Despite having an impressive catalog of critically heralded albums that date back to 2004, Danny! just recently caught the ear of some major higher ups in the industry. This past January, The Roots drummer Questlove tweeted out that Danny! was Jay-Z’s favorite rapper. Quest doubled down with another tweet a few weeks ago, saying, “DannySwain is ill. If yall only knew the ruckus he was causing in the world of the hip hop elite.” Signed to Interscope and with an upcoming album entitled Payback, that includes features from Tyler, the Creator, Jim Jones, Swizz Beatz, and Bruno Mars, Danny! spoke with XXL on everything from pranking rappers, to the thought process behind his upcoming LP, to Questlove’s tweet. Act like you know! —NMB

Name: Danny Swain aka Danny! (@DannySwain)
Age: 28
Reppin': Columbia, South Carolina
Label: Interscope

On the concept of his upcoming album Payback:
The original concept to Payback was to pay back the music industry for shitting not only on me, but artists such as myself that don’t get nearly the recognition that they deserve. So I decided to put an album out that would undoubtedly get everyone’s attention in a way where they’d have no choice but to check me out. My thought process was to get people on the album that were buzzing, big name artists. So like you’d hear the song with Swizz Beatz and Jim Jones, but guess what? I’m on verse number three. So in listening to them, I’m on it too, so now you’ve heard my shit. The whole concept of doing that was to get everyone’s attention. So paying back the industry for being what it is. We rely on co-signs. We rely on someone else saying you’re dope before you even give them a chance. My process was to get these big names, but also to put on people that need recognition as well. So I put the overground with the underground. That’s the whole point of doing that. I’m trying to be the Robin Hood of this thing, like taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Shedding light on something that needs to be shed light on. But at the same time you’re getting good music. I’m not doing it arbitrarily. It needs to be heard and needs to be pointed out.

On almost quitting after recording Payback:
So I finished Payback late last year and sent it to the press. I was really miffed that a lot of people haven’t been clamoring to review it. I was like, "How is it that I have an album with Tyler, the Creator and Bruno Mars who supposedly hate each other and no one wants to talk about it?" That’s the thing. So I’m kind of like, maybe I’m too late. Maybe I didn’t do it the right way. My whole plan was to get people talking about an album with all these people on it, but it wasn’t working to my favor.

On the tweet that kept him going:
Out of nowhere, late January, right when I’m about to say fuck Payback, I put out a song called “Keep Your Head to the Sky.” I’m sitting at home and I get an email from Dan who helps run the site Questlove is cced on the email, and Dan’s like “Yo Danny, this is Questlove, Questlove this is Danny.” Apparently, someone wants to get at you, but I don’t want to say who.” I’m thinking, “Oh shit, am I in trouble?” Questlove takes a few days but eventually writes back, “Hey sorry, I’m at this Sundance festival, but I’m about to head back to New York. Jay-Z is interested in your music. He heard your new song and hit me up about it. I’m just giving you a heads up.” And I’m like”…huh…sure.” A few days later Quest tweets out that he’s about to head to Atlanta for a three-day tour. I hit him on twitter like “Where you gonna be at?” He replies back “@DannySwain < ------- Hov’s Fav Cat. Jump early.” So I was like “Wow, he’s actually serious about this.”

On what he learned from Questlove:
Questlove is a very good dude. Questlove—he is music. It’s so great to see somebody like that. That’s how I feel. Sometimes as much as I’ve felt like quitting, if I really wanted to quit, I would have by now. I know he’s had his ups and downs too and he’s given me a lot of encouragement.


On making concept albums:
I started doing concept records back in 2005 when I first started conceiving Charm, and at the time there was a shortage of that. I think then Little Brother had just put out The Minstrel Show so it pushed me to finish Charm and it got way more acclaim than my other two records. That could’ve been because I just got better anyway, but a lot of people started saying that it was something they could really relate to, that certain songs really spoke to them. So I think there’s a lot more room for that personal connection when you have a story that someone can easily place themselves in.

On prank calling celebrities:
I had my last record deal go kind of sour and I felt kind of ashamed that I had nothing to show for it. With this Interscope thing I kind of wanted to be able to say that if this went sour at least I got something out of it. So I got the album done and that was cool. But I also now had all these contacts whom I hadn’t reached out to yet. So I was like, let me have some fun with this shit and do something crazy. So first I hit up John Witherspoon. It was funny as hell. He could’ve hung up the phone but he was like, “Let me know what you want. I’m busy right now, but let me know what you want.” So I’m like, “Wow! These people don’t even give a fuck, I can call anyone I want to.” So I have a bunch that I’ve done that I haven’t even posted cause some of them are like my heroes. I prank called Q-Tip once and I was like, "Man, I can’t put this up. Questlove is vouching for me now. I can’t do this shit. Busta Rhymes is a running gag, and every time he sounds like he’s gonna snap on me. One time he did. But the last time he played along with it saying like, “Your mom’s in the studio son. She’s cookin’ up some heat.” So we just went back and forth. I want that and wish it would happen more where people turn the tables on me. I prank called Childish Gambino a few months ago, and I actually feel really bad. Questlove talked to me about it like, “Why’d you do that?” I feel like it wasn’t a shot at him, but more so at Pitchfork for giving him the 1.6. Last one I did was Tyrese. It’s all in fun, man.