Tell me about putting together "Shit Starters" with Swizz Beatz, Jim Jones, DJ Kay Slay and your former boss El-P.
Dude. So I'm like the biggest Dipset nerd, well at least I was up until about 2003 or 2004 when they switched their beats up. Back then I'd always wanted to do a tribute to them for being awesome and for helping me get through a tough time—I had just got kicked out of college so all I would play is Cam, Jimmy and Juelz—and their beats used to get me crunk. Hell, other than Just Blaze it was their production that got me into sampling in my beats in the first place. Say what you will about the lyrics but those beats? Jeebus.
So anyway, I wanted to pay homage to that whole era a while ago but it would've been ill-timed at a point in my career where people didn't even know who I was, plus I wasn't that dope with the beats yet. Fast-forward seven years later and I stumble on this glam metal sample that Juelz had used for his song "Crack (Y'all Must Be Stupid)," an obscure track from some mixtape he did with DJ Kay Slay in 2003 or so. I had been looking for [the sample] for almost ten years because I'm a sample encyclopedia, I know almost every sample for every hip-hop song. I finally found it and was like "this is it."
I flipped the beat identically to the one Juelz used, knowing it's so obscure of a song that only Dipset stans would even recognize it; everyone else would just be like "This is dope, yo." Getting Jimmy on it was a dream come true 'cause it's an homage to him in the first place, then of course Swizz has to open it up since he's the hypest dude in rap right now, so he also got contacted.
It's crazy 'cause I'm doing my verse and even though it's clearly a tribute to that whole over-the-top super-hype posse cut, my lyrics are cartoonishly ignorant ("Y'all hoes can't find me, man I'm hob-nobbing at Basquiat's / I'll beat you up, then beat my chest then beat Bob Hoskins at hopscotch.") But I'm really just trying to keep up with these dudes! Much love to both of them. The whole song is just a wink-and-nod kinda thing honestly.
I still needed my WTF factor, the last component that would make everyone's head explode. Then it hit me: who better than El-P?
But for it to be a bloated guest list I couldn't stop at just Swizz and Jim, so I reached out to DJ Kay Slay. I swear every time I called him, it sounded like he was just waking up but it'd be like 1:00 in the afternoon and shit. [Laughs.] Like I could hear him rolling around in the bed with his girl in the background or something.
But no, Kay Slay is cool as shit; much love to him. I'm hitting him for a drop constantly 'cause he keeps telling me "I'm gonna send it, I'm gonna send it" so I have to keep reminding him. Finally I hit him with the ol' reverse psychology.
I'm like "hey Kay Slay, it's cool if you're too busy and whatnot. I appreciate you anyway. I'll just hit up DJ Khaled instead. God bless." He immediately hits me back like "CHILL NIGGA! IF KAY SLAY SAYS HE'S GONNA DO SOMETHING HE'S GONNA DO IT! MY WORD IS MY BOND LIL NIGGA!" I got my drop that same day.
After that I still needed my WTF factor, the last component that would make everyone's head explode. Then it hit me: who better than El-P? If you google "danny def jux" now there's a ton of dorky message board posters who think I hate Def Jux after they signed me and nothing happened with the deal. In reality, me and El talk fairly regularly and are on great terms.
He told me years ago to reach out to him if I ever needed him for anything, much love to him for that. I figure, not only would getting him on the track blow people's minds for that reason but shit dude, that line-up? You'll NEVER see that type of thing again, and posse cuts in 2012 are pretty damn random as it is.
Ultimately it's one big troll move because it gets me and El-P, two underground kings who could benefit well from the exposure, rotation on a Hot 97 or a Power 105. This shit sounds right at home after a "Stay Schemin'" or something. What are they gonna do, cut our verses out 'cause they haven't heard of us? It's my song! [Laughs.] So "Shit Starters," basically, is one big exercise in trolling. But the song's still hot!
When is the album dropping? We've been hearing tracks and seeing videos for the past few months but where's the album at?
It's a beautiful thing really, that the lack of initial hype delayed Payback and it became this mythical creature that some people don't even believe exists. I fucking love it. Only a few cats have even heard it at this point and I've been blessed that having a good judgment of character—and technology that makes audio watermarks discreet—has made this an airtight effort.
The album was done at the top of January and was probably sent out to press literally the next day. At this point I had dropped two singles and two videos. There was no Questlove shout-out, no co-sign from Jay yet. We were exploiting the fact that, with all the guest features, some of the mainstream sites like Pitchfork or Rolling Stone would approve reviews whereas they may have passed in the past.
Like, Where Is Danny? got passed over by Pitchfork and that was a classic! So we're like, "oh they'll be dickriding now, it's inevitable." But despite the initial interest from most of the major sites and magazines, they all fell off the face of the fucking earth. Now with the co-signs, those same major sites are claiming that they lost Payback and are asking us to send another copy but I'm like "fuck y'all."
Now with the co-signs, those same major sites are claiming that they lost Payback and are asking us to send another copy but I'm like "f*ck y'all."
Some artists don't understand that nowadays you need a certain level of visibility and public perception before people that back you are willing to advance you to the next stage, and you need a steady progression of it.
It's like a board game and you've gotta keep circling the board until you have a certain number of chips. Your profile needs to keep getting bigger, not smaller. How's Pitchfork gonna review my album as an unsigned artist in 2008 but not 2012?
Like, rap consumers and the media continue to sleep on me and that's fine and all, but behind the scenes, people are losing faith. They're looking at my track record and saying, "Maybe he isn't this golden child we thought he was." So projects get held up, or shelved altogether. It's not my fault that we got a shitload of commitment from the press to give coverage to my album and they pulled out at the last minute when they realized I was Danny Swain, not Danny Brown. [Laughs.]
Quiet as it's kept, Payback was actually set to be released in Japan next week but you'd literally have to be over there to purchase it, plus the distribution got screwed up on the back end. I have a bigger and far more proactive following over there and in certain parts of the UK. The only thing stopping me from moving overseas and just doing hologram shows for the rest of my life is the visa process is too lengthy, and I hate paperwork. [Laughs.]
As far as a U.S. release, I'm currently tying up some loose ends so that I can put out a modified version of it via Okayplayer Records—which would be huge considering the recent circumstances plus the fact they've been supporting me for year—but I'm not formally announcing it until I finalize it with the homies over there. They hinted at it on their most recent blog post about me so I hope I didn't ruin the surprise. [Laughs.]