Danny Swain—or Danny! to most of us—has watched his career bounce around considerably since dropping his true-to-life debut album, The College Kicked-Out, in 2004. Since then, the tack-sharp rapper/producer has experienced some huge ups and downs.
Even though he had planned to call it a day following the release of 2006’s widely acclaimed Charm, the album made the shortlist for the ’07 Grammy Awards and landed him a deal with Definitive Jux. But before Swain could release a full-length project, the label went on hiatus in early 2010, leaving him wondering what to do next.
All these trials and tribulations would lead to the aptly titled Where Is Danny?, a Madvillain-inspired album that would, again, bring loads of praise Swain’s way. But by the time it saw a proper release, the album had been bootlegged to death online and he ran into issues with the record’s original co-producer.
As that beef cooled, Where Is Danny? got the second chance it deserved when Interscope released the album digitally May 24 with completely reworked production and arrangements. Everything seemed to be going Swain’s way at that point as he readied a follow-up, Payback.
Judging by its title you might assume the new album is a middle finger-of-sorts to the industry that's caused him so many headaches. But instead of throwing an angst-fueled musical Molotov cocktail , Swain dipped into his resources and pulled off an epic album that finds him collaborating with everyone from Janelle Monae and Jim Jones to Tyler, the Creator and Bruno Mars.
With those huge names in tow, you would imagine nothing but loads of hype and interest, right? Wrong. As he tells it, publications have only started catching on after seeing a tweet from the Roots’ Questlove, who learned that Swain was in fact Jay-Z’s new favorite rapper. What exactly this means for the college kicked-out kid remains to be seen, but it looks like the right ears have finally heard Swain’s work.
Written By Andrew Martin (@andrew_j_martin)
What's the concept of Payback? Getting back at the industry for screwing you over?
Whoa! That is a huge misconception, and I'm glad you asked me so that I can clear it up. I definitely don't feel as if the industry "screwed me over." As much as I may gripe, I don't believe anyone's out to get me or intentionally making things hard for Danny Swain. I do, however, think that the "rules" to the "game" are extremely jacked-up nowadays for everyone.
I've watched countless artists release stellar albums, put on incredible live shows—you know, just be dope overall. But because they weren't releasing twenty songs a week on blogs, or weren't being courted by some big name artist, they weren't able to get the recognition they earned. Or because they didn't collaborate with Rapper X and Producer Z, their song can't get any love from the blogs or radio.
Rappers emerge from nowhere with a modest budget, inflate their YouTube views and all of a sudden they're overnight stars. Hell, I got TWO major co-signs, one from the biggest rapper in the universe, and people still don't give a damn. They'd rather report about rappers being pelted with lemons as fucking news.
This is the state of the industry as we know it but it's one of those hush-hush things that people are aware of, and won't ever speak about. It disillusions a lot of well-meaning artists, myself included, and makes efforts to succeed in music seem futile. Plus a few assholes here and there will say "Oh he mad, don't nobody owe him nothing" when that's not even the statement I'm trying to make, that I'm owed something or whatever.
Hell, I got TWO major co-signs, one from the biggest rapper in the universe, and people still don't give a damn. They'd rather report about rappers being pelted with lemons as news.
So what I decided to do, right after Where Is Danny? was re-released with the production re-done by me, was devise a plan to expose all of these flaws by way of a new album.
The concept of Payback, therefore, is to play by the "rules" in order to prove a point and exploit the way the hip-hop industry operates. I talk to Lil B all the time, it's no different than what he does with his music.
If this is what it takes to achieve success as an artist, to get knob-slobbed by the Pitchforks and the Rolling Stones or whatever, then I decided I'd do it. It goes against everything I believe in and stand for, but if the end result is making a mockery of the state of the rap game and the people who are dumb enough to help keep it running that way, then so be it.
The concept behind the album and the overall inner battle with my moral conscience was fused together to give Payback its storyline: a criminal who did a lot of bad deeds in the name of good now facing the consequences. I risked professional relationships, my reputation...like, so much stuff just to make a bold artistic statement.
Underhanded shit goes on in the industry on an everyday basis, so I'm not trippin' too much off of having to play by the "rules," but no one has ever been able to pull off what I pulled off with Payback. And with the Questo/Jay shout-out and other behind-the-scenes ventures that have developed in the past few weeks, it looks as if sticking my neck out the way that I did may be paying off in the long run.
How the hell were you able to get all those artists—from Janelle Monae to Toro Y Moi to El-P—on the same album?
Details, schmetails. [Laughs.] That'd spoil the fun, wouldn't it? At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many cows the chef personally slaughtered to prepare my steak, so long as that motherfucker is seasoned the way I want and lightly brushed with garlic.
But seriously, I'm currently working with someone to help create a behind-the-scenes documentary that'll shed some light on how Payback was put together. It won't be for the faint-hearted, I can promise you that.
Did Bruno Mars and/or Tyler, the Creator have any idea they're on the same project?
You have no idea how much of an understatement that question is. [Laughs.] No, neither one of them are aware yet. I'm still waiting to tell them.