November 2018 marked the Fifth Annual Bruiser Thanksgiving. For half a decade, on the ‘biggest party night,’ Detroit‘s own party king Danny Brown and his crew Bruiser Brigade have brought together generations of fans.

The anticipated event returned to the venue where it all began this year at The Majestic Theatre, after being hosted at venues including the Masonic Temple. Given the recent (and much awaited) release of Brown’s Live at the Majestic documentary, the evening served as the perfect tribute to the event’s original inception.

This years line-up featured an impressive range of fresh talent. BEARCAT started off the evening with a solid set, followed by a high-energy performance from up-and-coming Detroit talent Sam Austins that brought the heat with close friend and collaborator, DJ Killa $quid.

Sam Austins. Photography credit, Lizz Wilkinson for PLAYGROUND DETROIT.

Taking the stage next was Bruiser Brigade, including stellar performances by Fat Ray and Brown’s protégé, Zelooperz– aside from a unique rapping style all his own, is known for his own fashion sense and model-esqe stature at 6’5″ tall.

Zelooperz. Photography credit, Lizz Wilkinson for PLAYGROUND DETROIT.

 JPEGMAFIA’s performance was almost intimidatingly raw, but also refreshingly genuine. His explosive energy spilled from the stage into the crowd, embodying the savagely impassioned nature of his music in human form. His set, juxtaposed with the next performer Valee, sheds light on the breadth of Danny Brown’s taste in music.

 JPEGMAFIA, Photography credit, Lizz Wilkinson for PLAYGROUND DETROIT.

On the other hand, Valee’s deceptively laid-back approach contrasted with the hype that has built-up around his music. His set consisted of casually dropped and ear-catching bars over beats that exhibited a style of concise arrangement that has become ubiquitous in modern trap music.

Valee. Photography credit, Lizz Wilkinson for PLAYGROUND DETROIT.

After his set, the crowd could not wait any longer. Danny Brown finally entered the stage to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” accompanied by DJ skywlkr. As he spoke to the crowd in between songs that spanned across his storied discography, he appeared grateful for the opportunity to share another holiday with his fans, including the assertion:

“Tonight, y’all are my family.”

Danny Brown is as talented as he is unpredictable. Having seen many sets of his in the past, his demeanor and state of mind are expectedly varied. Coming from someone who has been so open and honest about his struggles and successes, he explains in Live at the Majestic, that his life and his music are inextricably linked. The result: his type of masterful evolution and redefinition that is obvious in his journey up to XXX, growing up with the release of OLD, and most recently, with his album, Atrocity Exhibition.

Danny Brown. Photography credit, Lizz Wilkinson for PLAYGROUND DETROIT.

With each album release being so different from one another, it was surprising that a cohesive set was made drawing from all three discographies. But as he does with his own personal style, Brown himself serves as the uniting factor in a body of work that contains multitudes. This is a feat that is made possible by his ability to self-reflect and reinvent himself over and over again, in real time. Aesthetic differences are linked by a commitment to brutal honesty- perhaps most notably on OLD, Brown’s unabashed acceptance of his anti-heroism is at times disconcerting, but always powerful. He was who he was; he is who he is, and he will be what he will be. While particular fans may have their favorite versions, true Brown fans respect and acknowledge how far he has come, and continue to have hope for how far he will go.

The night was capped off by an impressive set from FUNDAMENTALS, the collaborative project between Jay Daniel and Kyle Hall, soundtracking the end to another incredible iteration of this important annual event. We caught up with them before their set to talk about the show, their influences, and more:

Kyle Hall and Jay Daniels. Photography credit, Lizz Wilkinson for PLAYGROUND DETROIT.

Broccoli: How did you originally get involved with the event?

Jay Daniel: Dart Parker- [Danny Brown’s manager] he originally reached out to us and asked us to play.

B: Right on. At last year’s event they included electronic artists- are you familiar with any other artists performing? 

JD: I know of Valee for sure, and obviously Danny Brown. Not as much with rest, but I think they were just looking for something different to close out the night, so we’re here to do that.

Kyle Hall: Yeah, I agree. I’ve been a fan of Danny Brown since the Hot Soup days, so I’m most familiar with his music. But at the end of the day it’s a lot of Detroit music, a lot of it is created electronically in one way or another, we’re all expressing ourselves on a pretty independent level. I think that’s really the connection, a good Detroit presence and a few outside the city coming together, celebrating independent music and what that means for the City.

B: How does it feel to have a set at Bruiser Thanksgiving? Have you been before?

KH: Nah, this is my first time, but I’ve definitely been aware of it for awhile now. I’m excited to be playing… it’s a space that I’ve been to, but never actually performed at and also, playing to a group of people that might be just getting introduced to electronic music from Detroit, especially since it originated here. It’s cool to share something that has potential cultural significance- it’s like an extended family that you don’t see often, but you still feel a certain kinship with. I like to showcase this music… just to give something else for their palette.

JD: This is my first one, too. I think it’s always good to diversify the fanbase. Like Kyle said, a lot of people might not be familiar with the type of music that we play, so it’s cool to be able to open them up to something new, and hopefully inspire some people.

B: Are there any cross-genre inspirations that you draw on that people might not expect?

KH: I don’t really know what people expect- but I do agree that people generally assume that you’re only into the type of music that you make. But really, my ears are always open to all kinds of things. Even commercial radio… I don’t listen to it often, but I dip into it every once in a while to see what things are happening. Especially in rap, hearing what they’re speaking about is always interesting. The lyrical content relates to what’s going on in the world.

JD: I’m definitely familiar with Valee, I listen to some Young Thug, I don’t dive too deep into it, but I’m always open to hearing new stuff. I also want to be tapped into what’s going on culturally because House music isn’t the only type of music that people listen to. It’s always cool to be open and aware of what’s going on.

B: Tell us about the significance of the two of you playing together.

KH: Me and Jay have been playing for together for a while, probably [since] like 2011, so it’s cool to be able to continue to do that. We’ve been doing a party called “Fundamentals,” so that’s probably part of the reason we’re playing. We’ve been able to build a certain following around that energy- I think we’re even billed as “Fundamentals” if I’m not mistaken. I think that name and our reputation resonate locally.

Kyle Hall, Jay Daniel. Photography credit, Lizz Wilkinson for PLAYGROUND DETROIT.

JD: Yeah, I think that it’s had an impact on the party scene here in the city. Since we’ve starting doing it, and since I started touring around 2014 with Kyle, I started seeing more young kids wanting to DJ and throw parties and stuff like that, you can just feel the effect of it. Plus it’s just fun- it’s cool deejaying by myself, but it’s cool bouncing ideas off of someone else that I’m comfortable playing with, so it adds an extra dynamic to the set.

KH: Definitely. I think it’s helped get more young black people- people our age- into the music and into the scene. When you see someone play it and understand it, seeing someone present it to you in that way, it can give people a certain context for where it’s coming from.

B: Giving people a chance to see themselves in the people they look up to, and a chance to understand the history of the music in that way.

KH: Exactly. We’re kind of serving it as a vessel to pass on the language in a sense. There were just so many people that weren’t really aware of this type of music, and of course I learned from people before me like Rick Wilhite, RayBone, Theo Parrish. I was around them, so I was able to capture a little bit of that, and then present it to more people when I started to understand what it was really all about.

JD: Yeah, I mean DJ-wise it’s like Moodymann, Theo Parrish, Dez, you know all the local cats; Marcellus Pittman.

KH: Even Black Milk, Dilla, Jazz anything like that. It all seems to fit together.

B: Definitely. What should we look out for coming up from both of you?

KH: I just dropped a new record called Equanimity, it’s out on vinyl now and will be dropping digitally soon. And then Jay also has a new project out…

JD: Yeah, I just dropped an album called TALA that’s currently out on all streaming platforms, and coming to vinyl shortly.

KH: Yeah, just keep an eye out for more stuff, Wild Oats releases which is my label, and Watusi High from Jay, those are our major outlets. Also, shoutout to Apron Records, FUNKINEVEN / FUNKINEVIL… everyone that’s making moves out there.

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