Up and Down with Danny Brown and His New Documentary ‘Live at the Majestic’

Danny Brown, as he tends to do in his music, moves through different registers in the span of a sentence. He settles into a low drawl when he tries to explain an idea and rises to an ecstatic, high-pitched cackle without warning. He speeds up and finds a rhythm and rattles off his thoughts before exhausting himself and slowing his tempo back down, his voice a revving moped. He’s in thrall to his own mind; he rolls along with whatever it throws up at whatever pace it decides to do so. Every clause, every word, has its own cadence, but it’s all a part of a wider process, a sentence or an idea that can change shape as soon as it comes on.

Watching Live at the Majestic, the new Andrew Cohn-directed documentary about Brown, this quality is almost immediately apparent. The film follows Brown in the lead-up to his first hometown headlining show in five years, trying to detail the connection between the rapper and his native Detroit. But it goes much further than that. It was shot over the space of two years and it’s cut up with radio and magazine interviews; it shows Brown at home smoking blunts and watching soccer, playing with his cat and feeling lethargic; it cuts back to old footage shot in the late 2000s, his 20s, a difficult time in which he had no artistic balance, no confidence, and absolutely no money. It shows a breadth of character that belies its sub-60-minute running time. In the first two minutes of the film—between a live performance of “Jealousy,” a brief interview, and a conversation with his manager about health supplements—Brown uses four different octaves to get his point across.

“I’m an actor in this movie, man! I can’t take no credit for this,” he tells me as he drags on a Newport menthol in the backyard of the Greenpoint House of Vans venue where the film is about to be publicly shown for the first time. “They said they’re making a documentary… next thing I know they got a mic on me and cameras in my face.” Leaning back into a small couch, his feet crossed on the table in front of him, he starts to go through the registers: “I watch so much TV, and I know you gotta be natural,” he says deliberately. “That’s the way to come across it. So it was like I just ignored that shit. You put a camera in my face, the best thing for me to do is just not pay attention to it.”

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