Today’s Hip Hop scene is filled with artists that crave attention over respect. Many rappers today want the fame, but could care less about being critically acclaimed. South Carolina’s Danny Swain has received the respect part, but the attention he deserves seems to elude him. With seven albums under his belt, and three of those albums being well received by critics (Charm, …And I Love H.E.R, and Where’s Danny?) Danny is still more of a whisper than a household name. Now, with his first major label album Payback awaiting release, Danny Swain sits down with KN.com to give a very candid interview about his disappointing A3C experience, his industry frustrations and his new album.
Uptown Bobby: You’ve finally got your first major label release. Are you pleased with the outcome?
Danny: Yeah, I think I am. I tend to create music in a bubble sometimes, so I’m not really sure what to expect from the public. I always make music that I like. I’m pretty satisfied with it. People still expect a certain sound from my albums. The reception that I’ve gotten so far despite all the guest features is that people realize that this is still very much a Danny Swain album.
Uptown Bobby: You just mentioned the guest features on the album and Payback is stacked with them. How many of the big name features did you hand pick and how many were the label’s idea?
Danny: Um, honestly, the only one that was the label’s idea was the Bruno Mars feature, obviously. They saw how successful it was for B.O.B, so the Bruno Mars thing was definitely label sanctioned. But, everyone else, I handpicked personally. And not even just the big names like Pharell, Swizz Beats, etc. I also wanted my homies on it too. I knew there were going to be songs where people would go, ‘ Oh, Danny has a song with John Legend?’ but I also wanted people to go, ‘ He has a song with Von Pea of Tanya Morgan? Who is that?’ So, not only was it more of a way to align myself with my label contemporaries, it was also a way I could shine light on some of my old homies and use the album as a springboard for them too.
Uptown Bobby: Right. There’s a method to the madness. I think some of your best albums are your concept albums i.e. Charm, And I Love H.E.R. What made you return to the concept theme with this album?
Danny: Back in the day, like right after my second album, F.O.O.D., the idea was to do a trilogy of concept albums. But after Charm, the initial buzz of the album wasn’t where I wanted it to be…kinda like how Payback is now. So I was basically like, ‘Man, fuck this rap shit…I quit.” So I quit before I actually put the idea into fruition. Charm, …And I Love H.E.R., and Payback are the trilogy of concept albums. The process was slow, but all three fit into my story. Now, they aren’t all related…they’re different, but each one supports a different analogy to my career. Charm was me wanting to blow up and be famous, And I Love H.E.R. was my relationship about Hip Hop as if she was a woman, and Payback is me being at a crossroads in my career and doing things that I have to do to get leverage in the game. So, that’s pretty much the grand scheme of my concept album catalog.
Uptown Bobby: That’s dope man. I remember on Charm, there was a skit on the album where you wake up from the dream of being signed to a label and being famous. Now that you’re actually signed to a major label, is it what you envisioned it to be?
Danny: Not at all, dude. I mean, if this Interscope deal would’ve happened right after I dropped Charm, I would be ecstatic. I was excited about my Def Jux deal, but when that folded, it showed me what the industry was really like. When I started to get recognition, the game was changing. There wasn’t always a time where people could drop a song, it get posted to a blog and get 30,000 hits. There wasn’t any of that back in ’05, ‘06. You needed talent, hard work, and patience that paid off to make it in the game. Now, the game doesn’t reward that anymore. Now, it’s all about the gimmick. I mean, yeah, I’m on a major label, but they aren’t championing me, they’re championing the ‘’swag.’’ And I’m not knocking the style, because there is enough room in Hip Hop for different genres, but when you have people that didn’t work like you worked, it makes you feel overlooked. I’m not mad, I just feel like I expected different results four or five years ago.
Uptown Bobby: I see you’re reasoning behind how you feel. If I were to say that Danny Swain is the most frustrated rapper in all of Hip Hop, would I be accurate?
Danny: Why you gotta do me like that? (Laughs) I think the most frustrated rapper is… wait, you’re right, it’s me. (Laughs) But I don’t want people to take that the wrong way, though. I definitely want people to see why I’m so frustrated. It’s just like going to work. If you go to work every day and do a great job, you expect to be rewarded eventually, right? If you do albums and you get all the critical acclaim and make the Grammy shortlist and all you get is a couple of pats on the back, you’ll probably be pissed, too. If I’m not the most frustrated rapper, I’m definitely the most vocal frustrated rapper. Over the years, I’ve been vocal about everything. If something good happens, I pour out gratitude. I would even name, names like, ‘Yo, shout out to so and so that owns this blog…thank you.’ I always show gratefulness and appreciation…I just also vent my frustrations as well. I try to keep it balanced. That’s how I am in a sense anyway. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I definitely don’t hide how I feel.
Uptown Bobby: Speaking of being emotional, you have a song on Payback, ‘’Do It All Over Again,’’ where you take some shots at rapper/ producer Has-Lo. What happened between you two?
Danny: You know what’s funny about that, man? I mentioned it in a past tense and I didn’t even think people knew who he was. Everyone was like, ‘Man why you dissing Has-Lo, that’s my dog?’ and I would go, ‘You know who Has-Lo is?’ That was so surprising to me. Basically, when I won the Def Jux contract through MTVU back in ’07, Has-Lo was talking smack on the site during the competition. I’ve never been the type of dude to throw shade just because. If I throw shade back, it’s because someone did something to me first. Plus, I’m the type of person that retains everything…I’m like a sponge. Long story short, Def Jux contest happens, I win and he loses and catches feelings about it. I guess some cats in his squad gave him shit for losing to me, so he gets on message boards and starts slandering my name. I got nothing against the dude, I just feel like instead of hating we could’ve made tracks together, but he was on some crabs in a barrel type shit. Another thing about this whole conflict was that it was over nothing. Nothing ever came from the Def Jux deal for me. I could see if I was successful and rich, but nothing happened. I won, he lost, but that was like four or five years ago, so why are you still mad? But, I’m over it. I wish him the best of luck.
Uptown Bobby: Thanks for clearing that up. On that same track, you also talk about another conflict you had with a group of friends called the ‘’Big Up.’’ With the Has-Lo conflict and the problem with the group, do you ever think that your outspoken personality gets you into trouble? And are you the common denominator?
Danny: Eh. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve fucked up on some dumb shit. Sometimes, I even admit it and say, ‘My bad; I fucked up.’ For example, the Def Jux situation was me wanting to know what was going on with my projects. Like, no one was calling me, no e-mails, nothing. So of course I’m going to be outspoken about that. As far as the ‘’Big Up’’ situation goes, feelings got hurt over a song. Someone told me through another person that I called this person a bitch. Just a bunch of childish shit, honestly. The actual song was ‘’Price’’ on And I Love H.E.R and that song was addressing another situation with a member of the group. And that wasn’t necessarily a diss…it was just a song about how I was dealing with a certain situation at the time. You know, maybe it is my personality…maybe it is. But, as far as the common denominator thing, I don’t think so because the only real conflict I had was something I put on record with Has-Lo. Plus, that was retaliation for him talking shit. I feel like my outspoken personality doesn’t come out unless my back is against the wall or I’m counted out.
Uptown Bobby: Let’s go back to Payback for a while. What was your thought process going into this project?
Danny: Can of worms, man. Um, a lot of people that are going to hear the album and go, ‘Man, that’s dope how you got so-and-so on that track,’ but the really observant people will listen and get my logic. Basically, my whole concept with it is that I’m paying back the record industry for overlooking me all this time, so I went to drastic measures to put the album together and execute it. Even right now the marketing plan is all calculated for me to pop out of the blue and make people go, ‘Wow, who’s this guy that has a record with Jim Jones?’ and now that you heard the song, I tricked you into listening to me because I’ve got someone you would listen to on the song. That’s the payback. I’m paying you back for all of the times you that you’ve overlooked me, but at the same time, the songs are good. The goal in all is to make good music. I want people to go, ‘Oh, so this is the guy I’ve been hearing about? Let me go back and check out his back catalog.’ People are checking for Charm, And I Love H.E.R., etc. So that’s the payback…now people are forced to listen to me.
Uptown Bobby: Sounds like a plan that will work. You’ve been doing great with ways of promoting your album. You even got a chance to perform at A3C last year…how was that experience?
Danny: Where do I start? First off, iHip-Hop asked me to be on this A3C disc compilation. So they were like, ‘We’re big fans of yours we want you to be on the album’ blah, blah, blah. I agreed to do it, so I do a song for the disc. Turns out, I might have thrown out some jabs at a few rappers that were also on the compilation. They say I threw a jab at Big Pooh and Kidz in The Hall, but it was all on some competitive shit. It was just some competitive rapper shit, not some ‘I hate these niggas’ type shit.’ Matter of fact, I even called them by name. So, next thing I know, they tell me that they have to cut my track. So I’m pissed off because they made me sign a contract, we’ve already done paper work for me to be on this compilation. So just because I throw a few jabs at your favorite rappers, you take me off the album? There are almost 50 tracks on the album, so how is there not enough space for me? It was all politics. That was strike one. Anyway, when I get there, I’m on stage performing with up and coming rappers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some king shit like, ‘Where’s my throne and caviar’ but I got more time in the game than most of these new dudes and I’m still on the beginner stage. I’m pissed. It’s like no one has the hindsight to put me on a bigger stage when I have an album coming out soon?
Uptown Bobby: You’ve got like seven albums.
Danny: Right. And, it’s not even about my past albums. I got a new album coming out on a major label. I got a song with Bruno Mars, know what I’m saying? I was on a stage with artists that I didn’t want to be confused with because I don’t want people to go, ‘Oh, who’s this new guy named Danny?’ No. I’m an established rapper that’s on the verge. I’m not some new guy that just came out on 2DopeBoyz yesterday. So, that’s why I was so upset about that. No disrespect to anyone that was on stage with me, I just really saw that as a bad look for a guy dropping a major release album in a few months. Then, to top it all off, some guy named Hustle Simmons was on stage dissing me. After I get done performing, dude daps me up, then goes, ‘Man, that nigga wack ‘in front of every fucking body. Mind you, this guy is supposed to be the host. So I’m pissed off. After the set, I confront him backstage about dapping me up then dissing me and he tells me that I’m dope and the he just did it for laughs. That’s some real unprofessional shit. But, after all of that, it showed me another side of the game that I need to get familiar with and understand. I’m keeping it moving now.
Uptown Bobby: Crazy, man. Let’s shift gears back to the music. What’s your favorite in your catalog?
Danny: Man, that’s like having seven kids and having to pick your favorite. Of course I like them all for different reasons. I really love my concept albums… they are a challenge to make. But, Where’s Danny? is my album that best defines me. If someone were to take a camera and film me throughout the day, the final result would be Where’s Danny? It’s crazy because I didn’t start rapping until I heard Eminem. I enjoyed and listened to Hip Hop, but I didn’t start rapping until after Eminem’s first tape. I was impressed with his wordplay, so I took time one day and starting writing my rhymes. I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty good wordsmith, but I was focusing more on storyline and productions with my bigger albums like Charm, And I Love H.E.R., instead of focusing on lyrics more so. People would always say shit like, ‘Danny’s lyrics are okay, but his beats are phenomenal!’ or ‘Danny’s storylines are impeccable, but his lyrics are subpar.’ And for a while I felt like my plan of crafting these elaborate storyline albums was backfiring. It worked in the sense that I was seeing praise for my work, but my lyrics were lacking and that was my fault. So, my motivation behind Where’s Danny? was to make an album that was super-duper lyrical. With that album, I was structuring syllables together, different structures for songs, etc. Instead of worrying about beats, I would just rap over 20 second loops…no drums or nothing. I wanted people to finally notice my lyrics. Overall, my hardcore fans loved it. New fans that I got because of And I Love H.E.R. probably weren’t ready for a project like that, but like I said earlier, I sometimes tend to make music that I want to hear. Personally, I love it.
Uptown Bobby: How annoying was it earlier in your career to always be compared to Kanye West?
Danny: Ah, man. It was even worse back in my home state. Once I made it over to the Internet fame, most of the Kanye comparisons died down because people were actually listening to my music and realizing that I’m nothing like Kanye. I mean, my style is kind of preppy and I made beats, so people would go, ‘Oh, you’re kind of like a knock off Kanye West.’ But, on the Internet, people were like, ‘Why are people calling you Kanye? You guys sound nothing alike.’ Again, it was more of the crab in the barrel type shit niggas do to pigeon hold people. Was it annoying at first? Yes. But once I saw why people were really saying it, I let it slide. I do mention it on some of my albums, though. It’s something that’s never stopped me from making music. Charlemagne Tha God is one of the first people back home in South Carolina that started the whole, ‘Danny Swain is a fake Kanye’ insult.
Uptown Bobby: How is your relationship with Charlemagne?
Danny: We haven’t spoken in a while, but last time we talked, we were on great terms. Matter of fact, he wanted me to do feature on a compilation he did a few years back. We squashed the whole thing though. I was an up and coming rapper, he was an up and coming DJ… shit happens. Now he’s doing a big radio show upstate and I’m trying to do this major label thing. Like, when I made the Grammy short list with Charm, he approached me and just apologized for giving me such a hard time back when I first started. It was just politics, you know? So, no hard feelings… we’re cool now.
Uptown Bobby: What’s on your horizon in 2012?
Danny: I just want this album to sell well and give me a chance to release more good music. I want to tour, I want to do videos, etc. I mean, if this album doesn’t sell, I could get dropped from the label. Hopefully that doesn’t happen and Payback goes on to sell and I get to release more dope music for my fans.
Uptown Bobby: I hear you, but even if you do get dropped, you’ve got a big enough fan base and know how to still sell. Don’t you agree?
Danny: Yeah, in a sense. I’m actually glad you brought that up because if anything, this label deal has made me smarter. If I got this deal six years ago, I would be giddy and happy, like, ‘I’m on a major label and things are going to change now!’ No. I know better than that now. Things aren’t going to change. Look at it now, I’m not getting any major press…I’m not on T.V. If I got dropped now, I can at least say that I’ve got a song with Pharell. I can use connections like that to advance. When I was on Def Jux, I didn’t get those opportunities. I put albums out, but I didn’t have anything to show for those efforts. Now, I can at least say that I got this dope ass album with A-list features that were willing to be down for me. Plus, I got an advance from the label. I actually have something to show for my work. And even if I did get dropped, I’ll just build from there. There are plenty of artists out there that get dropped from labels and go back to their original fan base. Sometimes that’s actually better than before because they’ve attracted new fans now. Whatever happens, I’m going to find some way to release music and that’s all that matters.
Uptown Bobby: Thanks for your time man. Best wishes with Payback.
Danny: No problem, man. Thanks for reaching out to me. I appreciate that. Much love to KevinNottingham.com.