Last week saw the return of one of music’s most fun events: The Red Bull SoundClash. Taking over Radius Chicago, an event space converted from an old steel factory, the latest installment pitted two of hip-hop’s students of punk, Danny Brown and Rico Nasty. Despite being from two different generations, the two rappers are both steeped in the counterculture of punk-rock and other hardcore styles; both have embraced “weird” as an aesthetic, adopting hairdos, sonic choices, and rhyme approaches decidedly left of hip-hop’s traditional center.
However, they’re also different enough to make the matchup unique; aside from the obvious age and gender differences, they have taken divergent paths on the journey to being two of rap’s quirkiest iconoclasts. Rico is the more colorful of the two, often rapping in a screaming voice somewhere between Run-DMC and pop-punk staples like Blink-182 and The Offspring. Meanwhile, Danny wouldn’t be out of place on a late-90s Rawkus Records compilation but for his yelping delivery and unhinged drug references. Sparring head-to-head, the SoundClash takes its inspiration from the Caribbean tradition of musical battles — a little like the modern Verzuz, but with a more aggressive flair.
For what it’s worth, Danny tells me that while the spirit of Jamaican soundclash is still alive in Red Bull’s version, it’s also a much friendlier environment — he calls it a “pillow fight” — that still captures the competitive energy as the two stars try to outperform one another through multiple rounds including covers of popular songs and unreleased tracks. Ahead of SoundClash, Danny spoke with Uproxx about why Red Bull’s SoundClash is different from traditional ones, how he worked off the “ring rust” after not performing for a year, and the need for hip-hop’s artists to stick up for each other and their fans.
Tell me how you got involved and what was the attraction for you?
I was a part of the A$AP SoundClash in London that they did against Boy Better Know. I don’t know, but they just hit me up. But I was always a fan of what it was. So, of course, when they asked me to do it, I was down. It didn’t even matter who it was against.
What’s the difference in the approach of doing a soundclash versus doing your own personal set?
Like you said, it’s my own personal set. This is working with someone else. And to me, this is not a soundclash, with the real Jamaican sound clashes. This is training. This is preschool. I mean, that’s what they calling it, but this is not that vibe. It’s not that energy. In Jamaica, a soundclash is war. We ain’t got that energy with each other. We ain’t got that vibe, so this ain’t that. This is a pillow fight between two friends at a sleepover.
Is there something that you’re looking forward to the most when it comes to this set, or are you just kind of laid back, seeing what’s going to happen?
I’d love to see how the cover round goes.
Covering each other songs or covering any song?
No, we got to cover someone else. We covering someone else song, but we got to both cover the same song, and whoever do it the best.
Did you guys agree on what song to do first, or is it just going to be random?
Yeah, we agreed on the song.
Oh, what song is it?
I can’t tell you, man, I can’t tell you.
[Editor’s note: As it happens, they wound up performing different songs. Rico played Chief Keef’s “Faneto” while Danny Brown kicked out a blog-worthy rendition of Korn’s “Freak On A Leash” that just might have included the band’s own Jonathan Davis.
Danny Brown covers Korn's 'Freak On A Leash' at his Red Bull SoundClash with Rico Nasty
— UPROXX (@UPROXX) December 16, 2021
And as far as Rico Nasty, you were already aware of her?
Yeah. I’m a fan of her shit. I love her shit.
Had you seen some of the stuff online about what they’ve been doing to Rico on the Playboi Carti tour?
Yeah, I seen it.
It really struck me as similar to what happened to Ashnikko on your tour and you handled it differently. Why do you think it was so important for you to stand up for Ashnikko in the way that maybe somebody should have stood up for Rico Nasty?
Well, for me, I can’t talk about anybody, but for me, I just fought for her to have her on the tour with me. I was a fan of her shit. And then, I knew she was going to blow up like crazy, so I knew I had a good spot where I could get her to open. I wanted her to have the best possible time she can have on the road with me. I didn’t want her to fucking have to go through things like that, but it was happening a lot. That was just the boiling point. But then, once that happened, and then that video kind of came out, then the shows was great after that. It was like people knew what was up.
But at a lot of times, it was a lot of her fans came to see her, just her. They wasn’t coming to see me. So a person doing something like that, you ruining the show for them. At the end of the day, you, they paid they money to see her. They ain’t paid they money to see me. It just happened that I’m the one bringing her out. So at the end of the day, don’t ruin the show for them. It ain’t even about her. It’s about the fans too, at the end of the day.
Had you ever performed on a set with Rico before doing this clash?
First time just meeting her literally like 10 minutes ago.
Oh wow. Really? What did you think? You guys going to be best friends?
Yeah. She’s great. You know, we vibe. We on the same wavelength. We got the same frequencies, I already could tell.
Who went the hardest for the city last night? pic.twitter.com/C13szk864y
— The TRiiBE (@TheTRiiBE) December 16, 2021
This is one of the first big things that I’ve seen your name on since the pandemic started. Any insight into how the last year off has maybe changed your style or changed your approach?
I mean, definitely rusty. I don’t care; you can be the best boxer in the world, you ain’t been in the ring, you got ring rust.
So there’s a little stage rust, but I’m a veteran. That’s no big deal, I’m actually happy to get out. Before, when we was just working so much, and being out all the time, it’s tiring. Just tired of traveling. Now, I miss it. All the shit that I hated, I missed it, so I’m coming back into this shit a lot more humble, for sure. No one ever knew this shit could just end like that, so definitely more appreciative of the situation.
There you go. So you are definitely going to be getting back into the album cycle soon? I’ve heard whispers.
I mean, the album been done. Just waiting on the right time.
Can we expect that next year?
Can you tell us anything about it? Who’s on it? Who produced it?
Called Quarenta. It’s the sequel to XXX. Quarenta is 40 in Spanish. That’s the most I can get you.
Rico Nasty is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.