It’s time to get to know Danny Swain. The young rapper, who goes by the stage name Danny! (Al B. Sure! anyone?), is signed to Okayplayer Records, a label ?uestlove relaunched specifically to put out his new album, Payback. Though he’s previously released six studio albums independently, Danny!’s now being hailed as “Hov’s [Favorite] Cat,” catching the ear of Jay-Z and receiving some mainstream recognition, recently performing his hit song “Evil” with The Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Over the next several months, Danny! will continue to promote his new album on an international tour.
As he continues his climb to the top of the charts, Danny!’s also trying to bring new talent along with him, recently launching a remix competition with Okayplayer to allow a producer a chance to win $500 for remixing a Payback track. EBONY.com caught up with the young star to talk about the whirlwind success that was a long time coming. — Brooke Obie
EBONY: You performed on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon for the first time and just released your seventh album, but now that you’ve signed with Okayplayer Records, you’re performing on an international stage and really getting the chance to get your music out there. How does that feel?
DANNY!: It feels surreal. I guess it didn’t really hit me that all this was going on until I was on TV and the cameras are rolling and I’m performing my song. I watched [the performance later] with the homies and we’re getting great feedback. I’m hoping to perform on more shows like this in the future and get my music out there in as many ways as possible.
EBONY: Back in 2007, you were just starting to really make a name for yourself. You were able to go the Grammys and network with people, but it still took another five years for people to get the kind of praise and mentorship you’re getting now from Jay-Z and ?uestlove. How did you stay motivated to keep putting out quality albums on your own and marketing yourself?
DANNY!: I’m sure it’s different for other people, but for me, I just needed to see little things here and there. Just enough to save face, show me something I can see. Throw me a bone, put a bat signal in the air, let me know I’m doing the right thing with my life. Even the Grammy trip itself was a sign, because I was actually able to get tickets to go to the show. For me to be over there was enough for me to be like, “Hey, don’t give up.”
Before that, I was feeling kind of down on myself and I wanted to quit, even back then. But I had people around me say, “You have something to do.” So yeah, there were low points. I had to get a job at a grocery store. But I surrounded myself with people that are positive and want to see me do well. My name was featured in a magazine for the first time, then the Grammy opportunity came up, so one thing will lead to another. So it would be just little things that let me know I’m not wasting my time.
But I’ve been low since then. Some girl dumped me or I crashed my car. There’s always going to be something in life in general that gets you down, but the key in general is just, keep going. Otherwise you’re not going to achieve what you want.
EBONY: Let’s talk about your music. Your songs are very raw and honest, not commercial at all. And your sound is very unique, but at the same time, very reminiscent of old school hip-hop legends. Did you have any reservations about not going the commercial route?
DANNY!: People are afraid of what other people might think or what the consequences will be if people don’t like them. But I feel like, if the only consequence of me doing me is, “I don’t like Danny! any more,” then so be it. That’s not the worst thing that can happen to me. [Other people] want to be accepted by everybody, they want to look good, but I stopped caring about that years ago. Not to say I live recklessly, but I’m a musician in general. And most of my music comes from real life.
EBONY: Speaking of your music coming from real life, you’ve got some really interesting, hilarious, possibly controversial songs about the ups and downs of relationships with women, like “Goodbye Love” and “I Don’t Want to Hear That ****.” So what’s your real life relationship status? Are you having these same ups and downs right now? In your most recent music videos, it looks like you’re wearing a wedding ring.
DANNY!: I knew you were going to bring up those two songs! [Laughs] But yes, Danny! is a married man.
DANNY!: Thank you. A lot of people don’t know that. I don’t talk too much about in my lovelife. My lovelife is okay. I’ve been married for a year. But those songs definitely represented how I was feeling at some point or another. I do like to keep my married life private. Because I’m so candid in my music, I like to keep some things to myself.
But as far as those songs being controversial, I’m not really afraid of any backlash. I just want to keep it real and show more people what I’m really about. So I started doing songs where I call somebody out or just express myself and a part of me, and if people don’t listen to it then they don’t listen to it.
EBONY: Well, people are definitely taking notice now. What are you hoping for in the future, as far as your career is concerned?
DANNY!: I’ve got [my international tour] and I’m just trying to do more appearances and more music festivals. I’d want to do more of my music on television. But a lot of people get it twisted. I don’t want to blow up or to be big for the sake of being big. I feel like music in general helps me. I remember listening to the Roots as a kid, and 15 years later I’m working with them; that’s a big thing to me. I want to be able to influence other people to pursue their hobbies and goals. I feel like a lot of people give up on themselves, so if people can say, “If Danny! can do it, then I can,” then that’s cool.
And it might not even be music. I’ve had people in Iraq hit me up and say, “I’m over here getting shot at, but I played one of your songs and it helped me get through.” That means a lot to me, and that was all I ever really wanted to do. I want to be the person who can be successful but was still himself. That’s all I ever really wanted to do.
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