TheSource.com recently took a moment to sit-down with rapper/producer Danny Swain. The interview comes on the heels of his highly anticipated release, Payback and his performance with The Roots on Jimmy Fallon. Hear the man out and let him speak, you may just learn a thing or two.
– Sean Lynch (@Kiddfuture)
I noticed that you were signed to two different labels in the past. Now you’ve paired up with Questlove for the Okayplayer relaunch. Can we just get a bit of a back story on why these labels didn’t really fit Danny Swain?
I will say that a lot of it had to do with timing. I went to Definitive Jux at a time when they hadn’t had an album out for like a year or two. Then El-P started to not really feel like doing the industry thing anymore [as far as running the label]. Most people would ask, “why would they even sign him if that was the case?”. There were a dozen times when [Def Jux] would tell me they’re sorry and no hard feelings, and as far as I’m concerned it’s all good. It’s a non-issue, just part of my story. Keep it movin’.
The thing with Interscope was more digital in nature; they released an album of mine through their digital distribution agreement they had with Tunecore. Nothing was really capitalized from it. It was a left-field album, it wasn’t anything like an Eminem or 50 Cent project. That’s basically what that was.
Is this just something that comes with labels or did Quest have to persuade you to try this again?
Questlove didn’t persuade me do to anything. It wasn’t like I was sitting at home saying “fuck record labels” or some shit like that. I don’t know where people get the idea that I’m anti-industry, the things I’ve gone through are no different than any other artist. I’m just vocal about it more so that aspiring artists can see that it isn’t an easy road.
As far as labels, there’s never going to be another label better than another one, even if people seem to be doing well for themselves. A lot of the time, an artist’s success is more attributed to the management team and not so much the label. The label promotes it so that it makes them money. So a lot of the people that you see that are signed to indie or major, but mostly indie, probably have a really great team behind them. A team that’s tirelessly trying to get the artist’s name out there, whether it’s talking to the media or the press, to benefit all parties. If the artist wins, everybody wins. The label, the management, the artist. It doesn’t make any sense to drop an album with minimal footwork.
I’ve never had a manager before and still don’t. That’s the reason why people are so baffled by me because they say, “Wow you’ve accomplished so much and you’ve never had a manager.” Even me and you talking right now, you reached out to me directly, not management. It’s frustrating as shit but in turn it gives me more personal relationships so at times I can dig it. Hell if it weren’t for my hands-on I-do-it-all-myself approach, I never would’ve been able to establish a relationship with Okayplayer in the first place.
The whole label situation has been the talk of 2012, and I guess you could say a few years before, with certain labels failing and other labels coming back and artists trying to be more independent. Is there ever a point where you have to sit down and think, “I need a manager now?”
Oh man, you’d be surprised. I’ve been looking for a manager for the last six years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that people thought it was cool I was doing it by myself, but if I had a choice I wouldn’t. I mean I do it well, but it takes a toll on the music if I’m not being creative, or wasting my creativity bitching about how I’m wasting my creativity [laughs]. I definitely think a proper push from both a management team and a label will do this next project justice. Without it the best we’re looking at is two or three blog posts, maybe a leak on Mediafire or something the day after it comes out. What a crying shame it’d be, if this album is “good enough” to get bootlegged but not good enough to get talked about in the press.
Can we talk about “Payback” and how its different from your other projects?
I suppose it’s not all that different at its core. It’s got a storyline like previous albums do. It’s all self-produced like my other albums. It’s got 17 tracks just like “And I Love H.E.R.” [laughs] Maybe sonically, since no two of my albums sound the same. On my last record I was trying to channel Madlib and DOOM, so on this one I channeled Timbaland and Missy Elliott. You can hear it in the beats.
Other than that the only thing I can say is different, like drastically different, from other albums is that I worked with more artists. A lot of my previous records may have had one, maybe two guest features. Not by choice, of course. I guess I have more clout now, but not that much [laughs]. But that was the whole point. I know in this fickle age people only care about you based on who you collaborate with, but how do you balance that when you genuinely have love for certain artists? I didn’t want to have, say, Blu on a track just because I can, that’s my dude. But I had to play by the rules of the industry and that’s the main reason why “Payback” exists. Then Okayplayer picked me up and the rest is history.
Then there’s the underlying storyline. Basically there’s a criminal on trial, a real good guy, who did some bad things he wouldn’t necessarily have done in normal circumstances but felt he had to in order to get himself out of a bad situation or feed his family. Does that make what he did wrong? The plot focuses on morality and what people’s perception of it is. It’s supposed to make people look within themselves before they judge or call out the next person for doing something they might deem wrong. Yeah it may be wrong, but who are you? Have you walked in the other man’s shoes? Do you know what it’s like to starve? Like that sort of thing. The people in “Payback”‘s story look at the protagonist differently, even talk about him behind his back, but don’t know a thing about what he’s gone through. It’s narrated by my mentor Joi Gilliam and she really brought the story to life, if you ask me.
I see you always talking to Just Blaze, is there any possible work there or a collaboration?
Just Blaze and I have been cool since, I’ll say about ’07 or ’08. He’s always been in my corner from afar. I actually talked to him a few weeks back at this conference he was doing in Atlanta and he asked me how Okayplayer deal was going. Having said that, just because I talk to a person doesn’t mean I’m going to collaborate with them. Why the hip-hop world is obsessed with collaborations I will never know, but like I mentioned earlier “Payback” was made to shut all that talk down. If a collaboration happens it’ll be because Just and I sit down and want to make music together, not because we go at it back and forth on Twitter or ’cause he shouts me out from time to time.
I guess that answers the Jay-Z question as well?
People ask if me and Jay are going to collaborate since he shouted me out by way of brother Questlove. Is that a prerequisite for a shout-out now? Like damn, a nigga can’t just say “this dude is dope”? I’m not going to say it ain’t happening or that I don’t want it to happen, but I definitely want to be in a position musically where it makes the most sense. I want to accomplish many more things so that Jay will seek me out, not the other way around. Sort of like what [Dr.] Dre did with Kendrick.
So are you on the Detox album [Kidding]?
Hahaha. No, but I actually have a beat from Dre. I wanted to put it on the “Payback” album for the intro but I don’t think it would fit, plus I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to clear it. Ultimately I decided to produce the whole album anyway.
What’s next after “Payback”? I know you’re doing it all by yourself and I know its a do-it-yourself kind of project, but is there going to be a tour?
I’m definitely trying to set that up homie. I never said this project is do-it-yourself, I mean I did put the album and features together myself but Okayplayer is putting it out it and they say they have post-release plans. They did state to me that they would like to support a tour once the album comes out. There are a couple of events coming this fall like CMJ, and South By Southwest next year. We’ll see. Hopefully there’ll be more of a presence than in the past. ‘Cause before, I would just put an album out and do a few shows here and there but not a tour across the country. Let’s see what Okayplayer has up their sleeve.
You’ll definitely hear my songs on a lot more shows now too. I know a few people over at ABC and MTV. Music licensing is definitely what I want to focus on.
What’s the interaction between you and Questlove? I know you talk a little bit about a little rough around the edges with the label but is there a mentor-ship there or no?
Questlove is definitely a mentor for sure. I tried to pin the manager thing on him but he said “nah kid” [laughs]. He may as well be though, after all he’s done for me and how he’s looked out for me. I have nothing but an outpouring of gratitude for Quest. He’s not my manager but he’s definitely a mentor. We talk about what’s going on when he’s not busy. We had been kicking around the possibility of a “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” appearance since back in March. I definitely do try to make him proud because he believes in me, and is the reason why people in 2012 are listening to my music more than they ever were before.
So we’re going to see more Danny Swain behind the boards?
Yeah, but that’s not to say I won’t ever rap again. I want to show people that I’m a producer as well and not just a rapper. I’m tired of hearing myself rap on my own beats, someone page Bilal and tell him let’s go! [laughs] I’ve got a few beats I plan on sending to Res soon. There’s a joint album I have with Von Pea [of Tanya Morgan], that’s the closest I’ve gotten to producing an entire album for someone else.