Breeding Ground Spotlight: Danny! – Still ?uestlove Co-Signed and Jay-Z Approved


The Carolinas haven’t always been a beacon for producing a large pool of Hip-Hop talent. Aside from Little Brother, 9th Wonder, and Phonte, the scale of the South’s coastal region hasn’t always seen much light. Danny! is a South Carolinian who has encountered a unique sense of struggle.

Recently releasing his newest album Payback, Danny Swain, or Danny! for short, has been praised by people at the top of the industry, while simultaneously being unheard of by people who might normally go for his type of music.

From strange scandals to industry problems and even the somewhat ineffectiveness of major co-signs, it always seems like the cards have been stacked against the Columbia native. recently talked with Danny! about his struggles, his success, and what he has planned next. Danny! says that his co-signs from Jay-Z and ?uestlove should have gotten him farther, and he pronounces his support for artists who want to speak their mind: What got you into doing Hip-Hop music?

Danny!: I guess I’ve always had a love for it. It was always around, and eventually my parents grew to allow me to listen to it. So, it went from me listening to it, to wanting to create a lot of things that as a child I was experiencing – whether it was cartoons or watching sports on TV. If I saw it, I’d be like, “Man I wanna do that too!” So, I went from wanting to play sports to taking up an interest in drawing and art, things like that. I tried Hip-Hop, and it turned in to a hobby. You’ve gone through a lot of pain and misery with the industry from label problems, album problems. How have you been able to fight through all of this?

Danny!: I guess I was born with a lot of resilience, but even in that, people wanna vent, people wanna say, “Aww man, this isn’t fair, aww man, this sucks, etc.” Not only has social media been a good part of my success to begin with, but it’s also given me a platform to vent sometimes. Somebody may look and say, “Oh Danny is not big yet, but he sure does whine a lot about things not happening his way.” And that’s just me. I’m a human being, and I want to get my thoughts and ideas out. I’m not just being bitter, it’s just my way of dealing with it. If I’m going through all this stuff, let me vent about it and the next day I should be feeling better so I mean that’s part of it and being able to have a platform whether it’s online or with somebody else you know, to say, “Hey man, can you give me some advice.”

To be able to turn to people and just get some real advice so just getting it off my chest, you know but also what it’s also helped me see with it is just the fact that not knowing the solace and knowing that I’m not the first going though it to know that every Danny! There’s a thousand other Danny!s or whoever else. Trying to be heard and the fact that that I even have some credibility with some of these other people, it’s a blessing. And I have to realize that I do have it made, and I definitely do have it better than most so that also helps me. And then, of course, going and knowing that you’re not going to quit and being more successful the further along I get, which is why I did this in the first place so that’s also kind of helped me as well. There’s been a lot of people disappointed by the push back of Payback. But what’s it like to finally get this one out there?

Danny!: It’s so funny people think that it’s not coming out. I might joke around a lot, and social media’s been a big platform for me. I like to delay things and have fun with it, because I’m a jokester at heart. I might say, “If you don’t promote Payback, I’m not gonna put it out.” I can’t even do that but people take it seriously, “Ah, my god, Danny!’s not going to put out Payback, I hate Danny! now.” I’m just kidding, come on, I have nothing to do with it, and I’ve known about the Okayplayer thing for months now. They signed me back in April or May, and ever since then, I’ve kind of been coy about the album coming out – more coy and less defiant.

I’ve never seriously been like, “I’m not putting Payback out, but since I’ve known about it, I couldn’t legally say until after they put the press release out. But at the same time, that passion that they want the album to come out so bad that they will curse out the rapper that’s putting it out, I feel good about that. I feel like they really really want it to come out to that degree that they are, and I think it’s special since I’m interacting with them and letting them know so they won’t get mad at me.

How do I feel about it? I definitely feel that I could put out another project. I’ve always had some sort of snafu every time an album comes out. I’ve always had some sort of thing that holds it up or something that gets in the way, for the lack of a better word. But I’m glad that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel so I’m glad that this is coming out and I’m giving it to my fans and they can hear what I’m cooking up especially now with everything I’m doing. And you mention Okayplayer. ?uestlove has been one of your biggest supporters. What has your affiliation been, and how has he been able to help you?

Danny!: ?uestlove reached out to me back in January of this year and talked about how he and Jay-Z had this conversation about me. And apparently Jay-Z heard about me, and that was enough for ?uestlove to reach out to me and take me under his wing in a way. But in a way, at first it was like, “Hey Danny!, it’s ?uestlove, Jay-Z likes you a lot,” and it was pretty much that. And then I was talking to people who work with ?uestlove, and they acted as if I was one of their own.

I think one of the conversations Jay-Z and ?uestlove had was Jay-Z asking ?uestlove, “Hey, take Danny! under your wing.” He’s a little rougher around the edges for me now, so what I think he was doing was mentoring me from afar because I don’t live in New York. But [?uestlove] is definitely providing me opportunities that I didn’t have before. He’s definitely put me up as someone to watch, and it’s probably had to do with something ?uestlove’s done for me, and that’s the kind of influence he has. There’s a million people he could be doing this for, so he’s done a lot for me. We have a pretty close relationship for only knowing each other for a year, and he’s definitely looked out for me more than anybody has in the past and he’s done a lot. How often are you in contact with Jay-Z if at all? Have you ever had a conversation with him?

Danny!: To be honest with you I’ve never talked to Jay-Z. Jay-Z never called me on the phone and said, “Yo dog, heard you like beats or whatever,” or anything like that. Any information I get about Jay-Z is through ?uestlove. He’ll hit me up and say, “Yo, I talked to Jay today, and this is what he said.” And through ?uestlovem I’ve gotten a lot of information that I don’t usually get. I sent Jay-Z through ?uestlove like 20 songs of mine once he heard about me, and he was trying to get him to listen to more songs, and he hasn’t hit me back with like, “Yo this is dope, I like this song or not this so much, or this is too much deviation from rapping. I already have J. Cole I don’t need another rappity rapper.” You know, that kind of stuff for feedback so I’m thinking like, “Okay, I’ll make something now that he can’t deny.”

A lot of stuff I made that we sent him is a few years old, so I may give him some of my new material. So yeah, I’ve never talked to him personally, but there is definitely a stream of communication between the two of us through ?uestlove, in addition to his likes and what he’s looking for and what he thinks an artist should be in 2012. And he’s definitely in the works with me and ?uestlove. What it is remains to be seen. It’s just being patient and giving it time. I try not to bug ?uestlove either. I know that I’ve waited this long. What’s another year? I don’t mind at all. I read an interview where you said Payback wasn’t payback to the industry that you might have seen has jerked you in many ways, but you said it was kind of tilted, which I think a lot of people can agree with. I think people often times maybe just go with what’s going on, rather than stopping and thinking about it or questioning it. I think you a lot of times you try to question what is going on. How concerned are you about the industry and how it treats its artists?

Danny!: I’m very concerned, so much so that if there was like an advocacy for it or a board of directors like, I would be on that, I would be a member, I would be an officer. I really want to get other people heard. I want to fight so hard for artist’s rights and not just be looked over. They might be in bad deals, or they’re not seeing anything from it. I want to be able to speak out so much, but there’s only so much I can do cause I’m an artist myself, and I feel like I’m criticized. If I say that I don’t like something, it’s, “Oh Danny!’s hating.” If I say, “Seriously guys? Azealia Banks, are we really doing this?”

If I say that, everyone’s going to take it the wrong way. I have to be tactful in an honest way about what I say, and how I say it. But, when I kind of cleared it up for Complex on how it’s not really a harmful industry, it kind of was but it kind of, everything I speak out against isn’t all because it benefits me. I’m doing it to prove a point; I’m doing it to say, “Hey look, if you don’t things seem fair, you should speak out. Look what I do, there are no consequences,” well other than people saying, ‘Danny! is sure outspoken.’

But no one is going to say anything to you; no one is going to come after you, no I’m not going to do anything to you. I want people to not be afraid, because a lot of people are afraid and don’t wanna speak up about situations. But I’m not, that’s just how I am, that’s just how I’ve been. I definitely feel that the original crusade and the campaign to Payback probably would’ve opened a lot of eyes and shed a lot of light on certain things. But, it got to the point that I was just doing a lot of bad stuff myself, it would have exposed things for sure, and it definitely would have been like this is, these guys, what they’re doing is wrong.

But, right when I was about to lose myself and make myself look bad, Okayplayer came along, and I didn’t wanna jeopardize anything that I had with them. So that’s why I didn’t complete my mission, but it’s still there, and it might only be to the trained eye to exactly what it is that I’m doing. But I do it all in the name of trying to get there. You’ve got two co-signs from not just big artists, we’re talking HUGE artists, figures in the world. Rather than just sitting on that, you continue to hustle. Not to say that co-signs don’t help or aren’t important, but do you think they are overrated and too sought after, rather than artists focusing on making good music?

Danny!: Honestly, I don’t. I really think I got shafted, I really honestly think I got shafted. I think in this instance I got f*cking played. The ?uestlove and Jay-Z thing should have taken on way more than it did. And while I don’t have a conspiracy theory, and I don’t think the powers that be are trying to stop me. I do think that people pick and choose who they want to see win in a sense. A lot of people ran with the story, don’t get me wrong. They did see that and write up about it, maybe not a lot. But I’ve definitely had my moments with Pitchfork for example. They showed me love back in ’08, but haven’t showed love since, and I was really like what the hell’s going on with that?

I figured the Jay-Z/?uestlove thing, okay, now they’ll be posting about me, but nothing, but I feel like if there was any other artist that got that same co-sign, and there are artists that have got that same co-signs that have been talked about all over at this point. So I’m kind of like, man, are you serious right now? I think they pick and choose – “they” meaning the media, “they” meaning the fans. I think they pick and choose to see succeed, and they saw me, a lot of it’s apathy, and I don’t think a lot of it’s ‘let’s ignore Danny!’ I think a lot of it’s just apathy like, ‘OK, Danny!, he’s got his own thing going on, and it’s not really hip. Maybe this is hip, but I don’t know what it is. I can’t figure this Danny! guy out, I can’t put him in a box, I can’t peg him exactly right.’

So they don’t really latch onto it. I don’t know why certain things happen and certain things whatever. There’s plenty of artists ?uestlove’s co-signed, Jay-Z’ co-signed, nut you see all the fanfare, and then when it gets to me, I thought it was going to change my life, and it did in a sense. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ungrateful by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel like it could have been bigger news than what it’s been made out to be…and why that is I have no idea. I don’t think co-signs are pointless. I do wish that they didn’t hold as much weight than they do, but they don’t.

To this day, Chief Keef – perfect example. Came outta Chicago, like what the hell? Had a song that had a couple million YouTube views and stuff like that, and got Kanye’s attention and with that co-sign, Chief Keef’s all over the world now. It doesn’t matter what Chief Keef says – clearly Kanye helping him out with the hook or whatever and a verse put him on the map more so than his actual song did. Anybody can make a song that gets YouTube play, but it takes an actual person to be in the song. That’s kind of what Payback was, too, in a sense, touching on that. I wanted to state the fact that people only care about you if you know so and so, you gotta track with this person or that person. And I know that, I see all these things and I’m aware of it.

With Payback coming out, I’ve got guest artists that I’ve never worked with before, so maybe that’ll help out as well. I think people just pick and choose who they want to champion, and who they turn a blind eye to. Maybe I’m uppity or something, I don’t know.

Follow Danny! on Twitter (@DannySwain). Support his Payback album on iTunes.