhibition. My homeboy Curt, he’s a barber too, and I took him on tour with me to cut my hair, but he also makes beats. He brought his machine and he was just making beats on the bus. And then one day I just heard that beat and was like, ‘What you got going on?’ In our downtime, I was just writing lyrics to it. I played that for Q-Tip and he really liked that song, but he didn't like the hook, he didn't like the performance of the vocals. He couldn't really explain to me what he wanted. In the three years that we've been working on this album, I think I recorded it over 300 times. I had A$AP Ferg on it from a time he was hanging out at my house when he was on tour. We did a song called 'Deadbeat' but it wasn't too good. I just kept his ad libs and wrote a few lyrics, and then wrote a whole new song, actually.”

Dirty Laundry
“The original song was part of a Samiyam beat. He lives in LA, but every time he visits back home in Michigan he always stops over at my house and hangs out. And he was going through beats and he played me three seconds of that beat, and I guess it was the look on my face. He was like, 'You like that?' and I was like, 'Yeah!' I had to reform the way the song was written because the beats were so different from each other. Q-Tip guided me through the entire song: 'Say this line like this…' or 'Pause right there...' He pretty much just coached me through the whole thing. Couldn't ask for anybody better.”

3 Tearz (feat. Run the Jewels)
“I’m a huge fan of Peggy. We got each other's number and then we talked on the phone. I was like, 'Man, you should just come out to Detroit for like a week and let’s hang out and see what we do.' He left a bunch of beats at my studio, and that was just one. I put a verse on, never even finished it. I was hanging out with EL-P and I was playing him stuff. I played that for him and he lost his mind. El got Mike on it and they laced it. Then Q-Tip heard it and he's like, 'Aww, man!' He kind of resequenced the beat and added the organs. That was tight to see Tip back there jamming out to organs.”

Belly of the Beast (feat. Obongjayar)
“I probably had that beat since [2011’s] XXX. That actual rap I wrote for [2013’s] Old, but it was to a different beat. Maybe it was just one of those dry times. I set it to that beat kind of just playing around. Then Steven [Umoh] heard that—it was totally unfinished, but he was like, ‘Yo, just give it to me.’ He took it and then he went back to London and he got Obongjayar down there on it. The rest was history.”

Savage Nomad
“Actually, Q-Tip wanted the name of the album to be Savage Nomad. Sometimes you just make songs to try to keep your pen sharp, you know? I think I was just rapping for 50 bars straight on that beat, didn't have any direction. But Q-Tip resequenced it. I think Tip likes that type of stuff, when you're just barring out.”

Best Life
“That was when me and Q-Tip found our flip. We were making songs together, but nothing really stood out yet. I recorded the first verse but I didn't have anything else for it, and I sent Tip a video of me playing it and he called me back immediately like, 'What the f**k? You have to come out here this weekend.' Once we got together, I would say he kind of helped me with writing a little bit, too. I ended up recording another version with him, but then he wanted to use the original version that I did. He said it sounded rawer to him.”

uknowhatimsayin¿ (feat. Obongjayar)
“A lot of time you put so much effort when you try too hard to say cool s**t and to be extra lyrical. But that song just made itself one day. I really can't take no credit because I feel like it came from a higher power. Literally, I put the beat on and then next thing I know I probably had that song done at five minutes. I loved it so much I had to fight for it. I can't just be battle-rapping the entire album. You have to give the listeners a break, man.”

Negro Spiritual (feat. JPEGMAFIA)
“That was when Peggy was at my house in Detroit, that was one of the songs we had recorded together. I played it for Flying Lotus. He’s like, 'Man, you got to use this,' and I was like, 'Hey, if you can get Q-Tip to like it, then I guess.' At the end of the day, it's really not on me to say what I'm going to use, what I'm not going to use. I didn't even know it was going to be on the album. When we started mixing the album, and I looked, he had like a mood board with all the songs, and 'Negro Spiritual' was up there. I was like, 'Are we using that?'”

Shine (feat. Blood Orange)
“The most down-to-earth one. I made it and I didn't have the Blood Orange hook, though. Shout out to Steven again. He went and worked his magic. Again, I was like, 'Hey, you're going to have to convince Q-Tip about this song.' Because before Blood Orange was on it, I don't think he was messing with it too much. But then once Blood Orange got on it, he was like, 'All right, I see the vision.'”

Combat
“Literally my favourite song on the album, almost like an extra lap around a track kind of thing. Q-Tip told me this story of when he was back in the late ’80s: They'd play this Stetsasonic song in the Latin Quarter and people would just go crazy and get to fighting. He said one time somebody starts cutting this guy, cutting his goose coat with a razor, and [Tip] was like, 'You could just see the feathers flying all over the air, people still dancing.' So we always had this thing like, we have to make some s**t that's going to make some goose feathers go up in the air. That was the one right there. That was our whole goal for that, and once we made it, we really danced around to that song. We just hyped up to that song for like three days. You couldn't stop playing it.”

TITLE TIME

More By Danny Brown