Breeding Ground Spotlight: Danny! – Still ?uestlove Co-Signed and Jay-Z Approved [Part 2]
Sampling has become something that is less and less common in Hip-hop music. Artists are pushing way less in the form of actual albums and the adaption to an overblown culture of mixtapes, not to mention that the increase of trap music infused in every region of rap has rendered some of Hip-Hop’s traditions as on the way out.
But when it comes to Danny!, sampling is definitely in style, and a wide range of unique sounds and landscapes find their way onto every track the South Carolina native outputs.
AllHipHop.com recently talked with Danny! about some of the concepts he uses when creating records, and how people reporting on his music “sampled” others' work - leading Mr. Swain to feel shafted once again:
AllHipHop.com:Payback is supposed to be the end of this trilogy of concept albums you’ve done with instrumentals. It’s interesting that you do these types of albums, but then you do ones with your MC'ing on. What brought that about?
Danny!: I think originally I was, I’d never heard of a concept album. I didn’t know what it was, and actually the ones that I didn’t know about, I thought it was pretentious. I remember Blackalicious or some other hippity hop rappers back in the day, and being like, “Man, these concept albums suck, don’t wanna hear this bullsh*t.” But then around 2005, Little Brother came out around the same time, and they were repping for North Carolina, and I was trying to rep for South Carolina. They put out The Minstrel Show, and that came out around the time that I was working on my third album but didn’t have a concept to it.
I was just making beats at the time. But then I sampled a song from my second album; I sampled it from Smokey Robinson, and I sampled a song called “Poor Charlotte". It was about a girl who’d loved Hollywood for as long as she could remember, and finally became an actress but then wanted it so bad that she wound up dying because she overdosed on drugs. And I was like, “Man, this is the saddest sh*t I’ve heard in my life.” And I heard that one song, and you know when you sample things and you play the first few seconds of the song and see if you can do something with it; but after I heard that song in its entirety, I went back and listened to the whole LP it came from, and I was like man this album is a story from start to finish.
The album is called City of Angels, and it’s basically about these people that moved that to Los Angeles and what they experienced when they get there, so I was like, “Man, this is some pretty ill stuff,” so I decided to scrap whatever I was doing for my third album and I decided to do a concept record in the same vein, where it was someone like me who wants to become something of himself and leave the city and show the world he’s got something, and this is what my story was.
Yeah, I was fortunate to sit down, and it didn’t take as long as I thought it was going to take. It took a lot of drafts, and I realized this is what I want to do for a while. I wanted to make a series out of them, almost like a series of volumes not necessarily telling the same story, but telling a story. Payback, of course, is about a criminal that’s done a lot of bad deeds, not because he’s a bad person, but because he’s trying to make a better way, and he has to resort to bad. But now he’s arrested and going to trial. It’s how he’s labeled a criminal, instead of being labeled has someone who’s trying to take care of their family. So at the end of the day, I just wanted to tell a story, man, and make this for my fans and make it something they can play from start to finish without skipping anything.
AllHipHop.com: You also had the album review fiasco at [another website]. But rather I think it was more with a specific person. You laid it out there, but rather than vent, you kind of showed it from an objective standpoint. Can you maybe just expand on the situation?
Danny!: I’m glad that you pointed out I didn’t just say, “Fuck this, this is stupid.” And I never do that, anytime something happens I always try to put it into a bigger perspective that’s bigger than me and not just Danny!’s unfair, he’s just Danny!. I always try to spin it in a way that everybody can see the whole scope. What happened with the situation was that, back in January, I was trying to promote my album at the time, and it was called Payback and I had a lot of trouble with people latching onto it - people meaning not fans; my fans have been clamoring for it for months now, but mostly the media for hyping it up.
And I’ve seen all these other projects that have come out, and I’m like, “Man, why can’t they mention my stuff, too?” So I was kind of really frustrated about that, but at the same time, I was very vocal and grateful to the people that did decide to give me some love. Like I sent it to Pitchfork, they didn’t do anything and a lot of people didn’t do anything. So long story short, HipHopDX said, “Yeah we’re putting it out tomorrow.” Ok, yeah, cool, and then I’m reading it, and I’m like, “This sounds very familiar.”
So I was like, yeah, whatever because a lot of people that don’t know about me, they’ll lift a lot of stuff from Wikipedia because that’s their only source. “Who’s this Danny! guy?” But yeah, that’s fine, so I caught that. But then I was reading even more stuff, and I was like, “Wait a minute. This sounds like another review I’ve read before, and it just so happens that not only is it a review that I’ve read before, but it’s a person that is in journalism, like a few in Hip-Hop that latched onto me way early in the game back in 2006 almost. [He] was one of the first Danny! supporters, and me and him have had a rapport over the years, and every time I’ve had an album about to come up. Even if I can’t get it on a major publication, I can always count on him to want to check it out and write about it on his blog.
So I sent it to him, and I’m reading his words under her name, and I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe she has the gull to do that.” And probably another reason why it was so personal for me was because I know this guy, and he’s a crony in this music thing, and I’ve been trying to do this music thing for years, and he’s definitely been a supporter. And it also happens to be that she lifted somebody else’s material on the Internet who’s also, again, somebody who I’ve became cool with over the years. So I was like, “Man, not only did she lift the stuff, but these are people I freakin' know, I talk to them all the time. Man, how dare she?”
So I told both guys actually, and they were like, “Wow this is f*cked up.” And I called the label at the time, and they sent letters kind of blasting about that so they could throw a wrench in it. So I think e-mailing them had a big part of their retraction, and I’m not sure if they would’ve done anything had I not told the label. But long story short, that happened and the consequences of everything and everyone has to face the music when it comes down to it, and when you do something like that you gotta know what you’re in for. You gotta know what you put yourself up against. I didn’t take it personal per se. I was still pissed about the whole feedback thing and not having enough hype, but in a way it helped get me hype. It kind of helped ironically enough. I don’t know what happened to her; I think she went into real estate or something.
AllHipHop.com: I don’t think they had a clue she was plagiarizing at all. I just think they took her word, which was why it was so bad that she betrayed them. On another note, though, it’s hard to really differentiate different artists from each other these days, because there are so many out there. What do you go for though when you are making that record because you do seem to stand out?
Danny!: Whenever I’m in 'album mode' (I call it that), I might make a serious beat that fits that same sound of what I’m trying to do at the time. When I was doing Where is Danny?, I definitely wanted to have it dusty bass, MF Doom feel to it, and I purposely made beats that were like that, so that when I had to choose I would be like here are the 20 I’m picking out for my album and they all sounded similar or the same. [With] Payback, because of the lack of hype, I went back and re-tooled a lot of things, got it down for this label, Okayplayer, and I was really listening to a lot of old Timbaland music and old Timbaland beats, and I was like, “Man, this stuff is innovative as sh*t.”
This is stuff not on the radio anymore, but stuff you heard back in the day. But when I listen to Timbaland’s stuff, he was really innovative at the time, and I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe no one is talking about this; it’s been a while, but this dude’s a genius.” So I was re-doing a lot of the songs that I had originally prepared, making them almost in the style, paying homage to Timbaland and Missy (Elliot) and that whole sound. If you listen to Payback now, it’s going to sound like that it came out 20 years ago, but at the same time, feel like it’s in the now.
But, in general, I don’t try to do anything out of the ordinary. Usually what happens is that I hear a sample, and then I’m like, “Wow, I can flip that, I can do something with that.” It has a lot to do with what I’m sampling, 'cause most of my music is sample-based, and there’s not any real thought behind it as far as this is the sound I’m going for.
AllHipHop.com: You mention sample doing mostly based music, and you can tell that. Many artists these days don’t sample that much and that’s due to many reasons. Do you think the art of correctly incorporating samples is being lost?
Danny!: In a lot of ways yes and no. I feel like 'cause a lot of people are shying away from the sampling thing, it’s opening it up for me. I remember back when I first started, 9th Wonder was big at the time, and a lot of other producers were coming up at the same time I was, and probably had a bigger trajectory at the time I did. I would sample something and be like, “Man, this is dope.” But then people started shying away from it, and I’d be like, “Shoot, that’s more samples for me; now I can sample whatever I want to.”
I think record labels are scared, especially indie ones are scared. They don’t want to put out projects with samples. They still do, and it’s kind of not spoken about, but they do put out something that might have an uncleared sample on it. I mean no one’s going to sample Michael Jackson and get away with that, so that forces more producers to dig deeper, which I’ve definitely done over the past few years and some, you couldn’t clear if you wanted to because they’re a billion original pressings on an opera singer or something like that. So there’s ways around it in order to not kill the whole thing.
I think the only way it really affects me, and again I have an album coming out and we didn’t clear a lot of the samples, I don’t wanna tell on myself, but the biggest problem I’ve had with sampling is not just doing what the record labels say per se. But licensing is going to be my biggest bread and butter money wise, and a lot of my music is sampled, like I said, and it’s hard to get placement on MTV. Well, actually, not MTV 'cause they’re one of my biggest supporters, but other places, I’m like, “Man, I wish I could have my stuff on there too.” But I know I can’t because I’m still sampling music, so I know that if I wanna make more money, I’m going to have to probably put away the sampling for a little bit at least for some songs and then go back for when I’m putting out albums and stuff like that. So I still think sampling is driving, but it has its pros and cons.
AllHipHop.com: What’s next for Danny!?
Danny!: Okayplayer is talking about a tour. I’ve never gone on tour before. I’ve done shows around the country, but I’ve never done a tour, so that would be a dope thing to happen. Certain showcases to be on, couple festivals coming up next year. They’re really doing a lot more for me than a lot of people have in the past, and again, I’m glad that that relationship was able to foster over the years by getting featured on the site for as long as I can remember, to finally culminate into having me on their newly launched label. I think the year I started putting out albums was the year they closed down as far as Okayplayer Records. And now here we are, eight years removed from that and my last album they’re putting out on their label, so it’s funny how it works out.