Danny Brown Explains Why He Can't Play the New 'Grand Theft Auto' Game That He's In

Danny Brown
Tom Keelan

Danny Brown

"I just hate to hear my own voice," the rapper, who closes a busy year with the Rockstar Games collaboration, tells Billboard.

Danny Brown has already made a case for himself as the greatest rapper ever; now, he wants to expand his reign. 

Over the past few years, Brown has stretched his artistic muscles outside of his solo music career by starting a rap crew, acting in White Boy Rick, creating Danny's House for VICE TV, and now, hosting a radio show and having a character in the new edition of Grand Theft Auto.

All of these ideas emanate from the radically creative mind of Brown, who sees the various entities as somehow related. "For some reason, I feel like everything I do helps me with my music. Things always work with each other in some type of way. I can't really explain it, but doing the movie helped me out with the TV show a lot. Doing the TV show helped me do the voice over stuff. Everything's linked together," he explains over the phone, relaxing at home after a grueling tour in support of his stellar new LP, uknowhatimsayin¿. That album, executive-produced by Q-Tip, found Brown moving away from the brash humor of his earlier LPs, showcasing a more mature and introspective style that mirrors his more refined approach to songwriting.

"It takes a long time to mature into the business, to figure it out," he explains. "I'd tour, get off tour, spend all my money on partying and drinking. But now, when I get off tour I wanna spend two months drinking water. At my house, I don't want to hear any loud music." 

Brown's history of drug use have been relentlessly chronicled, but since quitting most recreational drug use, he's used all down time on exploring other projects. "Every off day during this tour I would find a way to get back to New York and meet up with the Rockstar guys. I'd leave, and meet back up with the tour," he says. His affiliation with Grand Theft Auto is among a litany of new opportunities that only seem to be growing as Brown approaches 40 years old.

How did you initially link up with Rockstar Games?

I've always been cool with the guys over at Rockstar. I played the lifeguard in Grand Theft Auto V [laughs]. I had connected with them when I was still with my prior manager, before Dart [Parker]. That was forever ago. The process was hectic, though. I was on tour. You gotta do what you gotta do when it's Grand Theft Auto. That's one of the best things in media history.

Did you play the game when you were younger?

I played a little bit. I can't play the new one, though. It's hard when I'm involved. It's amazing, I just hate to hear my own voice. It's weird, it makes me a little bit shy. ... For some reason music is different for me. Maybe it's because I've been doing it for so long, but it doesn't matter to me with music. Hearing myself in Grand Theft Auto was just so fucking surreal. I don't know whether to enjoy myself or shed a tear [laughs]. I don't wanna get emotional playing a video game.

How did you go about picking the artists you featured on the radio station?

Rockstar just hit me up and asked me to send a big list of stuff I thought was dope. They had a few things they wanted to see on there, too. I put some stuff on there that I thought would be too far-fetched, but I forgot it's Rockstar and they can clear fucking anything [laughs]. It was curated by all of us together, I can't take all the credit.

You hit most of the United States on your most recent tour. How exhausting was it using your off days to work on this project?

The shitty part is that for some reason, every time you go on tour, you end up getting sick. I just had a little cold the entire time. It's hard to nurse yourself all the way back to 100%. You get yourself good enough to do a show, then the next morning you feel like shit. But it's Rockstar, when they call, you gotta answer. It was an honor for me to do it, and I had fun hanging out with those guys.

You've done a bunch of non-music media stuff these past few years, with the TV show this year and White Boy Rick last year. Are you trying to diversify the way you create art?

Of course. I don't put out music that consistently. I have a lot of down time. Most of that time I am working on some music, but it's not as serious as the album process. It's nice to express myself creatively in different ways, because if you just sit in the house for a while, you end up getting cabin fever. I start going crazy. I always need to work more, to keep my mind busy.

Do you want to do more voiceover work?

Hell yeah, I'd love to! There was a point in time where I was trying really hard, doing auditions and stuff. But that's a really competitive game! A few people get a lot of the jobs. If I do get stuff like that, it's them reaching out to get Danny Brown. It's less about my voiceover talent. But I'm studying and trying to get better at it. It's something I wanna do. I'm putting my best foot forward. I'm not treating it as a game or side project. I'm highly committed to it.

Is it frustrating trying to do voiceover acting work and people just want you to do the Danny Brown voice?

Yeah! I try to do different stuff sometimes. They're like, “Naw, we don't want that!” You gotta give the people what they want, though. I can't be mad at it.

Have you reflected on how much you’ve accomplished this year?

Mhm. I'm blessed. It's been a blessed year. I had a lot of stressful years being in the entertainment industry. Putting out albums is hard. You work on it for so long that it becomes almost scary. I had a lot of sleepless nights not knowing how people were gonna receive the music. To be able to do other stuff makes it a lot less stressful. Also, though, working with someone like Q-Tip made it a lot less stressful. I'm just happier. I had fun this year. I had fun working, which is cool. Working used to be stressful, now it's not. That's dope.

Have you gotten better at having more fun with music?

I don't think I got better, but everything comes with time. I've been doing music for a decade. I'm learning how to do things in moderation a lot better. I used to get everything thrown at me so fast that I'd enjoy it as the fruits of my labor. Now I know how to sit back and smell the flowers a little bit.

And maybe the non-musical projects provide some kind of relief, considering how intensely you take your musical craft.

I evolve. I'm constantly learning, whether it's music or acting. I never feel like the job is done. I learned so much making music with Q-Tip, and I've been making music my whole life! I keep an open mind, even with things I think I know a lot about. That makes me better. Before, I didn't give a fuck what people thought. It'd be my way, no other opinions allowed. Now I'm a little more receptive to constructive criticism.