When Detroit rapper Danny Brown hit the stage at Empire Control Room on Wednesday night, he had just turned 36 years old. Spending your birthday at South by Southwest? Of course that’s a cause for celebration.
His wishes were simple — he just wanted the crowd to hit the nae nae. They gave him a whole lot more though, a welcome relief from Tuesday night’s restrained Wu-Tang Clan set. There’s also a perpetual youth in Brown’s voice, high up and scratchy, worlds away from trap’s drawls. He’s always been a bit of an alien in the rap world, collaborating with dreamy pop duo Purity Ring in the past, and naming his latest record, “The Atrocity Exhibition,” after a Joy Division song, which in turn was named after a book from science fiction writer J.G. Ballard. On record, he sounds frantic and almost paranoid, which translates surprisingly well live. He’s able to take all that worry and put it into getting everyone bouncing.
Being a rapper in your mid-30s isn’t a death knell — in fact, Brown didn’t start popping until he left his 20s behind with his 2011 record “XXX,” and he wasn’t tired at all Wednesday night. What does he credit his longevity to? “You can be like this one day if you smoke five blunts a day,” he said. Not coincidentally, “Blunts After Blunts” from “XXX” and “Smokin and Drinkin” from “Old” got the most hyped reactions of the night. Just up the street at Cheer Up Charlie’s, the King of Teens Lil Yachty was performing at the same time, a coincidence that could have only been engineered by SXSW scheduling. Even with more than a decade more experience, Brown held his own, proving mindset is more important than age.
DJ Esco got the crowed warmed up with an energetic, if somewhat bizzare, performance. Here is the gist of his show: He and another person wearing a giant DJ Esco mask bounce around and vibe to other peoples’ songs. Since he is Future’s DJ, “Where You At,” “(Expletive) Up Some Commas” and “March Madness” — especially “March Madness” — made quite an impact. The nadir of artistry? Not quite — hip-hop shows are made and broken by rappers’ personalities, and he was jovial to a fault. Besides, who’s gonna not bounce around during “Bad and Bougie” at any given hour of the day? Brown sounded like he put work in, and DJ Esco may have been relying more on his famous friends (not unlike DJ Khaled, a marquee performer from last year’s SXSW), but the two didn’t clash. The latter’s infectious energy spilled over to the former’s set, and that’s why the whole show was a success.