Words By Dominick Brady
Danny Swain sidesteps and slashes, slicing through dense early afternoon crowds congregating inside Octane, a popular spot for quick caffeine fixes and late brunch conversations in Midtown, Atlanta’s Westside Arts District. Laptop in tow, the nattily dressed MC greets with a distracted cool, dressed in a red and black hairline striped hoodie sweater, a bone-white oxford ornamented by a narrow black knit tie, slim-cut blue jeans and muted sneakers. While seating himself the chair cushion slants sharply inward, mimicking the effect of having given way. Swain’s face sours into a plaintive grimace as he quickly balances an open laptop in one hand while bracing himself with the other.
The scene is a microcosm of Columbia, South Carolina raised, Atlanta-based MC Danny Swain aka Danny!’s career: survival in spite of. He survives in spite of losing what he feels was the support of his fellow crew members, survives doubts following missed opportunities and survived a severe self-examination from which the MC has emerged with a new major label deal, the re-release of his Where Is Danny? album, an alter ego, and a new source of inspiration. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. Danny Swain is frustrated.
So where is Danny!? The question confounds the MC, “It hurts me. It hurts my heart. I’m out there. I’m on Twitter everyday. I have a blog. People ask ‘where is Danny!?’ I’m right here.”
And he’s been busy. Swain produced two tracks on Danny Brown’s The Hybrid, one of 2010’s most buzzed about projects. He’s also been hard at work reformulating his previously leaked and Alex Goose-produced album Where Is Danny? Swain has had to recreate all the beats for Where Is Danny? for it’s re-release on Interscope after conflicts with Goose. Those conflicts have helped redefine Danny!’s perspective and loyalties.
In the late aughts a small group of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) students traveled three hours northbound on I-16 and I-75 to Atlanta in pursuit of their careers: (Brittany) BOSCO, multimedia artist and soul siren; Branden M. Collins, visual artist and graphic designer; Alex Goose, beats smith and graphic designer and, finally, Danny Swain, rapper/producer. The crew met at SCAD in Savannah, Georgia, a renowned arts school nestled against Swain’s old South Carolina stomping grounds to the east and a little over an hour’s drive north of Jacksonville, Florida. They called themselves “The Big Up!” Danny! explains, “I moved down here to, you know, further my career like everybody else did.” Together, The Big Up! looked to make an impact on the Atlanta scene.
Soon after arriving in Atlanta the group added producer Omar Ferrer and began to see small successes. Goose’s The Blueprint 3 Outtakes beat tape felt ubiquitous with it’s presence on Hip Hop blogs in 2009, BOSCO’s “Blues for Blue” video was in rotation on BET Jazz off her 2008 EP Spectrum and Swain’s 2007 album Charm landed him regional magazine covers like South East Performer and on the ballot list for Grammy considerations in several categories. The stage was set for The Big Up!’s break through.
In Midtown Atlanta at The Loft, the ticket line snakes around the CW-Midtown complex, back down 17th street and continues west towards Atlantic Station. Fans impatiently wait here for over an hour in high heels, short skirts, fitted tees and custom kicks. On the bill for the entertainment tonight is local Jazz-fusion misfit sextet Jaspects, Danny! and headliner Drake. It’s 2009 and Drake’s meteoric rise has catapulted the Toronto rapper into indie mixtape stardom, onto urban radio play lists, contentious bidding wars among the major labels and into the hearts of starry-eyed coeds across the Hip-Hop world. It’s an elbowroom only affair. The show, now running behind it’s stated schedule, is testing an already impatient crowd. They begin to chant for Drake. What they got instead was an eager Danny Swain. They didn’t want him. Swain and his band were booed off stage. Since that show momentum appeared to slow to a stall for Swain, partially due to crew tensions.
“I think for the most part right now I’m not a member anymore. I guess I’ve been excommunicated from the group”, Danny! says. He added that he feels the Drake show disappointed his former crewmates, leading to The Big Up! abandoning him.
Branden M. Collins disagrees “Well, his exit from The Big Up was on his own initiative. And it didn’t really have anything at all to do with the Drake show. What artist doesn’t have disappointing shows every now and then?” Alex Goose remembers it differently as well. Goose shared “There were a lot of personal reasons why everything happened the way it did. His actual performance had nothing to do with it.”
Real or imagined, this time period is when life became complicated for Swain. His working relationship with Goose fell apart, Swain’s record label Def Jux shuttered its doors and he was on the outs with The Big Up! Danny! would be forced to recreate all the beats from Where Is Danny? on his own. It’s still a sore spot for Danny!, “Had that guy, say, called me and said (to me) ‘Hey, your record is blowing up and I’d like to be compensated’ then it could’ve been resolved and the version everyone knows and loves — even I do — would still be the only one.” He has no regrets and thinks the record, while different, is strong. “I produced – and I use that word loosely because most of the tracks are just loops and samples with nothing done to them – about five or six tracks on the original version. So it was less a matter of keeping or replacing his beats than it was looping the same samples I gave him and adding a kick or snare into a song arbitrarily, so that I can claim ‘produced by’ instead of someone else.”
Despite the drama, Swain still inked a major label deal with Interscope records in late 2010 and finally was able to release Where Is Danny? yesterday, Tuesday, May 24th. Rap critics haven’t stopped checking for him all the while. D.L. Chandler of MTV’s Rap Fix and Potholes In My Blog is excited about new work from Swain, “Danny Swain is, without a doubt, one of the strongest rapper/producer combo artists in the game. I remember hearing Charm and being wowed at not only how original his sound was, but the fact he never pretended to be anything other than this South Carolina kid who screwed up in school and wanted to taste a bit of fame via his art. As he grew and matured with his sound in subsequent releases, Danny’s ability to spit both seriously and poke fun at himself made him a much more genuine artist.”
Danny! is also working on a double album with Tanya Morgan MC Von Pea. “Pea and I had been kicking around the idea for a while, and it took for him to kind of shake my shoulders in a sense ’cause I was going through so much personal stuff at the time, at least musically. We don’t have a definite name for it yet but PeaSwain is the working title.” Von Pea speaks on the project, “Its something we would get asked about a lot but never really had given it thought until last year and we really got to work this year.”The project is one of three Swain plans to drop in the summer of 2011. He also has another project slowly beginning to make it’s rounds on the Internet–a secret alter ego with a new sound for the MC, “I see what works, I see what doesn’t and I thought maybe I could try something different and people would say ‘whoa who is this?’ Nobody has to know it’s me.”
For Hip-Hop fans wondering where Danny! is they now have their chance to find out.
The completely reworked “Where Is Danny?” is now completely produced by Danny Swain and available for purchase via iTunes. Danny’s Interscope debut is set to release in August.
Dominick Brady is a freelance multi-platform journalist currently based in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. He is also owner of Abenghorn Media Productions or “A.M.P”. You can find him in the “A,” online at www.dominickbrady.com or on Twitter, Twitter.com/DomBrady.