The rap game forces patience. Barring the occasional Odd Future fluke, ascent is usually a war of attrition. The Curren$y and Atmosphere model is more common. Slow persistent build, one underground show and mixtape at a time until you force your way into the limelight (limelight in 2011 meaning a Green room filled with hummus and a one-time appearance on Carson Daly.) Somewhere in there lies Danny Swain, whose career has warranted close attention for at least the last several years when he finally eluded the Kanye and Lupe comparisons that overshadowed his early work.
He was signed to Def Jux. Then the label folded without releasing the forever-gestating, “Where is Danny?” There were a few outbursts, but mostly Danny kept quiet, waiting in Cool Calm Purgatory. Who knows what the fuck really happened to his 2009 opus, “Where is Danny!” It was leaked and then the samples were unclearable and then there was a fight with Alex Goose. Frankly, I don’t give a fuck. The music was great — enough for the 21st best of 09. It featured Von Pea and Danny Brown and it was exactly the sort of record that underground rappers should be making: weird, wild, and fun. A world unto itself filled with cartoon plots and swift inscrutable actions. It picked up praise amongst the usual circle of 40 and even earned him the praise of Lil B, but still Danny Swain stays largely slept-on. This is a shame.
He tells me he’s making moves now. Talking about an Interscope deal and a boutique label. I don’t think anyone anywhere anytime will ever release an album on Interscope again. But I should probably keep those opinions to myself. I just hope Danny Swain continues to make music because I think he’s really good at it. Often enough, he’s great at it. His mind is psychedelic and bizarre. Few have as chimerical an imagination. His taste is refined and he raps like his favorite show is “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Funny, neurotic, and woman obsessed. He is angry that he isn’t more well known and he probably has a right to be. Hip hop fans should pay more attention. Rappers that drop Jim Crow, Blue Note, Dutch Jazz and Serge Gainsbourg all in one mix are anything but common.
The tracklist is below the jump, along with well-chosen words for each song. I asked Danny for a quick mix. He did everything but dub a tape and hand paint the album cover. He is a craftsman in an age on consumption. His Where is Danny? is available on iTunes. Payback is coming in the 4th Quarter. Danny is very much alive. –Weiss
1. Passion of The Weiss Drop (intro)
Music from overseas never ceases to amaze me. I’m not sure what it is about it. I honestly don’t know much about this racially-ambiguous electro-pop trio from Sweden that I stumbled across last week on the Altered Zones site, but I’ve been Googling like crazy for any and all of their material ever since. This is the only other song I see out there other than the chime-laden “Run To You”, which has this beginning-of-summer feel that I can’t quite get enough of. On “Falling”, vocal improvisations weave in and out of the simple melody then instantly ends, leaving you either wanting more or ready to punch a baby. Them damn Swedes, I tell ya.
3. Twennywine with Lenny White – Morning Sunrise (Elektra, 1979)
I tend to have this weird affinity for songs with the words “morning” or “moon” in them. Nancy Wilson’s rendition of “Moon River” gets constant play in the headphones and I couldn’t even begin to rattle off all of the songs that reference the morning time. Being a huge fan of keyboardist Don Blackman, who worked with Lenny White’s band extensively in the late 70s and produced this rendition of the Weldon Irvine ballad, it certainly is an understatement to say that this gem is one of my all-time favorites. You can find a chuckling Blackman (no pun intended, really) in the far right of the LP’s back cover.
4. City Boy – The World Loves A Dancer (Mercury, 1978)
Lettuce be reality: rapper The Game gets a bad rap. I truly believe that. Sure, he brings it on himself sometimes with his 300+ bar disses, unprovoked remarks about the long-forgotten G-Unit or his ever-changing tattoo switch-ups (didn’t dude get a unicorn tatted on his right cheekbone?). But this guy can spit, period. Not only that, but I can identify with getting ostracized from a group over bullshit, miscommunication and misunderstandings. I also know quite well the benefits of using music as a release for whatever issues may be going on; if done correctly, it can serve as effective therapy as well as clarity for the general public. “My Bitch”, an outtake from 2006’s “The Doctor’s Advocate”, scathingly — and cleverly — disses 50 Cent, Jay-Z and Suge Knight on its three respective verses by likening them as three shady women who he will always have some sort of control over. Sure, Game.
I don’t think the sample for “My Bitch” has ever been identified before now but anyone who knows me knows that I am a sample encyclopedia. When I first heard “My Bitch”, I immediately thought of this record I had bought only a year or so prior with six nerdy looking guys on its cover. Sure enough, track 2 on the B-side of “Book Early” — a somber tale of an inner-city dancer who craves the limelight and tires of her bleak surroundings — was the backdrop for The Game’s song. Since I also seem to gravitate toward songs that chronicle an artist’s personal struggle with wanting to better his or her life through their craft by any and all costs, “The World Loves A Dancer” became a much-played song over the years. Let’s see if The Game flips any Hall & Oates records for his 88th G-Unit diss.
5. Serge Gainsbourg – Avant de Mourir (Philips, 1970)
Regarded simultaneously as one of the world’s most influential popular musicians and skirt-chasing boozehound, the singer-songwriter-composer born Lucien Ginsburg scored over 40 film soundtracks during his illustrious career. As the 60s were coming to a close, French director Pierre Koralnik commissioned Gainsbourg to provide the film score for what would become 1970’s “Cannabis”, known in the United States and elsewhere as “French Intrigue”. In the movie, Gainsbourg plays a killer working for the American Mafia.
Oh, how I wish I could score film soundtracks for a living while hyped up on cases of Four Loko. Perhaps not; the talented Gainsbourg died of a heart attack in his early 60s. A loop from “Avant de Mourir” would later be sampled by me for “Lost One” from “Where Is Danny?”, the album’s sole heartfelt track whose legitimacy is marred only by random flatulence embedded within the beat. Excuse me.
6. Carmen McCrae – Can’t Hide Love (Blue Note, 1976)
If I had a Ten Favorite Songs Of All Time list, “Can’t Hide Love” would be near the top. Originally recorded by Earth Wind & Fire and released in 1975, this ballad has gone on to become one of the most covered songs in musical history. Numerous artists ranging from Dionne Warwick to Saul Williams (no, really) have since recorded their own version of the song, but the Earth Wind & Fire original remains my personal favorite. To be completely honest, this cover from Carmen McCrae a year after the Skip Scarborough-penned track was first released is not one of my favorite versions. But the oft-overlooked jazz singer does a pretty unique scat improvisation toward the end of the song that I do enjoy; it comes after the song’s final verse and continues until fade-out. A newfound appreciation for this cover version? You can’t hide that.
7. Alison Crockett – I’mgonnacome (SOL Records, 2004)
I think it was around late 2005 or so, right around the time I was creating my third album “Charm”, that I began to develop a sort of snobbery about the type of music I sampled. I admit it and it’s nothing I’m totally proud of; D.L. Chandler (of the rap group Dumhi and currently a blogger for MTV) has even called me out about it. Desperate to separate myself from (and not get overlooked among) the scores of emerging — and established — internetground groups at the time that I was constantly lumped with, I ditched my James Brown records in favor of Hungarian jazz fusion bands who only pressed up 100 copies of their 1973 LP and distributed them in cereal boxes. I would sneer at these producers on songs like “Yoko Ono” from atop my mile-high mountain of Scandinavian prog-rock, Bosnian public access radio and Russian big band albums. Not because I disliked these producers, as I’m a fan of most of them, but because I wanted to stand out among what seemed like a sea of hey-I-make-beats-too! guys.
In retrospect I may have gained a boatload of obscure records and fondness for them, but the downside is that I may have inadvertently alienated myself from the scene. To this day most of my peers choose not to reach out to me for collaborating, and I may or may not be partially to blame. One of the least obscure joints I obtained during this period, Crockett’s “On Becoming A Woman” is indicative of the new direction I was trying to take hip-hop into. “I’mgonnacome” from the 2004 neo-soul record has a sense of urgency that is equal parts coy and sexy.
8. Tevin Campbell – Goodbye (Qwest, 1991)
Every time I hear this song play I’m instantly transported to 1991, the year I got dumped by my very first girlfriend. Her name was Heather and she had a bob haircut, blue eyes and earrings that I believe her mother made for her. We spent most of our time making out, primarily during the school’s annual Star Dome presentation (you remember those tents with the constellations that were projected onto the ceiling), but also behind the water fountain, the playground, the bathroom. Wherever. To this day I cannot remember why it is we broke up, but I do know that she’s the one who severed ties with me and it began a lifelong pattern of women breaking it off with me with little to no explanation or justification. I used Campbell’s “Goodbye” to cope and quickly forgot about her the more I watched Keshia Knight Pulliam on The Cosby Show. Heather who?
9. Similou – Orchid Queen (Dealers of Nordic, 2003)
Similou is, oddly enough, another electronic Sweden-based band I stumbled across. Like Le Pamplemoüse, there isn’t much about them that I know outside of a few songs here and there that were released onto the Internet. I first heard of them back in 2006 or so, when I acquired a compilation CD of European downtempo music from a flea market. This song preceded their 2005 debut album “So Hot Right Now” and I believe was used on a European Volkswagen commercial. Either that or an Oscar Mayer advert. Where’s YouTube when you need it?
10. Maria Kawata – Going To (Alva Records, 2005)
If you ask any underground producer who their idol is, most will exclaim “Dilla!” emphatically. Some will say “Danny!”, but very, very few. At any rate, the producer known for taking half-second chops of records and fleshing them out into five-second loops and, in turn, creating classic records was my muse for 2008’s “Where You Goin'”. The source? “Going To” by Maria Kawata. If you look on the album credits for “And I Love H.E.R.” the liner notes credit Maria as a featured artist. Gotcha, bitch: I merely chopped the fuck out of this 2005 lead single from the obscure Japanese pop singer, who only put out one album on Alva Records before disappearing into musical oblivion. The deception wasn’t ill-intentioned, however: a stipulation in clearing the sample back then provisioned that I credit the singer as a featured artist in hopes of garnering interest for her in the United States.
To be frank, Maria’s voice is horrendous. It’s hollow. It’s tinny. It needs development. But everything about the production of “Going To” — the bass line, the Rhodes, the sound effects, hell the vocal arrangements — seemed too good to pass up. So I didn’t.
11. If – Fly, Fly The Route Shoot (Metronome, 1973)
In more crate-digging snobbery, this album comes courtesy of a shopping spree I took myself on back in mid-2006 as sales from “Charm” started to trickle in (and boy, did they). Eschewing soul and R&B records for untapped genres such as British jazz-rock, I flipped this gem and created “The Chute” from my 2007 instrumental record “Dream, Fulfilled”. By 1973, when this song was released on the album “Double Diamond”, If had gone through so many line-up changes that only original member that remained was composer Dick Morrissey. Proving that the band still “had it”, this song is If bassist Kurt Palomaki’s sole songwriter contribution to “Double Diamond” (he shares a co-composer credit with Morrissey on “Play, Play, Play” from the same album) and its success helped re-establish the brand. Fly, fly indeed.
12. Otto Weiss and his Rhythms – Lately Tune (Concert Hall, 1967)
I only chose this record because the composer shares the last name of the homie Jeff Weiss. Who’s your daddy? If it’s Otto Weiss, that’s pretty dope. [ed. note: he bears no relation to Otto Weiss, but is cousins with Dean from No Age.]
13. Roos Jonker – Shoes & Booze (Dox Records, 2010)
It’s only a matter of time before Dutch pop/jazz singer becomes a household name in the Western world. Until then she seems more than content to take her neck of the woods by storm, releasing her “Mmmmm” album overseas in 2010 to moderate fanfare. “Shoes & Booze” is a catchy little ditty about, well, footwear and alcohol, and would not be out of place in an episode of “Skins”. As for Jonker, whose voice I could best describe as Corrine Bailey Rae meets Norah Jones on prescription ADD medication, she is currently on a European tour while preparing what appears to be her second as-yet-untitled offering. Delicious.
14. Jim Crow – That Drama (Baby’s Mama) (featuring Jazze Pha Too $hort) (Sony, 1999)
One of the dozen of Atlanta-based rap groups that both emerged and faltered because of Outkast’s ominous shadow, Jim Crow was a trio who released two studio albums before being dropped from Sony in 2002. I remember this song getting a lot of burn on MTV when I was a junior in high school; I would recite Too $hort’s verse with precision, emulating his tactless disregard for all things monogamous. With an outrageous name like Jim Crow, it’s no wonder that the song (as well as the group) failed to take off; if nothing else, this tracks serves best as one of the first appearances of Polow Da Don and Jazze Pha (who, though not a member of the group, croons on the song’s chorus alongside scratched vocals from Too $hort’s “Couldn’t Be A Better Player”).
15. The Bins – Dear Jane (featuring Bobby Blunt and Danny!) (self-released, 2011)
This ain’t your daddy’s breakup letter. The Bins is the stage name for Clark Barclay, who produced this track from his 2011 EP “Every Minute Of The Day”. Myself and crooner Bobby Blunt are featured on this song, which has a stadium feel thanks to the crowd ambience and usage of reverb in the song’s drums. You’ll want to check out the remainder of “Every Minute Of The Day”, trust me.
16. Eminem – Underground (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, 2009)
Boy, how everything comes full circle. It’s no secret that Slim Shady is the rapper I am most influenced by; early notebooks containing my raps contain gory, violent and outlandish lyrics that would make Tyler, The Creator weep. I cleaned up my act tremendously from the release of my debut record onward. “The College Kicked-Out” was conceived around the same time Eminem’s grip on me loosened with watered down material such as “Encore”. By the top of 2009, however, I felt tapped out musically. Where was I to draw inspiration from? Later that year I’d fall out with my musical collective, which further added to my disinterest in rap altogether. Then “Relapse” leaked. Em’s comeback album not only helped me through a difficult time (I had recently broke up with a girlfriend as well), but it lit a much-needed fire under my ass because it was just THAT damn good. While “Madvillainy” inspired the conception of “Where Is Danny?”, “Relapse” helped put it onto paper; close listeners will easily hear the similarities between “Relapse”‘s bonus track “My Darling” and “Mama I Want To Fucking Sing”, and cadences from Em’s monumental Tim Westwood freestyles from around the same time pop up on “Many Reasons” and “No One Can Hear You Cry”.
I’ve heard everyone from critics to Em himself denounce this record but I disagree whole-heartedly. “Underground” was the perfect way to end, for me, the perfect record and I like to pretend that I’m the Danny he’s referring to in the first verse. I’m sure I’m wrong.
17. Donwill – Shake It Easy (featuring Peter Hadar) (Interdependent Media, 2010)
There aren’t a lot of rap songs, or songs in general for that matter, that choke me up but my homie Donwill succeeded in doing that with “Shake It Easy”. I don’t know if it’s the lyrics, or the sentiments behind them, or the beat, or the chorus, or the emotional video, or a combination of all of these things, but this track really hits me in the heart and I’m not ashamed to say that. Everyone’s been through the ringer relationship-wise at least one point in their lives, and this song embodies all of the emotions — despair, remorse, and fear — involved in that. “Don Cusack In High Fidelity” is Donwill’s opus, and “Shake It Easy” finds the talented young man at his most poignant.