Status Ain't Hood

Is Danny Brown’s Twitch Stream The Future Of Mixtapes?

YBN Nahmir is an 18-year-old rapper who comes from Alabama, lives in Los Angeles, and sounds like he’s from the Bay Area. He’s good, and he’s going places. Nahmir’s career started about a year ago when the video for his song “Rubbin Off The Paint” went viral. But he doesn’t credit that song with his success. Instead, Nahmir says he started off in the video-gaming world, freestyling while playing Grand Theft Auto on livestreaming networks like Twitch. Nahmir met the other members of his YBN crew online, which is also where he learned about the Bay Area rap that obviously informs his style. He’s a fascinating example of the kind of cultural wire-crossing that can emerge organically out of something like Twitch. And talking to TMZ earlier this week, Nahmir said that there are a lot more kids like him out there: “It’s a whole ‘nother thing coming.”

We should talk, now, about Twitch, the gamer-kids social network that is now reaching some strange cultural tipping point. As a middle-aged man who spent way too much of his youth sitting around, bored, watching his friends play video games, I cannot even begin to fathom the appeal. And yet there’s a whole world out there. People are making livings livestreaming themselves playing video games. They’re becoming extremely famous within gamer circles. They’re developing a whole cultural ecosystem, and that ecosystem is starting to bubble over into the rest of the world.

Companies are realizing that Twitch can be a way to reach people, to find audiences. This past weekend, for instance, the Mexican lucha libre promotion AAA streamed TripleMania, the biggest Mexican wrestling show of the year, worldwide for free on Twitch, flying in an English-language commentary team and everything. Millions watched. There will be a lot more stuff like this.

And there will also be more things like the horrific events that went down in Florida this weekend. At a Madden tournament in Jacksonville on Sunday, a 24-year-old gamer opened fire on his peers, killing two people and injuring 11 before turning his gun on himself. The tournament was being broadcast live online, so the clip of the shooting and its immediate aftermath — all audio, since the controller was disconnected — was immediately all over social media, providing one more terrifying document of what it’s like to be in one of these mass shootings. In the worst possible way, this online video-game ecosystem has found its way into the consciousness of those of us whose game systems are now utterly outdated and rotting in garages. And if you’re paying attention to the world around you, you will find it necessary to engage in that whole scene from time to time. It’s just going to be a part of our world now.

The night before the mass shooting, the Detroit rapper Danny Brown used Twitch for something very, very different. Brown is a late adopter to Twitch, but he clearly recognizes its importance. Last week after playing the role-playing game Persona 5 and giggling with his followers for a while, Brown stepped away from his webcam and played what amounted to an album’s worth of new music. He called it “the first-ever Twitch album,” and maybe it is. He also proudly declared that none of its samples have been cleared and that these songs will not make their way onto the new album he’s currently making, the one that won’t come out anytime soon. In fact, he clarified, these songs won’t ever come out. They exist only on that Twitch stream, for fans to take and use however they want.

Listening to the stream, which quickly circulated online under the title Reign Supreme Bruiser Brigade, it’s pretty clear why Brown didn’t release this thing properly. Brown is someone who cares deeply about albums, about sequencing and arc and definitive full-length statements. The stuff on Reign Supreme Bruiser Brigade is looser and sloppier, Brown and the members of his Bruiser Brigade crew tossing verses and punchlines back and forth at each other. Brown isn’t on all the songs. Plenty of space goes to his crewmates — both relatively established names like ZeelooperZ and Dopehead and unknown-to-me guys like Kash Tha Kushman and Fat Ray. The songs don’t have hooks, and the whole thing plays like you’re sitting in the room during a particularly inspired afternoon of freestyling. In other words, it sounds like what a mixtape used to be.

At this point, nobody’s sure what constitutes a mixtape and what counts as an album. They show up on streaming services looking the same, these units of digestible label-distributed songs. But not that long ago, you had to head to mixtape-clearinghouse sites like DatPiff — or, before that, to whatever corner in your city had guys selling slimline CD cases full of Jadakiss verses. The sound quality would be muddy, some DJ would be shouting over all of it, and you’d initially get that confused feeling: Wait, is this a real song? It wasn’t always clear whether the artists were actually participating in these things or whether enterprising pirates were just compiling their radio-station freestyles. Brown, who is both young enough to have a Twitch stream and old enough to quote Big Daddy Kane on his Twitch stream, clearly remembers those days. And he’s recreated that sensibility on the new frontier where it suddenly makes sense again.

Now: Bruiser Brigade Reign Supreme sounds like shit. The sound on the stream-rip is murky and low-volume. Brown brays over his own rappers every so often, saying stuff that doesn’t need to be said, exactly the same way mixtape DJs like DJ Clue and DJ Drama used to do. (“Bruiser Brigade the new Wu-Tang! Tweet that!”) And yet all these little of-necessity touches make the whole thing that much more immediate and appealing. This is stuff that we’re not supposed to be hearing, stuff that Brown is being generous enough to let us in on.

It’s worth your time, of course. Danny Brown remains one of our great working rappers, and he’s clearly having fun. Some of his lines are way too objectionable to use on actual for-release music: “Ride shotgun with a drunk Paul Walker.” Some are just an example of a master having fun and showing off: “Put the D on ‘em like Serge Ibaka.” (Those two lines are from the same verse, from the same extended run where everything ends in in the “acka” rhyme.) The beats — from Brown’s frequent collaborator Paul White, if I heard his pre-stream spiel right — are exactly the kind of queasy lurches that Brown favors. There are a lot of samples that I almost recognize and don’t quite — a Bond score? One song that sounds a lot like OC’s “Time’s Up” but isn’t OC’s “Time’s Up”? The other rappers, none of whom are quite as good as Brown but all of whom are at least on his wavelength — show out. It’s a fun listen, and I’m happy to have it in my life, however it might have gotten there.

At the end of the stream, Brown makes fun of his own gaming skills: “I had to distract y’all with music because I knew I was gon’ die.” And then he says he’s going off to eat some Blue Apron. It’s a casual, slapdash piece of music that’s coming out in a time when even the most casual, slapdash music seems like part of somebody’s marketing plan. And if Twitch really is a new frontier for this type of thing, maybe I need to get over my bullshit and start investigating Twitch.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. YBN Cordrae – “Scotty Pippen”
This kid is way more talented than he needs to be, and I can’t wait until he gets huge and stops saying stuff like, “My family rich for generations, I might marry a Jew.”

2. Jack Harlow – “Sundown”
A piece of advice for all aspiring nerd-rappers: Stop being such fucking nerds, and try to be more like this kid. Grow some self-confidence before you try demanding anyone’s attention. It works way better than rapping about Star Wars or whatever.

3. Hoodrich Pablo Juan – “Tik Tok” (feat. BlocBoy JB)
A very nice combination of wordy, under-the-breath Atlanta virtuosity and slow, overstated Memphis starpower. Both of these guys are promising, but neither is quite the complete package on his own. Together, though, they’re something.

4. Mike Sherm – “Been A Boss”
Slick Bay Area shit-talk is one of our great national resources. America pulls a whole lot of bullshit, but at least we’ve given the rest of the world this.

5. E-40 – “Ain’t Talking Bout Nothin” (Feat. G Perico & Vince Staples)
E-40 is 50. Vince Staples is 25. Somehow, they make perfect sense together. (G Perico, somewhere around 30, also makes perfect sense here, but his age does’t lend itself as well to the symmetrical thing I was going for.)

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO