Danny Brown's latest album, Old, which is available to stream on Spotify right now, makes clear that he's truly a student of the game. Danny doesn't just know how to rap, he's studied the art of rapping—and other forms of music too.
Brown has talked about how influential Dizzee Rascal and E-40 were to his style of rapping but his musical inspirations extend way beyond hip-hop. We knew his taste was eclectic, but even we were surprised at the diversity of his selections. From Cam'ron to Korn to Arthur Lee and Love, here are Danny Brown's 25 Favorite Albums.
This feature is a part of Complex's Danny Brown Week.
25. Lil B, 6 Kiss (2009)
Danny Brown: "If you look at that album right now, it's influenced so much of what's going on right now. In this day and age, that album is a holy grail. A lot of us wouldn't be around if it wasn't for that album. That's the first time we heard Clams Casino. How many songs have we heard songs named after somebody? He started so much shit. You can't really hate on Based God. That album was the beginning of all that."
"My favorite song off the album would probably be 'I'm God.' He's a homie. We worked together when I used to be with Yayo. I was living with Yayo at the time, and he came through the crib and we did a couple joints. I support everything Based God does. At one point in life he was facing 36 years in prison and now all he preaches is positivity. You can't hate on people like that. At the end of the day, he's not a sellout. He stuck to what he wanted to do and keeps doing it. You gotta respect him. "
24. Cam'ron, S.D.E. (2000)
Danny Brown: "Cam'ron was a guy like Raekwon and Ghostface. At the time I wanted to be that guy. He rapped good. He dressed nice. I was influenced by him a lot. He was all about being flamboyant, not caring what people say, and just doing what you want. He was doing the whole pink thing. That was ill to me. I look up to Cam. He ain't never going anywhere. Cam is like a boss. He's like E-40. Any time he wants to come back and ruin shit, he can."
23. Aesop Rock, Bazooka Tooth (2003)
Label: Definitive Jux
Danny Brown: "It's a random album. It's unpredictable, and that's what I'm all about. It never really stopped. It would continue with the flow. Things just happened out of nowhere. I'm totally down with that, and I've never heard an album like that. I didn't even understand most of the stuff he was saying. I didn't understand what the stuff was, but that's what made me want to. I wanted to know what he was talking about. I did my homework Googling lyrics and just reading stuff. I used to write Aesop lyrics. I used to write his lyrics out and read them back to myself. I'd write them out as I listened, just to understand what he was saying."
22. Master P, Ice Cream Man (1996)
Label: No Limit/Priority
Danny Brown: "I was in the 9th grade. Like I said, I was so heavy into East Coast rap at the time. That was the perfect time for me to hear of No Limit and the south stuff. My homie's were into Wu Tang, too. So it was just so weird to me that Master P had that type of range. This was just totally different. There was the accent. It was almost like there was no song structure. It was real. That's what you got from it. That's what we got from it. He was like the actual dopeboy from the corner, for real. That's real. My friends were never into East Coast Rap. I had like one homie who was into it, and he was the who put me up on Master P. They were all into the West Coast shit."
21. Spice 1, Spice 1 (1992)
Danny Brown: "Before then I was only getting the rap that my dad brought in the house. He didn't bring in no gangsta shit like that. The gangsta shit he got was like Ice-T. I was at my friend's house and he had the tape, which was his older brother's. That shit was just so gangsta. I never knew music like that existed. I was maybe 12. I dubbed it. I think that's why my pops put me up on Wu Tang: because I started listening to all the West Coast shit. Then I started to dress like that and basically tried to live that lifestyle. Rap music was impressionable to me as a kid. It ran my life. Who knows what I would have gotten into if I would have stayed on that path. Then my dad gave me Wu-Tang because I was too deep into the West Coast."
"36 Chambers was the first album he gave to me for no reason. He bought me a Walkman. I had the Walkman and the CD. I couldn't give let my friends borrow it because they didn't have CD players. I had to listen to it by myself. I didn't have a big stereo I could play it on. Wu Tang was talking street shit, but they were talking knowledge, too. It cured my fix and put me more on the right path more than gangsta music was going to."
20. Hot Boys, Guerrilla Warfare (1999)
Label: Cash Money/Universal
Danny Brown: "I look at that album almost in the sense of Hall and Oates. The producers just clicked so good with the songwriters. Every song that they made hit the money. On that album, they were just hitting every shot. Every beat, every song, and every hook just hit the money. I love that album. I always get inspired by that album when I think I want to make a perfect album. To me that was like a perfect album. Everything clicked. You look at an album and ask, 'Who, what, when, where, and why?' They answered every question."
"Down south artists weren't seen as lyricists at the time. To me they were lyrical as fuck. They could rap. I think Louisiana, in general, has good schooling. Louisiana rappers always have good vocabulary. Even listening to the new guys like Kevin Gates, like Curren$y. They must have good schooling or something. Even Gucci. They might talk country, but they got a wide vocabulary. I always noticed that about Louisiana."
19. Outkast, Aquemini (1998)
Danny Brown: "Before I heard an album like that, I didn't think rap music could go that far. That's probably all I could say about it. It's a lot of songs that, stuck out. It was album that I played all the time to figure out. That was the album that challenged me as a kid. I remember when it came out, it came out the same day as 'Hard Knock Life' and I listened to 'Hard Knock Life' religiously when it first came out, and I could not get into the OutKast album, but it got 5 Mics so it would make me go back and try to figure out how is this album, so critically acclaimed? I couldn't figure it out. It took me years."
"And once I figured it out, it made me just know that there's not really rules. It can be whatever you want it to be. I think with me taking that advice, I took that and did it the complete opposite way, you got a person making 2:30 second songs. Straight get to the point shit. So I think that's my interpretation of where it's no rules. That's my no rules. I make short songs. I don't make long songs. They wasn't doing normal three 16 bars and the hooks. They have bridges and breaks, so just that alone, it taught me. It made me think with no rules. So like me, I don't like 3rd verses. So I just do, hook-verse we outta here. Punk rock shit."
18. Rawkus, Soundbombing II (1999)
Danny Brown: "That was like the peak of my backpackism. I remember catching the bus with my backpack, going to open mics and stuff. My cousin and I both listened to that album all day. That was just like our spark. That was like our rap album. We wanted to listen to that album and go to cyphers, go to open mics. That was our street album. I thought, 'I got to be able to rap as good as these guys on this CD right here before I can rap in public.' That was the first time I heard indie rap music that was better than any major music around at the time. I started getting that the better rappers could be guys I didn't see on MTV all the time. That album did it for me. There was so many people on there."
17. Eminem, Encore (2004)
Danny Brown: "That's when I was really stretched out trying to get into music, trying to get it going. That album: I measure myself to it. I'm not saying I'm on that level. I was like, "I have to be able to rap at least this good." That was like a measuring stick to me. I've tried my best to get that lyrical in my own way, though. I know I can't do what he does, and I don't want to be a carbon copy of anything. I still got to do what I do. But I stayed with that album a lot. I learned a lot from that album, too. The Marshall Mathers LP is my favorite album, but Encore was off the wall with songs like 'Rainman.' It was like his darkest album, but his funniest. I'm all about dark humor. Marshall Mathers was just all funny. There was a couple dark songs. Encore was just dark, but funny. Even the songs that were supposed to be funny were uncomfortable. That's what I liked about it."
16. Redman, Dare Iz a Darkside (1994)
Label: Def Jam
Danny Brown: "I got that tape after Christmas. It was around the time where people were bootlegging. You could get three cassettes for like ten dollars. I think I got Redman Dare Iz a Darkside, Method Man Tical, and if I'm not mistaken, TLC On the TLC Tip. I didn't really know about Redman. The album cover was just cool. I remember him being on 'The Head Banger,' but I never listened to Redman much. I wanted the Method Man album, though. That's what I cared about. The Redman album ended up being better. I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'Who is this Redman guy?' Redman was funny. He was talking that street gangsta shit, but he did funny things. He just wanted to have fun. He had girls, smoked some weed."
15. E-40, The Element of Surprise (1998)
Label: Jive/Sick Wid It
Danny Brown: "At that time when Element of Surprise came out, everybody was making double albums. It was like the cool thing to do. Element of Surprise was my favorite double album—better than Wu Tang Forever, even though it's higher on the list. Wu Tang is just-I'm not going to say more influential than E-40 to me because it's kind of even. Ghostface and E-40 are like the same kind of guys. That's how I wanted to rap. I wanted to be unpredictable. When I first heard that, like I was explaining with Supreme Clientele, I thought this was the first guy that was like the Big Tymers. But E-40 was talking that sophisticated dopeboy shit. It was smart. It was like you couldn't be like the average hood, dumb nigga."
"At the end of the day, it wasn't like you were just promoting everything because you're saying it. I really like that about E-40. I felt like I learned something every time I listened to his songs. There was always something I didn't pick up on before, maybe because the delivery was so fast. Every time I listened to him I heard something new. That album is so lyrical if people take the time to just check it out. "It was an honor to work with E-40. He hit me up on Twitter one day and asked me for my number. We talked on the phone, which was like crazy to me. I met him before on the A$AP tour. You know how it is in that situation: you can't do too much. It really changed the game, which was tight. So he called me and we just talked. I probably had a smile from ear to ear. He was like, 'You got the album coming out. You want to jump on with me and Q? You want to do a song?' It was 'All My Niggas.' I was probably taking little bit too long. He hit me up later and was like, 'Yo, what's up? Are you going to do that?' I was like, 'Man, my bad.' I did it that day because can't believe I forgot E-40."
14. Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele (2000)
Danny Brown: "That was the peak of when I was in the street. It was real heavy when that album came out. I was for sure done with school. I was real into the streets then. That was when Wu Tang was kind of dying down. We were probably all listening to No Limit and Cash Money by then. That album came out and just let me know the Wu would never go anywhere. Ghostface came out and was talking the street shit we were doing. Listening to No Limit and Cash Money—because they also did the street shit—made us feel a little better about what we were doing. Supreme Clientele came out and it made us feel sophisticated about what we were doing. Everybody else was bumping No Limit and Cash Money, but we were listening to Supreme Clientele. We thinking on a whole nother level, but we still pumping that dope boy shit. We felt like we were flyer. Our music was flyer. We dressed different than the average hood nigga. That was what that album was to me."
13. Radiohead, Kid A (2000)
Danny Brown: "Kid A, if you listen to it, wasn't a lyrically driven album. It was more production driven. They just experimented with their soundscapes and how far they could push what they're doing. They were still minimal, too. I think that's what I'm trying to do. At the end of the day, I could just take the instrumentals and listen to the beat. I can't think of anybody else that could have done it. And if they did, it'd be like rookie and expert on video games. You have to be a real rapper to rap on these kinds of beats. That's how I think about it. I heard Kid A before the album Amnesiac came out. The hype was so big on that one, that I went back and started getting into Radiohead."
12. Madvillain, Madvillainy (2004)
Label: Stones Throw
Danny Brown: "I never knew you could make an entire album without hooks and have it sound that good. He broke the rules of songwriting. That album broke rules to me. I'm all about that. That album showed me that music has no rules. Before that I thought you needed 16 bars and hooks to make a good song. I listened to that album and it clicked. Then I could listen to his old shit and get it."
11. Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein (2001)
Label: Definitive Jux
Danny Brown: "Street rap always had to sound hard. I never thought that street rap could sound smart. At that time it was like the Lox. Then somebody like Cannibal Ox came in on the other side of that. It was street shit, but it was done so smart. Maybe it was like nerdy street shit. Of course, I'm a big fan of El-P production. Just take the time to listen to the lyrics. I remember the first time hearing that album it gave me goosebumps. 'You were a stillborn baby/mother didn't want you but you were stillborn/boy meets world, of course his pops is gone.' It was just so ahead of the time."
10. J Dilla, Donuts (2006)
Label: Stones Throw
Danny Brown: "Donuts is the first instrumental album that speaks to me. A lot of them are just beats. J Dilla was really talking to you through his beats. He was able to figure that out and repeat that. It just opened up a whole new world with that album. He was on some Charlie Chaplin shit. He made a silent movie. The beats are telling the story. That alone lets you know he was one of the greatest producers to ever live."
9. Korn, Issues (1999)
Danny Brown: "A lot of people would probably have a problem believing it was a better album than Korn, the self-titled album. When Issues came out, I was actually going through some issues. I was going through a real bad breakup. That album really helped me get through it. They say music can get heal all pains and that's true. That album really did get me through that. I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for that album at that time. I had issues. I actually had a chance to meet Jonathan Davis and I told him that. He was just like, 'Thank you. I'm glad to help.' For real, he helped me."
8. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (1995)
Danny Brown: "I like that album more so for the concept of it, in all actuality. Maybe I'm just a sucker for concept albums. The concept is great, obviously. I guess at that time, in 1995, I just wanted to be those guys. I wanted to talk like them. I wanted to dress like them. I wanted to rap like them. I idolized the skits and everything about them. I idolized the lifestyle they were portraying in that album, as a kid. Maybe that was my Scarface.
"I didn't revisit the New York hip-albums when I came to New York. I was more fascinated with fashion: the style and adversity that came with being in a big city. In Detroit everybody is the same way, like most cities. In New York you can be on the street, look around and see different people. That's what I was more intrigued by. It was more individuality. There was so many people you had to stick out. That's what I was intrigued by for New York."
7. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free (2004)
Label: Locked On/679
Danny Brown: "This and the Dizzee album are like a tie. I liked the Streets' first album a lot, Original Pirate Material. That's like some straight chill, get high music. I really liked that album. But A Grand Don't Come For Free totally changed the game. It totally changed my whole perception of how a whole album could be made because it was a straight storyline from beginning to end. I remember there was a Prince Paul album that came out that was kind of like that, but it was too overdone. It almost seemed like an opera. It was like that Beyoncé and Mekhi Phifer movie type thing [Carmen: A Hip Hopera]. But when I first heard A Grand Don't Come For Free it was really a story from beginning to end. It was the same thing as Nas. He put me in the middle of fucking London with that album. It just showed me what he was going through. I love that album so much. I hope to make an album like that one day."
6. Dizzee Rascal, Boy in da Corner (2003)
Danny Brown: "It was almost like a fate thing. I saw the video on MTV2 and I was like, 'I'm going to go cop it.' When I went up to Best Buy the song was actually playing as I walked in. I buy the album, and I go home and listen to it. I put my headphones on to listen to it and I'm like, 'Hold up. I got to roll up first. I got to smoke.' At first it just sounded too crazy. I rolled up a blunt and I smoked. Then I put it back on. I just remember replaying the first song like four times before I made it to the second song. The first time I heard that I needed a whole night. It was almost like a video game. I was constantly listening to it over and over and over. It was the sound. I'm all about being minimal with music and it was real minimal. It was electric, but it was just so hip-hop, though."
5. Joy Division, Closer (1980)
Danny Brown: "I got put up on Joy Division not too long ago by my homie. We were just talking about bands and stuff, and he asked me if I listened to Joy Division. When I first heard them, I heard the first album. That was tight. Then I heard Closer, but I didn't really get it. I ain't gon' lie. Then I saw the movie, and the documentary, and was just reading about it. I saw how much he decoded the songs on Closer. He was just talking about what was going on in his life. It kind of hit home with me. It made me real emotional when I first got it. It triggered an emotion in me."
4. Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Forever (1997)
Danny Brown: "The first album my dad got me was 36 Chambers. It was a great album and is one of my favorite albums, as well. But Forever just has so many more memories for me. That was at the height of it: 36 Chambers and all the solo albums had already came out. There was a lot of hype for a Wu-Tang album. We were just feigning for the album to come out when we got the sample tape, like 30-second snippets. We were just tripping off that shit. When it actually came out me and my homies skipped school. We all went up to the record store and bought it. Then we smoked weed and listened to that shit. It was almost like the new Jordans came out. I haven't had the same excitement since that album came out."
3. System of a Down, Toxicity (2001)
Danny Brown: "I was listening to a lot of rock music at the time that album came out. I saw the video on MTV. I never heard of System of a Down before that album. I was reading Blender magazine around that time and they had rated it real high. I just bought that album. Me and my cousin, Dopehead, just sat down and listened to it in its entirety. It never stopped. Nobody knew when a song turned to another song. I never heard an album like that before. Every song turned into something else. It was the most unpredictable thing I'd ever heard, music-wise.
"I guess it's almost like what free flowing jazz is to people. It's like what Yeezus was doing: just transforming into other things without you knowing what's going to happen. I never heard anything like that in the rock community. It had all the song lyrics written in the credits. I was able to read the lyrics and from that I was able to get more of an understanding of what they were talking about in the music. It was so heavy. It wasn't just like they were making songs. They were songs with a purpose. It was really on some social conscious shit."
2. Nas, Illmatic (1994)
Danny Brown: "I was in the 7th grade. I think that album was the first album that I got. I can close my eyes and visually see everything. I remember the first day I got it, going into my bedroom listening to it in its entirety. I was just some kid in Detroit and I felt like I was in the middle of the Queensbridge projects. I had never heard any music that I could visually see. That was the first time I visually saw music: what he was saying, how it was delivered, how it was presented."
1. Love, Forever Changes (1967)
Danny Brown: "My friend had just started college. He'd come back on breaks and he had the album with him. He said, 'Yo, this shit tight.' We didn't know what it was though. He got put on to it by somebody else. We was dealing with some old music. We had the Internet and were just doing research about it, reading books. That's probably why I liked it so much, knowing the whole story behind all the shit. I was listening to it in the 2000s. I was messing with J Dilla and shit by then."