The nigga named Danny! is a lot of things to a lot of people: some see him as a mysterious, inaccessible artist. Others see him and want to spit on him. Many remember him as a college kicked-out, and a Grammy nominee. To others (primarily, record labels), Danny Swain is a one-man music machine, writing his own songs, producing his own tracks, then hyping them to the community. He was previously signed to Def Jux, but in a downward slope that included his "baby" of an album (Where Is Danny?) prematurely leaking, causing rifts and seclusion. Recently, Interscope discovered his talents, and have inked him to a deal. The leaks from the all-Danny! produced Where Is Danny? have hit and are hits, and we got a chance to speak to Swain about his progression, from around 2007 to today. Kick your feet up and help us chart homey's journey to now.
khal: I remember a few years back, starting to hear the tracks from Where Is Danny? getting leaked, and getting SUPER excited over your look over at Def Jux. You linked up with them in 2007, right? Talk to us about how it felt to link with one of the last underground Hip-Hop staples from the late ‘90s.
Danny!: Going into it, even as I’m a contestant in the running during their talent search, of course I’m super-amped to potentially be working side-by-side with El-P, Aesop Rock and the rest of the Def Jux roster. I’m familiar with the music, was a fan and really hoped to make the most of the situation if I were to win. I did win and got the call from El-P and Mr. Lif and MTV and after that? POOF. (laughs) You know it’s hilarious, and it may be an eye-opener for those still butthurt about the way the contest didn’t pan out in their favor (laughs), but the actual input and assistance from Def Jux was zero. I think a news release went out January of 2007 and that was about it. Now don’t get me wrong, I kept in constant contact with the general manager; we talked every other week or so and he seemed to want the best for me, but I could tell something wasn’t right behind the scenes. I heard from El sporadically; it’d always be supportive but at the end of the day no one did anything for me over there. So my excitement slowly turned into resentment before 2007 was even over.
khal: It’s gotta be bittersweet to bring Def Jux up, then, seeing as you put out two critically-acclaimed album projects while they weren’t really handling their own on the promo of your single. Was it frustrating to be associated with an independent like that, but still being overlooked or under-promoted?
Danny!: It was okay at first, as I was prepared to continue to work anyway even if they did offer a hand. I figured in the worst-case scenario I could just use their name to gain notoriety while continuing to push forward on my own. They half-assedly put out the “Just Friends” single but everyone knows that was just a bonus track from the Danny Is Dead EP that I put out independently while on Def Jux, two years before the “Just Friends” release date. I feel like, if they put out just a little more effort in promoting me, things would be a little easier now but I feel like it’s 2006 again and I’m starting from scratch, you know, mad self-promotion. By the time Where Is Danny? was being developed, which at this point was my third project while being associated with Def Jux (although they weren’t the ones who released them), they were already getting ready to close its doors. I knew about it well in advance, but I guess I secretly hoped that Where Is Danny? would be the record to “save” them, you know, help them get some clout back. Everyone remembers they lost a lot of credibility by signing acts like Chin Chin and Dizzee Rascal and doing remixes for Kidz in da Hall, so my new musical direction happened to coincide with critics’ observations of what the label was supposedly “missing”. Part of the reason why I “disappeared” after Where Is Danny? leaked is just that frustration of feeling like I got the short end of the stick with that deal, though there are many, many others reasons. Frustrated is a gross understatement.
khal: Needless to say, it felt like when Where Is Danny? started to hit its stride with the promo and such, that your career was definitely on track. I vividly remember being at work and hearing talk of delays and push backs, then one day the album just appearing. Word was that IMEEM had leaked the full project or something to that effect. I imagine mad time had been put into the album – describe your feelings about the leak. Did it feel like there was some kind of hump you couldn’t get over?
Danny!: I feel like there’s a hump everyday (laughs). I always have to think ten steps ahead if I intend to prevent career snafus to happen. In this case, I remember initially feeling like "damn, again?”, because earlier that year the clean version had leaked online – thought it wasn’t all 26 tracks – but I was able to quickly seek out the source and patch that hole. So when it leaked again, this time in full form, I was kinda like “whatever. I don’t care anymore” and posted links myself to Twitter on some “hey, it’s already out there, you’re gonna Google it anyway, so here”. The more I thought about it though, here you have a highly-anticipated album that leaked twice. Apparently people really, really want to hear it! So I eventually took it as a compliment and rolled with it. I wasn’t worried about sales so much, I was just concerned that people wouldn’t consider it a “real” album since it was available for free and therefore have it lose credibility as just a “mixtape” when it never was a mixtape. But as you can see, everything worked out for the best.
khal: Now I didn’t notice this at the time, but apparently Where Is Danny? had been placed on iTunes, but assumingly after the leak, the tracks had been taken down, and a rift between yourself and Alex Goose arose, which caused you to go back into Where Is Danny? and use solely your beats. What happened on his end to basically distance himself from you and the project? Was he the cause for the album being taken off of iTunes?
Danny!: I’d prefer not to speak his name more than once in this interview, as 90% of his Google hits are attached to my name as it is (laughs); not trying to help #ThatGuy any more than I already have. I hate to be so mean but yes, a dispute between #ThatGuy and I is the reason that iTunes pulled not only Where Is Danny? the album, but the single “Get Down” that Interscope released digitally. Here’s the story, since you asked: my musical collective was supposed to help fund Where Is Danny? equally and split the profits evenly. Recording costs, replication, whatever. Before we could, we all fell out not even a year after our exodus to Atlanta in 2009, over what exactly I’ll never know. There was a financial dispute between me and another friend within the group and in his attempt to turn everyone against me, rumors were spread that I called someone else in the group a ‘ho’ or some wack untrue shit like that, but I never understood the real reason for the split other than a lack of integrity and loyalty all along. Anyway, everyone goes their separate ways and I’m left high and dry because #ThatGuy and I originally agreed that, since no one knows who the fuck he is, I should let him produce Where Is Danny? in its entirety and help get his name out there while I focus on showing niggas I could spit my ass off when I didn’t have my hands in so many pots. With him out of the picture though, I would’ve had to make all the beats myself, which was fine because I gave him most of the samples to use anyway. Two months pass by and #ThatGuy returns with his tail between his legs, offering to assist with the project after all and apologizing for believing the rumors. Now everyone knows I’m too trusting (laughs) so of course I oblige. Only this time, instead of doing it for free (as he had previously offered), he was talking about compensation. I’m like “huh? But the album is already recorded though!” Royalties were cool, sure, but you want me to pay you for some uncleared loops? No one helped me fund the album as originally agreed so no one had a right to any of the profits of MY album except ME, much less a right to switch it up at the last minute. He moved to Los Angeles shortly afterward and there was a lot of talk back and forth about how he would be compensated and I’m like “you dirty son of a bitch” the whole time but still willing to work with him, you feel me? At this point Where Is Danny? is just sitting collecting dust and losing relevance so I’m like “fuck this, this is MY album” and I delivered it to retail in 2010. I told myself I would wait for my first check (you get paid 90 days after the official release date on iTunes, typically) to throw some bread his way, but before I can even get to that point this bastard reports a copyright violation just to get my attention that I haven’t paid him. iTunes does a petty investigation and rules in his favor. To loops, no less. 95% of the tracks on the album don’t even have real beats, that’s me rapping over the entire sample.
khal: Well damn. So this all must have went down in late 2009, early 2010. I just got put on to the fact that you’re now signed to Interscope. You already danced with one label who, while they had ‘nuff success, still didn’t do for you what you’d assume a label would do. Hell, the latest bit of info came from you, not one of their hired press hands. What’s it like going at this again, with an even bigger label?
Danny!: I feel like I learned my lesson the first time around about having lowered expectations (laughs). At this point I am 100% prepared to continue to take my career into my own hands, it’s just the cards I was dealt. I think I just came into the game at a time where it was extremely beneficial for an artist to be DIY-minded and I took that and ran with it fully while an unsigned rapper. Why do you think these labels sign me, just because of the music? No, they see my ethic and say “oh, we won’t have to do much for him. He’s got it.” And I’m like “no! Help me!” (laughs). So it’s a tragic, perpetual catch-22 I’m stuck in, but this time I’m not taking no for an answer. I’m taking advantage of them flying me out to the offices and talking to me face-to-face, something Def Jux never did. I’ll be up there in the office using up their long-distance minutes like “let me call up Von Pea! We gotta get PeaSwain out there”. I’ll be ordering Chinese food and shit (laughs). I’m like, “this time, let me get something out of this!”
khal: You’ve got the re-release of Where Is Danny? on the way – we already heard this album, just with Goose’s beats. Who made the decision to re-release it?
Danny!: A few people did, actually. When I first realized #ThatGuy was pulling this stunt, I was admittedly devastated. Like “damn, how could he do that? Why can’t he just call me up and say ‘hey, you got a check for me?’” Like that was my friend, you feel me? But I had been corresponding with my friend over at iTunes, Jasmyn, she’s the one who was in charge of the investigation but we go way back ‘cause she’s a fan and we became cool over Myspace or whatever. So we’re talking through email and she’s like “damn Danny I’m sorry to do this to you but if they’re his beats…” and I’m trying to explain that he didn’t do shit but loop shit in Fruity Loops, and I forgot what it is she said precisely but I’m like “wait a minute. I’M A FUCKING PRODUCER.” I was so caught up in the history of our friendship and his actions that I forgot that in no way am I at a disadvantage. I would’ve been had I, oh I don’t know, not self-produced every single one of my five albums thus far, including three instrumental discs. Not to mention I gave him most, if not all, of the samples anyway and on top of that they’re just loops? I was like “sheeeeeeeeeit” and I immediately hit up Jake who’s in charge of copyright over there. Next thing I know Interscope is excited about making the best of a bad situation because by re-releasing it with 100% my beats, it gives them a chance to claim a bigger stake in a project they weren’t even involved in (laughs). When they initially approached me about a deal last summer they were talking about re-releasing Where Is Danny? even back then, but I refused. I agreed to a single from the album and an entirely new project after that but not my baby Where Is Danny?, I didn’t want [Universal] to truncate it into 10 or 12 tracks like they did with So Far Gone, repackage and totally ruin my vision for the sake of sales. So they were more than thrilled that #ThatGuy had inadvertently X’d himself out of the picture, but ultimately we decided that the new version would be released commercially, but only as promo for the official project later this year. I was gonna re-release it anyway, but by Interscope getting involved it turned into a beautiful thing. I’m actually waiting on a couple of verses now so that the record isn’t just remixes to older songs, but new joints as well.
khal: There’s also word that you’ve got an official first single on the way, dropping sometime this month. Talk to us about “officially” entering this next phase of your career. What else is in store for you, release wise? We on the berth of a new album of material from you?
Danny!: Hopefully so man, hopefully so. If things go according to plan I should have about three projects out by the end of the year, four if you include Where Is Danny’s re-release. Of these maybe two will be out on Interscope definitely, and maybe two of them will be full-on Hip-Hop projects. I’ve been working with this electronica/indie pop band from Sweden this whole year so I’m interested to see how that works out. Interscope may pick them up so it could be the first act I’ve ever signed under my imprint.
khal: On a personal note, one of my favorite moments from Von Pea’s Pea’s Gotta Have It was “Open School”, a track where you were featured, and you guys made a couple of remarks referencing what had to have been a wild time in your college career. While you’re lyrically an open book, one has to wonder, do you ever self-edit or hold back how real you might keep it in a verse?
Danny!: You have to laugh, you know, at certain things that happen in your life if you ever expect to get over it and move on. Getting expelled was a big deal at the time, but through humor and being open I was able to overcome it to the point that it is really not a big deal to me. I even reference the fall out between me and #ThatGuy and our group of friends on the first verse “Lost One”, and that was a big deal at the time. I even say “FUCK ‘EM” in that verse, like, quite clear. And that’s always been me. I’ve never been afraid to confront things head on. Ironically enough it to took the grade-changing incident to get me to that point. At the time it was like Eminem dissing himself in the 8 Mile battle, like “yeah I got expelled, now find something else to say about me”. At the same time, as much as I put out there I’ve got plenty of shit that no one knows about ‘cause I haven’t put it in a song yet. I keep it pretty balanced, believe me. (laughs)
khal: Seeing as you’re back in the saddle as producer for Where Is Danny?, one has to wonder – are you ever getting hit up by artists looking for beats? And to add on to that, I remember Where Is Danny? was you specifically trying to show niggas you could spit – if you had to make a choice: you could only rhyme or make beats. Which would you choose and why?
Danny!: It’s because of this whole bullshit “inaccessible” reputation that I supposedly have that I believe people don’t reach out to me for beats, though I am definitely open to work with people. I was telling someone the other day that I don’t even think it’s “where is Danny?” so much as it is “we don't want to fuck with you, so we'll make you out to be this dodgy person and front like we can't ever find you when really, we don't WANT to find you.” Maybe I’m thinking too hard about it (laughs). Anyway I’ve always put it out there that I’m down to work with people but a lot of times I get nothing so oh well. If I could choose I would go behind the scenes for sure and just stick to producing. I’ve already hit a glass ceiling with the rap side, you know? People know I can spit, I can make concept albums, blah blah blah but it’s just restricted to Hip-Hop. Production-wise a lot of people don’t know what I’m capable of and I’d love to shed a spotlight solely on that someday.
khal: Are we missing anything? What else is poppin’ with you – albeit a guilty pleasure, I heard you fucks with Glee now? What made you want to check out America’s latest musical craze?
Danny!: Man it’s my girl (laughs). She’s the one who watches it religiously. I would’ve written it off like I do everything else if I hadn’t been suckered into watching it. It’s not that bad of a show, really! Maybe I’m just a softie for the tunes they sing from my childhood.
khal: How does Danny Swain want to be remembered?
Danny!: That’s a really good question. I guess I just want people to know that I’m a genuine dude that truly loves creating music, be it Hip-Hop or any other genre. There’s nothing else that makes me happier than making music, either by myself or with my peers. I want to be remembered as that dude that never took no for an answer and got so many people to check for me without a machine behind me. I didn’t invent the wheel, I wasn’t the first person to push DIY to the max but I’m one of the few, especially in Rap, to do it really well, and I just want people to respect that, even if – and when – they don’t respect the music.
khal: Got any shouts or final thoughts before we wrap this up?
Danny!: Here’s a thought: what goes around, comes around. Look at me, then look at the people that do and say negative things about me. I implore you to find one person that isn’t doing as well as me career-wise that has something nice to say (laughs); To all my fans and anyone still checking for Danny even when I go through label woes and opportunist ex-friends, I appreciate y’all. Y’all are the wind in my sails for real!