Last year, Danny Brown premiered a documentary about his triumphant return to performing in his hometown of Detroit after years of not touching the stage there. The movie, called Live at the Majestic and helmed by Emmy-winning director Andrew Cohn, captures Brown onstage at Motown's historic Majestic Theater. It also follows the rapper in his day-to-day life, features footage of his early days, and documents the making of his breakthrough album XXX. In addition, it spends time with several diehard fans, showing how Brown's music has impacted their lives.
The movie has had very limited screenings, but it is about to be available to everyone. On November 7, you'll be able to see Live at the Majestic for yourself on Apple Music. You can see an exclusive trailer for it above. And if you're going to be in Detroit later this month, you can see Danny and a gang of special guests perform at Bruiser Thanksgiving 4—a very special show that will benefit Inside Out Detroit. Grab your tickets here.
We got Danny on the phone while he was on tour in Scandinavia to talk about seeing yourself on camera, meeting your fans, and his burgeoning career as a sketch comic.
Live at the Majestic had some screenings last year. How did it come to have a wide release now?
To be honest, I can't answer that question. I don't know. [laughs] It's just something I always wanted to do, was to make a live album with a live DVD or something. But it turned into a documentary. And it's cool, 'cause we followed these three kids that are Danny Brown fans, watching them walk through life, how they relate to my music. It was a real humbling experience.
What was it like for you to see the footage of them talking about you and your music?
It kinda fucked me up. All my music is just me venting, like therapy. It’s me putting out all my negative shit that I'm goin' through. And these people are receiving that shit, and they goin' through the same shit, but eventually for both of us, there's a way to get it out. Like therapy, so a negative turns into a positive, you know?
Did you meet them at any point during the process?
I mean I don't wanna give away too much, but yeah, I meet 'em in the documentary.
Actors and filmmakers often have trouble watching their own work. Can you still watch the movie?
I mean I watched it a few times. But the thing with me is I'm a huge fan of documentaries, or just music docs in general. So I’d rather watch a Black Sabbath one than watch me, or watch something else that I can learn from. I saw it a few times, so I know what it is. A couple of scenes is still embarrassing for me, you know? 'Cause it's me, pure unfiltered. I don't know how to censor myself when it comes to being in front of people. So there's a couple things that are embarrassing to me still.
You had cameras following you around for two years; how do you get used to that?
[Director Andrew Cohn] was working on so much other stuff that it was when he could fit me in to shoot. And [it was] based on my schedule, too. So it wasn't two years straight. It was almost like a catch up every three months. So in some sense, I was getting used to him. I’d miss him a little bit, I’d wanna see him, that's my homie. [laughter] So it was kind of cool to kick it, because it gave me a reason to do shit.
When you watched the movie, did learn anything about yourself?
Yeah. I learned that I need to take better care of myself [laughter]. And it makes me a little emotional. That's probably why I don’t watch it. There's one scene, where it's like the end of the movie after the show is over, and you see me at home by myself, and it's just me and my cats. And that's when it hit me, like, I’m around all these thousands of people screaming and having fun, but at the end of the night I'm just still at home by myself with cats. It’s like, "Damn, I'm like a fuckin' hermit? A lonely, depressed..." you know? It made me start wanting to get out more. Maybe start enjoying life more, I don't know.
The movie centers around your show at the Majestic Theater. That was your first headlining show in a long time in Detroit, right?
It was my first show in Detroit in a long time, period. I don’t play in Detroit much. If I play in Michigan, I'm usually playing in Grand Rapids or somewhere outside of Detroit. Not much comes to Detroit, unless it's like Young Jeezy. Either Young Jeezy or The Strokes [laughter]. No middle ground.
What was it like headlining at the Majestic after hanging out there so much in the past?
To be honest with you, there's a reason God or whatever higher being doesn't want me to play shows in Detroit—because it's too stressful for me. I have to deal with my family, I have to deal with all my friends and a lot of people that don't even listen to my music, or ever even thought I would get this far with what I'm doin', but now they're all there.
I always like to keep my job separate from my family. But when I do a show in Detroit, I have no choice but to involve my family, you know? That's the hardest part, like I don't want my mom to come to my shows. But my mom wants to come to my shows. I don’t want my dad around, but my dad's always around, you know? [laughter] When it comes to music. I would love to have them around personally, but it's just like, everybody comes out when the music comes out. But that's what I'm saying: at the end of the night, when you see me, when it's all over with, there's none of those people there. But everybody wanna get 'em lit. So it's a reason I don't do shows in Detroit.
Part of the film features you looking back on a difficult period of your career—when you were in your twenties,and not finding the audience you wanted and not doing the kind of music you wanted. What was it like to think about those years and to see footage from those years?
To be honest, that makes me the happiest out of the whole film, to see myself back in those times. That was the time when I'd just recently got outta jail and I wasn't sellin' drugs no more. I was living in my grandma's basement, didn't have no money, just broke as fuck and was able to accept that. 'Cause I was coming from where I wasn’t broke as fuck, where I was wearing the flyest shit you could think of, all the high designer shit, having of thousands of dollars in my pocket every day; to after gettin' outta jail, and just sayin', "Fuck that," and surviving off of nickel bags and loosie cigarettes. So it takes me back to that time.
And as fucked up as that was, I think I was my happiest, because I wasn't doing any hard drugs at that time. There was no such thing as Molly, or me doin' coke or nothin'. I couldn't even afford to do hard drugs at that time [laughter]. I remember me, at that time, I was always just so depressed about wanting to become an artist and wanting to be in the music industry. And by the time I got in it, I already had addiction problems. I think I was just a lot happier at that time and a better person, to be honest. I was pure. I was a pure soul. Even though I was past 25 already. But it's still like I was a baby, gettin' into somethin' that I didn't realize that I was gettin' into, you know? Now I'm full-fledged in the belly of the beast, and it's like fuck, lemme cut my way out.
You said you're a very "look to the future"-type person. Has the process of doing this documentary made you more interested in documenting your own career or your own past?
I wouldn’t say documenting, but just seeing me more in films. It’s the next level for me. I just recently finished a movie and I've just been doin' a lot of TV stuff. Acting and just comedy in general is my big deal. I just hired an acting coach. I'ma have a lot of time off in the winter, so I'mma do a lot of improv classes. I just wanna get into that. Like, I wouldn't mind being hired at Second City, you know?
Maybe we'll see Danny Brown the improv comic soon.
Yeah, I'm actually gonna try it. I’m dead serious [laughter]. Detroit Second City, get ready for my audition [laughter].
That's awesome. Why else do you want people to watch Live at The Majestic?
For people that wanna be a musician or an artist, it shows the growth and the progress that it takes, and the patience that it takes, to get to where you wanna get to. But also, to me, it's looking at the other people and seeing how my music reflects on them.
I would say, for the artists that watch it, just know that the words they say and the music that they make, people take serious. So it made me more aware of what I talk about in my music and how I wanna present and put myself out there to the world, by seeing these three people. I affected their lives with shit that I'm just havin' fun with, makin' in the studio. So it made me take it a lot more serious, and I hope a lot of other people just take shit more serious. I feel like when XXX came out, wasn't nobody talking about doing drugs in their music. Everybody was selling drugs, or they were like this cool playboy. And now, in this day and age, you got all these rappers talking about doing drugs.
I've seen the way music affects these people. A lot of this shit, I wouldn't have gotten into it if it wasn't for rap music. So, I just wanna let people know that people do take shit literally and you gotta just be careful with what you talk about, if you’re not honest. I was talking about what I was doing. A lot of these people are just saying it for entertainment purposes, but you really do have these kids out here trying these drugs. It’s not cool.
I have to ask: speaking of music, do you have any new music on the way?
Yeah. I'm working on my next album right now. I can't really talk too much about it. I would just say it's being produced by one producer, who’s legendary in hip-hop. And it's gonna be a big deal [laughter].
Anything else you want people to know about Live at The Majestic or whatever else you've got going on? Your guest spot on 30 Rock or whatever?
Nah, I wouldn't say 30 Rock. I would be on Detroiters. You know, Comedy Central is my family. Adult Swim’s my family. So I’ll be doing stuff with them a lot. And I'm in the White Boy Rick movie with Matthew McConaughey, so that comes out in January. We'll see my acting debut with that.
Get ready for me to be on the screen more and involved in comedy more. Maybe one day, Live at The Majestic might be Live at The Majestic, a comedy album, I don't know. I just know I'm gonna be making music a hobby again and not a job, and I'm blessed to be able to do that. I'm able to make money in other places now, and so I don't have to concentrate on doing 300 shows a year. Whereas some other artists don't have that chance. So I'm able to transfer my career into other avenues and I’m taking advantage of it.
So this movie about a live show marks good-bye to your heavy touring artist days?
I wouldn't say that. If you pay like you weigh, I’mma be there. But just know that music, right now, I'm not looking for it to be my number one means of income. So I'm not hopping up and waking up for a dollar just to make music anymore, where I probably would've two years ago. And I'm not Drake or Kanye rich to say shit like that. But I'd rather put that money or that time into something else that might make me more money in the future.