The Futurist: Danny! is Out For More Than Just Payback
Last week we gave you a taste of Seattle’s music scene by speaking with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis collaborator, Ray Dalton. This week The Futurist heads to Atlanta to connect with Danny! The 30-year old rapper/producer opens up on his new venture with MTV, being overlooked, sending beats to Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Control’ verse responses.
The Boombox: Let’s talk about this new track ‘For The Love Of Money.’ Can you break down what’s going on in the record?
Danny! :For sure. ‘For The Love Of Money’ is broken up into two verses, the first just talks about different types of money and the people who exploit it. The second verse is about a father and son who both got corrupted by money. It’s all live instruments. I’ve got a harpsichord in there, strings, flutes … it sounds pretty epic.
The Boombox: Let’s talk about your current label situation. Word on the grapevine is that you have a new home?
Danny!: That would be correct. You’re talking to the newest artist on MTV’s Hype Music label. Hype is pretty much a joint venture between MTV and Sony/ATV Music Publishing. The interesting thing about the venture is that it’s less a record label and more of a music production library that happens to release music for sale from time to time.
What they do is they’ll sign an artist first, then pretty much ask them to compose music for the sole purpose of having it licensed to MTV and their programming. Then, say, if a song really catches on then they can also release the music under their umbrella. It’s actually been around for a minute but I guess to most people this is the first time hearing about MTV delving into the record business. I’m excited to be a part, as music licensing has fascinated me long before Questlove graciously placed one of my songs [‘Where Is Danny?’] in his SONOS commercial last summer. It’s great being with a company that is actually in tune with your vision and has the resources and willingness to help facilitate your dreams, which for me at this time is creating music for television and film and not just the fickle retail market.
I originally had plans to only sign on as a composer and just make instrumentals but I’m happy to report that I’ll be working on an album for Hype right after I wrap up this project I’m doing with Von Pea [of Tanya Morgan].
The Boombox: It’s funny how things come full circle. There was a headline a long time ago that read “Savannah College of Art & Design Student Danny Swain Selected As MTV Network’s ‘Best Music on Campus’ Contest Winner.” Let’s talk about that.
Danny!: Right? That’s just a testament to how long relationships can last in this industry, even if it seems like it isn’t built for that. The irony about me winning that contest back in 2007 was that, as everyone knows, Def Jux never actually released my album and I was pretty salty that, despite selecting me, nothing had transpired from it. I thought nothing ever would. But I stayed persistent, stayed in touch with a few people there and now it’s 2013 and they’re reaching out to join forces with their new label. It’s funny how things work out, but everything happens for a reason as they say.
Same with Okayplayer. I established a relationship with them back in 2006 and they’ve always supported my music, so when they came knocking last year about signing me it just made so much sense. I only wonder how many artists that diss me behind my back are going to follow my moves and try to jump on the MTV bandwagon. If only you knew how many Danny! dislikers tried to hop over to Okayplayer on some “y’all signed this ni–a though!” tip.
The Boombox: Where does your relationship with Questlove stand with this new recording venture? Did he give you any advice?
Danny!: Quest[love] and I are still cool, of course. That hasn’t changed. It isn’t as if I’m “leaving” Okayplayer or anything. You have other artists like Talib Kweli or Mos Def or Common whose names have become practically synonymous with Okayplayer despite career paths that have changed so drastically over the years, and never actually being on the label. I say that to say, I’ll always be affiliated with them in some way. That’s still the fam and Quest is still the big homie that looked out for me when no one else would. He gave me his blessing a while ago, as I’m sure he understands it will lead to bigger things down the line.
The Boombox: ‘Payback’ was great but it came in a year that was cluttered with a ton of releases. Were you happy with the reception of the album?
Danny!: At the time, no. Actually I’m still not [laughs]. But I am at peace with it now. The recording industry, particularly rap music, has become increasingly saturated with each passing year. That’s nothing new. I knew that before I started working on Payback. In fact, part of the reason ‘[Payback’] exists is to forcefully grab your attention with big name features I’d never had before — Bruno Mars, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz — in order to keep your attention if only for a week longer. I know how crucial that extra week can be in an era where Kanye can drop an album on Tuesday and people have moved on to the next thing by Friday. Even Jay, to some degree. That’s sad, really. Artists spend months holing themselves up creating music, some of which is great music, only to have it fall out of public conversation by the following week.
I was fortunate to secure a good amount of press for Payback on my own, and of course Questlove helped me get on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, so in that regard I’m happy with the critical reception in terms of people saying how good it was. But I was none too happy when people were begging me for the project throughout all of 2012, only to have it come out and no one shout from the mountaintops — or at the very least, Twitter — and spread the word. But unfortunately that’s the way it is for everyone that still chooses to rap today.
The Boombox: Jay-Z was quite fond of your skills. It’s interesting that you never really pushed for him to jump on a record, tweet or anything like that the way most artists in your position would.
Danny!: That’s because they expect that. People are so reliant on that, it’s scary. From both a consumer standpoint of “oh XYZ just co-signed ABC so now they just have to tweet together!” to an artist himself scrambling to record with Big Name So-and-So just because he gave him a compliment on his sneakers. I’m sure if I or Questlove pushed hard enough for it we could’ve made something happen [with Jay-Z], but I’m not that type of person to capitalize off something or someone else. If Jay and I ever work together it will happen because it’s the right time.
If it were truly supposed to be on some “hey, now that Jay is checking for Danny let’s get them in the booth or blah blah blah” then he would’ve picked one of the beats I sent him for ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ last year. But that’s not how him or I operate, to do things for the sake of. He picked some 16-year-old girl’s beat [WondaGurl], where was her co-sign? She didn’t need one. When it’s right, it’ll happen. Not when they say it’s right, when it’s actually right. A lot of people don’t understand that.
The Boombox: You’re working on this new album from what you told me. What’s going to set this one apart from your already impressive discography?
Danny!: I’m not going to give people a reason to think I’m angry, that’s for sure [laughs]. I think despite ‘Payback’s’ great reviews there were a few publications that didn’t get it and wrote it off as a “whiny” album. Rolling Stone is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I did have a huge chip on my shoulder for most of 2011 when I first started making ‘Payback’ due to the industry being what it was and all that. But what I was talking about on the record was from the standpoint of anybody and everybody, all walks of life, who felt shortchanged by life and wanted to do something about it. Not just anything, but something bold that would make people be like “wow, he ain’t had to do all that!” [laughs]
So I feel as if that message was lost in translation for a lot of dense people. It was very unfair, to me, for people to dismiss it as an “angry” album. Some of the best music comes from artists experiencing despair or pain, so why were critics vilifying me when I did it? To this day I can count maybe two out of 17 tracks that can be interpreted as whiny. Because of that, I have to scale back a little on this project and not be so transparent, y’know?. Leave the grievances at the door and just make good music. Ultimately if you make a song about how hard it is to struggle, either someone is going to say “man I feel this s–t” or “what the hell, man up and keep it moving”. Some relate, some won’t. It just depends on where they are in life. So I’m back to making music that people can relate to on a different level, which I always have to some degree, but this time nothing that can be misinterpreted as whiny or angry.
Other than that, I’ve been incorporating a lot of live instruments into my beats for the past few years and this project will expand on that even further to give it a more lush sound. I got a harp player. [laughs] There will be more uptempo, feel-good joints too. It’s sort of an epilogue to ‘Payback.’ That is, where ‘Payback’ dealt with a guy who struggled between right and wrong, this new album will be him dealing with the consequences of his actions. I wouldn’t call it a sequel though. It will still have the same neo-Timbaland sound from ‘Payback,’ but with more filled-out arrangements. Think ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ meets ‘Late Registration.’ I assembled a mini-band and I’ve always been low-key nasty on the keys, but what will really make this album stand out to me is that I have my homegirl Chell from Detroit who is singing on pretty much every song. Not even just hooks, sometimes I’ll just ask her to float in like a butterfly with an adlib and that’s it. It’s practically a joint album though. She’s amazing and is taking my songs to places I never thought they could go. I see big things for her really, really soon.
The Boombox: You mentioned having a chip on your shoulder. Do you still think you have one?
Danny!: No man, not at all. It’s long gone. Like I said, I was just in a bad place back in 2011 mentally and people have to understand. I was upset that I wasn’t getting as much coverage as I thought I could have been in the press, especially with the Interscope thing. Bloggers who used to reach out to me constantly weren’t responding to emails as frequently or posting my music. I was miffed that rappers were attempting to charge me exorbitant amounts of money for features. I was tired of reading about people saying “when is Danny dropping a new project?” on forums completely unaware that I had just put one out! Like, no one was bothering to seek the information out much less spread the word. I had just gotten out of a feud with a former friend that derailed the “Where Is Danny?” momentum. I was confused why no one wanted to manage me even though I was making moves. Like, all these things.
That’s why you heard me taking shots at other rappers, hell even the prank calls themselves stem from being frustrated with the industry. It was just bad. I felt cornered, as they say, and I lashed out like any animal would. I think it’s important for people to understand that everyone goes through tough times, but how you deal with it is the important part. I didn’t kill anybody or throw any cats in the river but I definitely acted out of character for a few months. ‘Payback’ was certainly a cathartic experience for me. But now that it’s out of my system I have a completely different disposition. Making a lot of money helps too [Laughs]. No more angst, no sir.
The Boombox: Aside from your own production is there anything down the pipeline you’re working with as far as a producer standpoint?
Danny!: Nothing definite yet, just a whole lot of maybes and pending possibilities. I don’t want to name-drop at all, last time I did that in an interview it wound up not going down and I felt like a s–tbag [laughs]. Like I jinxed it or something. But for real, there are super huge things in the pipeline. Song placement in movies, television soundtracks, production work for major label artists, possibly even a television series of my own with Comedy Central is all that I can divulge at this time. The only thing I can really talk about definitively is the MTV/Hype Music deal, where you’ll be able to hear my album all over MTV and their sister stations once the record is released as well as one-off instrumentals I may compose in the meantime. Plus I’m always working with my family over at Potholes Music, they’re putting out a compilation called ‘Lift Off’ that’s dropping very soon.
The Boombox: No more prank phone calls?
Danny!: [Laughs]. Not in the foreseeable future, no. I still make them from time to time but it’s doubtful I’ll be posting them until the demand returns. Besides, I don’t want it to overshadow the fact that I’m a dope producer/artist first and foremost.
[Last month] I found out that Lupe Fiasco and Childish Gambino might have beef, so I pranked Action Bronson as Donald Glover trying to recruit him to gang up against Lupe on a battle track. Bronson was like “yeah buddy I got your back, just let me finish eating and I’ll call you back”. I posted it but, social media being what it is, unless it has to do with Miley Cyrus or Grand Theft Auto 5 no one really cares so I took it down in disgust [laughs].
Not only that but Questlove told me to have fun with the pranks but not to go overboard with ’em. You never know what bridge you might be burning if you prank-call a sensitive rapper. Childish Gambino even alluded to it himself in that freestyle battle he did about me on the Tim Westwood show. He had a line like “I could’ve helped you” or some shit.
The Boombox: What was worse for hip-hop in 2013: Kendrick Lamar ‘Control’ responses or everyone’s obsession with Drake (laughs)?
Danny!: Ha! Those ‘Control’ responses were seriously out of control, pardon the pun. I think Lil Zane even came out of nowhere and did one with Smilez & Southstar.