Amongst the crop of left-field rappers that have risen to national prominence via the Internet in the last few years, Danny Brown is the most unlikely candidate for a national headlining tour. He's from inner-city Detroit, far from the New York of A$AP Mob and Action Bronson and the California of Main Attrakionz, Kendrick Lamar and Lil B. He didn't come to the web's attention until he released an album about turning 30, which is nearly AARP status in hip-hop. It's also hard to imagine Brown ever landing any song on the Billboard charts a la A$AP Rocky. Brown's lyrics make 2 Live Crew and O.D.B. seem like choirboys.
But when Brown performed for a sweaty, sold-out High Noon Saloon Saturday night, all the chips stacked against him toppled. There's no reason -- well, except for his filthy lyrics -- that this guy shouldn't be the biggest rapper on Earth. His electric live show falls somewhere between Mötley Crüe's live ribaldry and a hardcore-punk thrasher. From the time he burst onto the stage, tongue out and devil horns up, he held a rapt crowd firmly in his hand.
Touring the U.S. in advance of his upcoming third solo LP, Old, Brown ran through a pretty hefty set -- nearly 20 songs -- in about an hour. Standouts from XXX, his 2011 breakthrough, like "Lie4," "Monopoly," "Bruiser Brigade" and the crowd-exciting "Blunt After Blunt" bumped up against one-off tracks like "Piss Test" and "Black Brad Pitt." But the real standouts were from Old, which is due out in August. "Dip," "Dope Song" and "Kush Coma" are all tracks that should garner as much fan devotion as the best of XXX. "Dip" incited particularly wild pogoing sessions in the crowd.
Because Brown consumes music as voraciously as he consumes recreational drugs -- at least if you believe his lyrics -- Brown's beat selection is one of the best things about his act. He's more comfortable over beats by computer-melting dance producers, so the concert ended up feeling more like a wild dance party than a traditional rap show. "Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)" has a claustrophobic, booming beat provided by Darq E. Freaker, and the live version didn't disappoint; its backbeat made the venue feel like it was being drummed on by a wrecking ball. The AraabMuzik-produced "Molly Ringwald" -- an ode to ecstasy -- was skittering and hard-bitten, while set closer "Express Yourself" is the antithesis of the Diplo song it's inspired by. It's a desolate track with plenty of space for Brown to spit a Tommy gun flow.
In the end, the raucous, enthusiastic crowd pushed the show into best-of-the-year territory. It's a testament to the power of Danny Brown's online presence that a packed house in Madison would spend a Saturday night shouting all the lyrics to every song he performed, even the deep cuts like "Black Brad Pitt." When a performer says repeatedly that an audience is "too turned up" -- the new hip-hop parlance for "best of the tour" -- it can come off as disingenuous. In this case, it felt like the truth.