Recently D&M set out to chop it up with the rhyme writer / beat smith D. Swain (aka Danny!). It proved to be a lot like one of those Where’s Waldo books. You remember, the books where you could turn page after page spending half of the day scanning through a sea of tiny cartoon characters in search of the ever elusive Waldo. The search for Danny! was similar but instead of finding a skinny white guy sporting nerdy glasses, a red and white stripped sweater and a matching hat, we were looking for a skinny black dude sporting an oxford shirt with a pinstriped tie (the nerdy glasses part didn’t change).
D&M started where anyone else would. We hit Danny! on the hip with a phone call. Here is what his voicemail had to say:
(For the rest of the story Shoot the J)
Damn, so much for phone calls. We decided it would be best to begin the quest for Danny! in Colombia, South Carolina. Perhaps we could find him kicking back amongst his peers in the city where he got his start. We combed high and low thru the 770,000 inhabitants looking in all the right places we thought D. swizzle could be. We walked the streets first hoping to find him digging for records at CBX, Papa Jazz, or Scratch N Spin but no luck. He must be getting his samples online these days. We then hit Gervais street to see if we could find D getting his “posh on” amongst the shops and art galleries, yet still no Danny! All we found where yuppies, hipsters and hobos. We got really confident in our quest when we arrived at the Colonial Life Arena parking lot. Once inside we scanned all the faces but no dice. Only folks in the building were over the hill rock fans sporting mullets and wearing Kenny Chesney shirts underneath their bleached White Snake jean jackets. Damn, I was sure we could find him there, Nickel Back was playing. It was time to say peace to Mayor Benjamin and the city of Colombia. Danny! obviously, left a long time ago.
"I'll listen to a bunch of records that I just acquired and skim through them initially, writing down which ones hit me instantly." - Danny!
The next destination on our crusade for Danny! was Savannah Georgia. We thought maybe nostalgia for the southern gothic architecture and pretty girls in sun dresses lured Swain back to his alma mater; The Savannah School of art and design. Perhaps we could catch him in the cafeteria kitchen cooking something with his girl Amanda. Wait on second thought probably not, that was just that one time. We kept it moving and headed over to Forsyth Park wondering if we could find him doing the Eddie Haskell dance at the Jazz festival. The smell of burning ganja led us to a hacky sack circle by the big fountain. We ran into India Arie who was cross legged strumming an acoustic and singing something about a bumble bee. I hollered but she wasn’t impressed. Whateva, I’m looking for D. Swain anyways.
I heard somewhere that we could catch Danny! in Manhattan at the Prada Emporium so we skated in that direction to see what we could see. After searching through most of the Island leaving no wall street journal or cardboard box unturned it was obvious that we had been bamboozled. Danny! was nowhere in that borough and there is no such thing as the Prada Emporium.
"All I can say about my first rhyme is that I referred to myself as Funkman" - Danny!
Finally it was decided that we hit up Brooklyn, New York where he was last seen. We shot over the bridge to find out if he was kickin it with Jukies on the guest list. I at least thought Definitve Jux artist and former CEO El-P would know in which direction to point me. We showed up and asked all the right questions but all he could do is murmur something about how Osama had already been dead for 6 years and that Al Sharpton was conspiring along with Oprah and Dr. Cosby in order to snuff out Dave Chapelle. Even if it is true I wasn’t trying to here it. I bounced out as soon as I could.
We rarely fail on any mission but I’m not gonna lie, I was ready to give up. I had turned the last page in this cartoon adventure. I was ready to declare Danny! dead or at least missing. Luckily I had my team with me. Swedberg knew exactly what to do. Apparently if your looking for Danny! all ya gotta do is ask. He may even lace you with an exclusive track and remix for good measure.
So first things first, where’s Danny!?
Danny!'s right here man! Let's clear up the misconceptions now. Danny!'s always been around, it's just a lot of people don't know where to look (laughs). My current location is Atlanta though, home to Coca-Cola and Tyler Perry.
How is the tour going so far?
It's goin' man, it's goin'. It's kinda weird playing catch-up and promoting an album that leaked a year-and-a-half ago while simultaneously recording and looking for inspiration for my new project. I feel like I should've toured as soon as the 'Where Is Danny' album dropped but everything's working itself out.
Do you have a touring pet peeve list? Take this opportunity to share.
I wouldn't really call it a pet peeve or anything but I find it particularly interesting that a majority of my fans, especially the ones that come out to the shows, are aspiring artists themselves that call me a living legend that inspired them to start rapping and whatnot but then I look among the crowd and there's no women. I'm like "don't I have ANY female admirers?" Ha ha, no but it's all love. I can't really call it a pet peeve. Maybe lousy sound quality, I don't know.
There was a long hiatus when nobody knew what you were up to. When you’re not making music what do you occupy your time with?
I'm always working on music though. The only time I took a break from making music was after 'Where Is Danny' leaked and the hype came and went. At that point I was just burned out from everything because -- and you have to understand this -- I not only write my own songs, I make my own beats, I market and promote myself, I set up my own tour schedule. I'm just as known for this aspect of my career as I am for the music itself. But after a while it really takes its toll on you, especially when your efforts don't yield the results you were expecting. Diminished returns, they call it. I didn't see the point in continuing to push myself to the limit with limited resources so it affected my musical output too. But things are different now and I needed the break so I'm back with a vengeance now.
When you are making music what’s your creative process like? (Example: Dj Premier makes a skeleton then digs for samples until he finds the right sound. He claims some beats take months to finish.)
It's something akin to that. I'll listen to a bunch of records that I just acquired and skim through them initially, writing down which ones hit me instantly. Then I'll take those and chop them, loop them, whatever until I get a nice beat going. I won't worry about making a full track, just a verse and chorus and bridge/breakdown. I'll do a few of them and save them and come back to them later. Then I'll take those same samples I skimmed through and give them a second listen. 8 times out of 10 I'll find something just as dope, if not doper, the second time around. I do the same thing, chop/flip the track and make a quick snippet for myself to remember when I come back to it. Then when someone hits me up for a track I can say "I got the perfect joint", pick the one I already started and flesh it out for them, adding effects and playing keys, whatever.
What is your go to piece of production equipment?
FL Studio, all day. Been using software since 2004 and haven't looked back.
Do you remember the very first beat you ever sold? Who bought it?
The thing about me is that, again, people say I'm so inaccessible or so out-of-reach when really I just believe it's their way of saying "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". (laughs) I say that to say that I share so much with people that it's any wonder how no one knows this stuff already. I think I posted a snippet of the very first beat that I sold in a retrospective on my blog Cafe Surreal (http://www.dannyswain.com/
blog/2007/12/04/prime-time) a few years back. I'm always posting rarities and B-sides over there, as well as offer entire albums for download. To answer your question, it was back in 2004 and there was this R&B trio that was breaking up and the singer (not the lead) was looking to break out on her own. It was in South Carolina and I think I only talked to her because I was trying to get her phone number (laughs). Anyway, long story short she pays for it and I track it out but then not even a month later I move down to Savannah to attend art school so I never knew what became of the beat, or the song. I called the instrumental "All Night Long", she may have renamed it something else.
Name your five most influential producers.
We're talking hip-hop, right? That's easy: DJ Premier, Just Blaze, RZA, Madlib and pre-disco Timbaland. Eight years ago you could've added the Heatmakerz to that list (laughs). It's very telling when you look in your record collection and three or four years later one of your heroes samples something from that same record. Great minds think alike, I suppose. Okay now I'm being a little narcissistic, ha!
Do you remember the very first rhyme you ever wrote? What inspired you to start rapping?
All I can say about my first rhyme is that I referred to myself as "Funkman" (big Redman fan at the time) and I said something along the lines of "i'm smooth like milk" or some wack shit. Aww man. Groups like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul got me into rapping initially, but honestly no one ever acknowledges that I cite artists like Missy Elliott and E-40 as influences, too. There's definitely a little bit of their flavor in my lyrics' content.
Name your five most influential emcees.
Hmmmmmmm...that's a tough one. Who they were ten years ago...hell, three or four years ago won't be the same ones as today. Today it'd have to be MF DOOM, Slick Rick, Jay-Z, Eminem and the Notorious B.I.G. I guess Biggie and Jay and Em are the only mainstays. Everyone else kinda alternates, depending on what day of the week it is. Can't forget Redman and Andre 3000.
Have you ever ghost written? If so, for whom?
Ghost-written? I'd like to but that hasn't happened yet. Maybe in the near future now that I'm part of the machine. There is this Swedish indie pop/electronic band I've been working with and writing for but that's about it. And even if I did, am I even supposed to tell you? (laughs) Would it still be "ghost-writing" if everyone knew about it? I guess Skillz kinda popularized and killed the 'ghostwriter' term at the same time.
How do you feel about the comparisons between you and Kanye West?
In 2011, I can't really say I feel a way about them because I don't too much hear them anymore. But back in, oh, 2007 or so that's all I ever heard, like I was the only successful producer/rapper to emerge out of the post-50 Cent era. It was so hard for me to be taken seriously by, say, Pitchfork or Billboard when their mini-article about me would mention Kanye. Some people will compare me and say I'm BETTER than Kanye, but I only set out to be myself. I never wanted people to compare me to Kanye or Kanye to me, and eventually I spoke out about in my records which turned a lot of people. Let's just let the music speak for itself. I think I finally undid the damage that titling my first record 'The College Kicked-Out' did.
We’ve read that your worst performance was opening for drake in ’09. What was your most memorable performance?
My most memorable performance...man, it'd have to be from 2008. It was one of the most intimate settings too, a private school in Boston where these kids had literally petitioned for me to come up there. I performed in their small-ass auditorium but it was so cool. I think that was the first time I performed any tracks from 'And I Love H.E.R.', which hadn't dropped yet. Now everyone has fans, but these dudes that coordinated everything were, like, super die-hard Danny! fans for real and I love seeing that. I know how it feels to be a fanatic or album completist for an artist, especially when I was younger, so seeing some kid with a burned copy of an unreleased album of mine, sheepishly apologizing for downloading it from Limewire but asking me to autograph it anyway...that was mad humbling. I made sure to put on the best show for them possible.
Congrats on your deal with Interscope. Are there any label mates you look forward to working with?
Who's even on the roster now? Interscope is quietly getting rid of most of their hip-hop talent if you haven't noticed, as long as Slim [Eminem] is still there. Diddy is doing disco with Dirty Money, and his label transfer didn't carry over artists like, say, Janelle Monae so that's a no. Other than Slim, who is my favorite rapper ever, I guess not. Then you have your artists that are currently in the process of being upstreamed from their development deals similar to the one I was in that aren't "officially" signed yet. There's potential there, but otherwise not really. Not to say that, if Keyshia Cole comes knocking, I'm gonna tell her "nah bruh". (laughs)
“And I Love H.E.R” is a reference to Common the track “I Used To Love H.E.R “. In the track “Theme Music To Killing Spree” you mention Kid Sister. Are Chicago artists a recurring theme in your music or is it just coincidence?
You mean those two incidents? Pure coincidence. I like artists from all regions. On the same album, 'Where Is Danny', I take jabs at Lil Wayne, Mickey Factz, Charles Hamilton, Kid Sister, Asher Roth and Consequence so I definitely don't have a preference for a certain area. I'll poke fun at everybody (laughs)
Do you have any projects you’re working on? When can we expect to hear it?
The only three projects I care about this year is the Von Pea/Danny! collaboration record, the Interscope debut album and the joint for the Swedish indie electronica band I mentioned before. They're all in the works and I guarantee you'll see a release this year, most likely in the order I mentioned.
What’s getting heavy rotation in your ear drums at the moment?
I spend so much time listening for old sounds to make into new songs...I guess some atmospheric downtempo music, that's a constant. Thievery Corporation, Arkestra One, Blue States...I'm a sucker for dreamy, ambient music. You mentioned recurring themes earlier, I think dreams and anything dream-related definitely are one. Just look at my instrumental albums.
Are there any other musicians you’d like to work with?
I keep hitting Phonte up but he always tells me "I'm busy lil niglet" (laughs). Lil B shouted me out on Twitter a while back (http://twitter.com/#!/
LILBTHEBASEDGOD/status/ 40279964133769216) so I reached out to him but his manager Sebastian tells me he's busy, and understandably so. Yet both these brothas find a way to drop a song every week, so...I finally chopped it up with Blu after another mutual Twitter shoutout but he's in the middle of a tour right now last I checked. So I guess everyone is too busy to work with D. Swain, but that's fine (laughs). Did you ever read the book "Not Now Said The Cow"?
Here at Donuts and Milk music is what we run on. What gets Danny! going in the morning?
Redtube.com. I mean, music. MUSIC! I eat, sleep and breathe this shit man. Other than that, hazelnut coffee and a shot of whiskey. Together. Twice. Naked.
If you were a donut what kind of donut would you be? Why?
A week-old bear claw because I'm hard as fuck and, at end of the day, you don't want to be anywhere near a bear claw. It'll tear your face off.
Thanks for taking the time to chop it up with us man, it's much appreciated. Do you have any last words or anything you want to get off your chest?
Producers that take back their beats on some indian-give shit are corny as fuck. It's a shame he doesn't have a successful act to piggyback off of now, but hey things happen for the best. For me, that is. Other than that, shout-out to you guys for having me! Much appreciated.
Danny! | http://www.dannyswain.com/