featured interview

Danny! The next Jukie is... Originally claiming to retire after his 3rd solo instalment 'Charm' in 2006, best believe Danny Swain's career perspectives turned 360 degrees since then: releasing the 'Danny is Dead' Ep, winning the Best Music On Campus competition and - the cherry on top - getting signed to leading hip-hop label Def Jux. Reasons enough to sit down with the man. Don't say we didn't warn you: within a year you all gonna shout his name, with a lot more than one exclamation mark behind it. Danny!!!!

Wassup Danny! Why the exclamation mark behind your name?

What?s up man? Oh, the exclamation mark is a running gag that began as a joke and wound up being my trademark. Back when I was a teenager I?d tell all my friends I was gonna be a famous rapper someday, and they?d say, ??well, what?ll your stage name be? ?And I?d tell ?em I?d go by my first name because I didn?t want a corny, ridiculous-sounding alias. So then they?d be like, ??Danny is too boring! You?ve got to spice it up.? So that?s when I started using the exclamation mark at the end of my name. On paper, it almost looks like an enthusiastic shout. Like, ??you ever heard of Danny?? ??Who?? ??You know, Danny!? ??Oh yeah, Danny! Why didn?t you say so?? (laughs) My friends from back then still give me grief to this day.

?Danny is Dead? is an obvious reference to the De La album from 1992, are there any comparisons to make with that album or is it just a reference to one of your favourite groups?

Well, De La Soul happens to be one of my favourite groups of course. But the mind set I had when making this album was similar to the one they had nearly fifteen years ago. Back then they created arguably one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, ??3 Feet High And Rising?, and were being unfairly labelled as ??hip-hop?s hippies? and ??soft?. They came back on their next record on a tip like, ??oh, this is what you think we are? Well, take this!? and totally flipped it on ?em. That?s what I aim to do with ??Danny Is Dead?, to show people that whatever your conception of me as an artist is, you?re probably wrong. It?s a little edgier than, say, ??Charm?? but if you pay attention it?s still Danny all the way.

Is that your favourite De La album?

I mean, don?t get me wrong?...I think ??De La Soul Is Dead? is a great album. But as far as personal favourite, I?d have to pick ??Stakes Is High?. That has more to do with the role it played in my life than the actual quality. I didn?t even get into hip-hop like that until I was like 10. ??Buhloone Mindstate?? had come out that year, but it took me a few years to acquaint myself with De La and most other artists like Tribe, GangStarr, and LL before I could really feel ?em. By the time ??Stakes Is High? came out, I had ??caught up ?right in time to get into the new guys like Nas, Jay-Z, and the Notorious BIG. But yeah, I gotta roll with ??Stakes?...??. The track itself [??Stakes Is High?] is probably one of my all-time favourite hip-hop songs.

There?s an ATCQ tribute on ??Danny Is Dead?, why not a De La tribute or why not calling the album ??Danny?s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm???

(laughs) I know, right? Or ??Beats, Rhymes and Danny?? No, naming my album ??Danny Is Dead?? is not just me taking a stand and making a statement about people?s misconceptions of me, but it?s also my attempt to pay tribute to the artists that paved the way for me. To kinda show ?em, ??look, you inspired me to do what I do?. If it weren?t for cats like Tribe, De La, Rakim, Nas and Jay, I never would?ve explored a career in rap. And then sampling the song ??Dubnova? to re-create ??Find A Way?, I?m not only paying homage to these artists I grew up admiring, but I wanna keep the torch lit on their legacy. The genre of rap they helped introduce, you know?...it?s kinda fading fast. No one seems to want to have fun in hip-hop anymore. These guys were obviously enjoying what they do, but they were still very lyrical, still putting messages and meaning in their rhymes. So that?s what I try to do, keep their vision alive while putting my own unique spin on it at the same time.

Why did you decide to enrol into the Best Music On Campus competition?

I figured it couldn?t hurt. What did I have to lose? At the time, ??Charm?? was doing its thing but I just felt like I had pushed as hard as I could, you know, promoted it as much as humanly possible. So I started telling people I didn?t have any plans to put out any more albums. Not long after I did that, I stumbled across the contest on some website. It offered college students a chance to jump-start their careers so I thought, ??why the hell not??. By the time I caught wind of it, it was already a month or so underway. So I didn?t even think I?d make it very far, considering that most guys had already begun racking up a lot of votes and all. But sure enough, they called me up in January and told me that I had won the competition. The way everything worked out, it was a perfect way to find an excuse to come out of retirement! (laughs)

Since Def Jux has sponsored the competition, did you think you?d fit right in at Def Jux, because your music isn?t automatically the music Def Jux is known for?

At first I really didn?t think I?d be their ideal artist. Even after they picked me it was way too surreal, like, ??did they pick the right person? They do realize who they?ve chosen, right??? But after Mr. Lif and El-P reached out on separate occasions and told me that they were genuinely feeling my stuff, I felt more at ease. Although Def Jux may have come into prominence for having some sort of sound or embracing a certain type of artist, I think that what I stand for artistically allows me to fit in more than any song I can ever come up with. So I don?t really worry about ??fitting in?? anymore.

Why did you decide to release the ??Danny Is Dead?? album instead, to get more attention before you?ll be releasing an EP on Def Jux?

Well, hopefully that?s something that?ll happen as well. I would like to generate some sort of interest for people who might be getting familiar with me for the first time. They might never have heard of me until [Def Jux] made the announcement and added me to their website. Maybe they went back and downloaded ??Charm?? and thought, ??he?s okay?...but what else can he do??? But ??Danny Is Dead?? is first and foremost for the fans. For the ones that went out and bought ??Charm?? strictly off word-of-mouth. It?s for those that continuously send e-mails supporting me and my music. If these people care enough to write me and ask for new material, I have to give them what they want. It?s fortunate the way things worked out because while I wait for Def Jux and the lawyers to do whatever the heck it is that they?re doing, I?m still technically a free agent and am able to release this project in stores and self-promote it just like I did with ??Charm??.

What can we expect and what do you expect from the EP on Def Jux?

What can you expect? More good music from yours truly. If you like ??Charm?? and ??Danny Is Dead??, then I guarantee you won?t be disappointed with the Def Jux EP. I?ve got a ton of ideas that I?m trying to sort through right now, I don?t want to reveal them just yet but there could very well be a sequel to ??Charm?? in the works. I?ll probably handle the majority of the production myself, as I always have, with a few contributions from my friends. What do I expect? I expect Def Jux to be behind me 100% and fully utilize everything they can as a label to introduce me, and in some cases re-introduce me, to the world.

You?re known for doing everything yourself?...but with a record deal at hand there?s gonna be opportunities for co-operations with some noticeable artists I guess, you gonna take advantage of that?

I would certainly like to! In addition to working with some of my label mates, it?d be great if I could parlay my Def Jux signing into a couple of collaborations with some artists I respect. MF Doom, Murs, Jean Grae, Mos Def...hey, maybe even Pharrell. You never know!

How was working with Mr Lif?

Unfortunately, I haven?t worked with Lif yet. I haven?t even spoken to Mr. Lif since the day I won the contest six months ago. No one?s really reached out to me since the big hoopla after I won, but maybe it?s not their place to. Hopefully soon though, but I don?t know. According to the label, Lif and I should be connecting to work on the single sometime this year, so we?ll see about that.

Any other artists you wanna work with soon?

Other than the ones I mentioned earlier? Not really?...well, none that come to mind right now. I?m willing to work with anybody as long as they come with the heat! On a producer tip, I?d love to get more of my beats out there. It?s anyone?s guess why no one has yet to reach out and ask for beats. Working with artists as a producer, I?d like to maybe get some beats to Lupe Fiasco, or Ghostface, or Jean Grae. I?d love to reach out to Q-Tip on his new solo project, that?d really have things come full circle for me. It?d be cool to do some sort of compilation project someday where different artists rhyme over my beats.

Now that you got signed with Def Jux do you hope to get with Meagan Good?

Oh, it?s inevitable now. (laughs) I dedicated a song to her [titled ??Meagan Good??] on my instrumental album ??Dream, Fulfilled??, so when she gets wind of that, and my record deal? She?ll come running to my arms. With a restraining order. (laughs)

Hmm?... or how about Bjorn Borg?s daughter?

Nah, she never returns any of my phone calls! (laughs) I?m just playin?. I mentioned something about having a crush on Meagan Good a long time ago in an interview, and said something to the effect of, ??if I get a [record] deal maybe she?ll notice me??. Journalists ran with it and twisted it around to make it seem like I wanted to get a deal only so I could get her to notice me. It?s all funny to me, I just follow people up whenever they ask me about it. The ??Bjorn Borg?s daughter?? thing is a gag I?ve had since high school, I can?t even remember where it came from. Bjorn Borg is a tennis player with a funny-ass name and an attractive daughter. I find humour in random stuff like that, I don?t know. (laughs)

Your own label 1911 Music is named after the birth year of a student fraternity, is Badenov named after the cartoon character Boris Badenov...?

Yep! You?re very perceptive. I used to watch ??Rocky & Bullwinkle?? all the time when I was a kid, so when I was trying to come up with a name for my own imprint that I could put out my own albums on, that?s the only thing I could seem to come up with. ??On Da Grind Records?? and ??I?m A Hustler, You?re a Hustler, Everybody?s A Hustler Entertainment?? were already taken, I?m afraid. (laughs)

As for 1911, will it continue to exist even after you have a (big) record deal?

I?d like for it to. 1911 Music will always be my baby, and I want to hopefully expand it into a production company/record label that I can sign my own artists under someday. Artists just like me, with a strong do-it-yourself work ethic and don?t mind giving it 200%. With multiple artists on a label giving more than what they?re expected, it?s an unstoppable force. The possibilities are endless. I?m already in the process of shopping my BMI-affiliated publishing company (Chubby Baby Publishing) to a corporation like EMI or Warner-Chappell, so hopefully big things are in store for 1911 Music as well.

Between ??Charm?? and ??Danny Is Dead?? there are two albums called ??Dream, Interrupted?? and ??Dream, Fulfilled???...tell us more about those albums?...?

??Dream, Interrupted?? and ??Dream, Fulfilled?? are two instrumental albums I decided to release while I was on ??retirement??. If you notice, I put them out under my real name (Daniel Swain) because at the time ??Danny!?? was retired. They?re both 23 tracks long. I put out ???...Interrupted?? in August 2006 and ???...Fulfilled?? eight months later. Initially I only released them overseas, but when ??Charm?? started taking off and people starting asking for them in the States, I tried to get my distributor to press up a short-run and get them in stores. But I ran into some financial issues and on top of that, I was having second thoughts on pressing them up so I decided to re-release them digitally only. You can purchase these two albums on iTunes and Napster now. Anywhere that sells music digitally, you can buy ?em. They might be available on vinyl soon, so look out for that.

How many dreams do you have left as for your musical career?

Oh man, I?m just getting started. Things are just now starting to take off for me so I?ve still got a long way to go. Like I mentioned earlier I?d like to turn 1911 Music into a full-fledged production company and label. In the long run I?d like to use the musical talents God gave me as a stepping stone into other ventures, like community centres and programs for children. But that?s way down the road, I?m only focusing on music now! I?m still dreamin? man.

You have an impressive write-up on Wikipedia do you have a personal biographer?

I guess I do now! (laughs) Whoever is keeping up my Wikipedia page is doing a hell of a job. On a Wiki page there?s a history section that shows you who edited what at what time. I tried e-mailing one of the users who did the most editing but never got a response back. It?s still a mystery to me, but it?s not like anything they?re writing is that far off. Most of the information can easily be found by Googling interviews I?ve done, or going to my website for that matter. Most of what I?ve seen [on the Wikipedia page] so far is either true or not big enough of a reach for me to worry about. I?d let Wikipedia?s admins know if there was a problem. But so far, I?m impressed. (laughs)

What was the first rap record you bought?

Hmmm?...the first rap record I actually bought was the ??Flava In Ya Ear?? maxi-single. The first one that was bought for me was Kris Kross?s first album. My mother must?ve thought I was into that or somethin?!

Are you buying a lot of rap records nowadays, if so what artists?

I?m getting ready to cop ??Ear Drum?? by Talib Kweli. I?m into MF Doom, I wish he?d put out some new material soon. I may cop the ??Mm?...Food??? re-release. The last rap record I actually bought was ??Ruff Draft?? by J. Dilla.

What was the last non-rap-album(s) you bought?

I actually bought a physical copy of ??St. Elsewhere?? by Gnarls Barkley. That was probably the last physical album I?ve ever went in a store and bought, until last week when I got Andre 3000?s ??Class of 3000?? soundtrack. Nowadays I typically get my stuff off of iTunes. I got the new Chrisette Michelle not too long ago.

Do you collect records or are you strictly buying em for producing?

Back when I first started buying vinyl I was just trying to beef up my crates, so I can poke my chest out when talking to other collectors about how many records I had. I wasn?t sampling back then, I was just frontin? like I was to impress the older cats I looked up to. I didn?t start sampling until I was like 18 or 19, so by the time I started using them for producing I already had a pretty big stash. So nowadays it?s a mixture of both. But more-so than both collecting and producing, I buy records now just to listen to. I?ll just dig through some stuff, find something interesting and throw it on the player. If the music is good, I?ll research the artist to find out about their other work. I?m so big on these 60?s lounge singers and 70?s soul groups now, it?s crazy. Ask anyone that knows me, I?m a big Sylvers fan.

What?s your production set-up right now?

(laughs) If I told you, you wouldn?t believe me. Hell, you might think less of me. When I first started producing I had the nice MPC setup with the keyboards, turntables and all that. But ever since 2004 I?ve been using the Technics turntable to rip samples, Fruity Loops for my beats, and Cool Edit Pro/Adobe Audition to mix down my vocals. My setup hasn?t changed much since then. I guess I?m just too complacent; if it ain?t broke, why fix it? How can you? If ??Charm?? made it to the Grammy shortlist off of Fruity Loops and Cool Edit Pro, anything can happen.

Do you consider yourself a producer more than a rapper?

That?s a very good question. I seem to have taken the most criticism in my career for my raps than my beats. That?s partly because I?d been making beats a little longer than I started rapping seriously. So I kinda had to grow into my own production, which had already started to progress by the time I picked up a mic. So in that aspect, you could say I?m more of a producer, because I have slightly more experience behind the boards than behind the mic. At the same time, I?ve definitely grown as an MC over the years, and I honestly believe my skills as a producer and as a rapper are neck and neck now. What anyone else perceives me as depends on what day of the week you ask them. But me, I consider myself just an artist who happens to produce and rap, with ample room for continuous growth.

Being from South Carolina, you?re surrounded by a lot of crunk, are you a fan?

No. But at the same time, you?ll never hear me shoot it down. I?ve been in a lot of heated arguments in favour of crunk music with peers who have elitist views on music, and I?m not even a big fan. That?s because I feel like everything in music has its place. All types of genres under the hip-hop umbrella can co-exist together, as long as one isn?t being exposed more than the other. That?s when it becomes a problem; it only brings people down when that?s all you ever hear is crunk, crunk, crunk. Now, do I feel like crunk music has unfairly been characterized as the ??voice?? of South Carolina? Absolutely. There are far too many unknown artists in the Columbia area alone that don?t perform crunk music, and they?re not getting their much-deserved shine. However, I respect every single one of those crunk artists because they had a dream just like me, to make something of myself through music. That?s not even a consumerist view, that?s the standpoint from one artist to another. From a music buyer?s standpoint, like I said earlier, crunk certainly has its place alongside all other forms of hip-hop. It just so happens that there?s no real balance right now, and it?s been that way for some time. Maybe eventually other forms of hip-hop can take prominence in South Carolina. So although I?m not a fan of the music, I believe there?s a place for all forms of music, just like there?s a place for mine.

We recently interviewed So-Ca artist Preach, familiar with him? I feel I?m responsible to show the people that South Carolina has some heat, are you of the same opinion, like do you want to release other So-Ca artists? albums on 1911 Music?

Yeah, Preach is definitely doing the damn thing with his ??Garveyism For Life?? album. It?s starting to pick up some steam, Okayplayer recently gave it a good rating. Shout-out to the homie Preach, he is definitely another one to watch for from South Carolina. But there?s plenty of talented artists coming out of South Carolina, like my girl Peace! Peace is making major moves and is preparing to release her solo album as we speak. She?s about to be the next from South Carolina after me to get some major shine. I can go down the list of artists on the come-up out of Carolina: Preach, Peace, Ill Shawn, Mac-A-Don, The Elements, Lil? Ru, Collardgreens, Queezy, Piazo, Gemstar...and that?s just from my hometown. When I first came out I used to be like, ??yeah, I?m gonna put South Carolina on the map! Yee-haw!?? But I think that?s a far-fetched concept now, to leave the responsibility of giving the city some shine to one person. It?s gonna take a lot more than a local act to go global to bring South Carolina hip-hop to the forefront, and the first of those things is unity. Unity between artists and radio, unity between artists and other artists?...it doesn?t matter how talented we all are, if we?re not working together as a unit we?re never gonna be able to succeed and bring some light to this tragically slept-on state. I want to be able to show the world we got heat, but how can I when the next man is busy tearin? me down and talkin? sh*t? If you?re still bad-mouthing Danny in 2007, you need to get with the times and cool out. This isn?t 2004 anymore! (laughs)

What?s next for Danny!?

Man, I?m just gonna try to push ??Danny Is Dead?? until the wheels fall off. Hopefully I can build a buzz similar to ??Charm?? that?ll get people talking about me again, and maybe even wind up at the Grammys again! Anything I can do to stand out and not be categorized as just another Internetground MC like these other guys, I?m gonna do it. Other than that, I?m thinking about releasing one more instrumental album to complete the trilogy, and then finishing up a project with my boy G. When me and my homegirl Peace can finally synch our busy schedules, we?ll be hittin y?all with a joint album so look out for that! In the meantime, I?m just waiting for Def Jux to follow through on the deal. Hopefully things?ll pick up from there!

Shout-outs?

Absolutely! Gotta give a shout-out to all the people that continuously support me and showed me love when no one else would. Much love to Randy Exclusive, Sean Westergaard, Marisa Brown, Tim McCauley, David Jeffries, Okayplayer?s Ginny and Dan, The Couch Sessions?s Stone and Jerome, Steve ??Flash?? Juon, Nick Gant, Hip-Hop Linguistics? Nat Long, Shannon Barbour, SOHH.com?s H.D., Dick Johnson and Janee Bolden, URB Magazine?s Will Ketchum and Corey Ciotti, Justin Cober-Lake over at PopMatters, Kim Nunley at ThaHipHop.com and my fam here at Platform 8470! And of course I gotta give love to my sisters Morgan and Peace, Jessi and Brandi, Joi, Dee Dee Murray, Cyndi Fuller, Josh Binder, Doug Odell, Molly Dean, Alanna!, Tim, Skip, Goose, Lloyd, Branden, G, Mack and John. Okay, now I?m done. (laughs)

How glad are you that the name Kanye West didn?t turn up in this interview?

(laughs) I was just waiting for the shoe to drop! After every question I was like, ??okay, now he?s gonna find a way to somehow bring up Kanye!?? You?re the first person to NOT mention him, so you get props for that! (laughs)

Thanks a lot!

No, thank you man! Very glad to do the interview, thanks for having me. Peace!

 

POSTED 07|01|2007
conducted by Cpf

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