Danny! – Payback [Review]

2004 marked a huge addition to the Hip Hop genre. While Gangsta Rap was still experiencing solid radio time and 50 Cent wasn’t dating White women, a new emcee was emerging that would challenge the status quo of what it meant to be a rapper. No, he wasn’t slangin’ work or holding a tech sideways; he was spitting about term papers and trying to holla at the cute girl in class. He was college educated (sort of) before his student status was terminated. He wasn’t rapping over hard drum kits and gunshot adlibs, instead using lush, soulful samples that would be a staple of the later years of the Golden Era of rap. Even more impressive is that he made his own beats. Of course by now I’ve given you enough hints to know who I’m talking about, right?

Unfortunately, many of you would probably think I was talking about that other college guy. But if you’re in the know you’d know I was talking about Danny! Danny Swain has been dropping music since his 2004 debut The College Kicked-Out. Don’t get it twisted though, Danny hasn’t been entirely slept on, his third album Charm was just shy of receiving a Grammy nomination. Payback is Danny!’s sixth album (ninth if you count his instrumental albums. Does Danny! bring more of that Grammy flow to this project? Let’s find out.

*All songs produced by Danny! Narrated by Joi

1. Overture
Featuring Chell
The album opens up with a smooth mellow track. Danny! starts by stating “I did what I had to do” in the background, which is intertwined throughout the track with Chell just singing some ooh’s and ahh’s. The line may be a reference to his scandal that got him kicked out of college or his signing with Okay Player. The sax is a nice touch, but since the track was over three minutes I expected some rapping at some point, not just ad-lib’s.

2. Myintrotoletuknow
Featuring Joi

Danny! lists Eminem as one of his favorite rappers and says he’s heavily influenced by him. It definitely shows on this track. The flow is almost exactly the same as Em used on Renegade. He incorporates some elements from Timbaland(Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” and Tweet’s “Oh My”) for a bouncy track that showcases Danny! spitting braggadocious bars at his haters. Speaking of bragging, there’s a jab at Danny Glover aka Childish Gambino in the middle of the track. Joi also makes her first appearance as narrator of the album. She explains her relationship with Danny and starts detailing his life. I kind of wish they would’ve made this an interlude than tack it on at the end of the song as the song is just too long. Then again I like that Danny is crafting a story with this album, like LPs used to do. Pretty good track.

3. Little Black Boy
Featuring Res

Here Danny! does some introspection as he examines his life, from where he’s been to where he’s at now. The tempo goes back down again as he seems content to keep things subdued to build a cohesive feeling to the project. Lyrically, he! is on his A-game as he shouts out the people who were there for him and shows that guidance is the key for young black males:

From the womb to the tomb, this fast life will put you out
Sooner than you want to if you destined for doom
You gotta play the hand you dealt, but fortunately for me
I had a little bit of help, whether keeping me in line
Or being quick with the belt, if I was smelling myself
Eternal gratitude goes out to all the elders who felt
Compelled to share their wisdom to a seed that was fixin to succeeed
They concede that they see something in him
See him walking down the street they just marvel and stare
Watch him put away his toys and trade his marbles for a pair
Of textbooks, yes look at this beautiful boy
Black as the night, but he’s bright, he’s a new Dubois
The new Langston Hughes, coulda stayed a deviant
And joined a gang or two, but yo, thanks to you
I let that crap go, black rose growing from the pavement
Ashy nigga needed guidance, you gave it, you saved it.

Deep, but not preachy, this is my favorite track on the album.

4. Get Up
The song starts with an older woman explaining that music is an art form, not a job, and that you have to persevere against all odds. Again, lyrically Danny! is on point as he skillfully details the frustrations of being talented yet overlooked, but four tracks in and the album is starting to lull a bit with the mellow, subdued production.

5. Evil
Featuring Gavin Castleton and Amber Rose Tamblyn
At the end of the last track Danny! said he was turning off the ‘backpack kumbiyah bullshit’. He comes aggressive but the beat doesn’t match. At least the drums give the track a little more punch. The album transitions midway and Danny! takes on a more sinister sound. Nice switch up with an infectious hook.

6. Even Louder
Featuring Tanya Morgan and Swizz Beatz
We get a Biggie sample shouting ‘Bad Boy’ and we definitely see Danny! acting mischievous as he prays of college girls. We also get the second Childish Gambino diss (thinks Childish Gambino is actually dope…bitch please) Musically, this was the shot in the arm needs as we get an upbeat track. Plus you can never go wrong with Swizz Beatz as your hypeman. Tanya Morgan fit right in with the party vibe and play perfect wingmen as Danny! lays his mack down.

7. Phonte
Featuring Phonte
Before you get hype, Tigallo isn’t rapping here, or even singing. We get a quick interlude with Phonte warning Danny! to chill and not do anything to crazy. Good for the story of the album, but after the album finally picked up with the last track, this derails the momentum.

8. Shit Starters
Featuring Agallah , El-P and DJ Kay Slay
Yes you read that right, Def Jux legend El-P is on a track with DJ Kay Slay. As weird as that sounds this track is a win. Danny! comes back with a vengeance and shows that just because he went to school doesn’t mean he isn’t afraid to handle a cat. The track is dark and hard-hitting, and probably what ‘Evil’ should’ve sounded like. El-P sounds a little out of place and his comfort zone, but overall a good track.

9. Overture Repise
Featuring Chell
Again Danny! shoots himself in the foot by killing any build that the previous song had by putting another interlude after a change of pace track. Joi comes back and continues her narration. If it wasn’t for that I’d hit the skip button.

10. Speed
He hits the accelerator and drastically speeds up his flow as he describes the pitfalls of the fast life and how his family worries that it’s catching up with him. It has to be said that lyrically Danny! has not disappointed yet as he showcases his versatility with his lyrics and flows. It’s proven with this track that it’s nearly impossible to take him out of his element. Dope song and a nice bounce back after the interlude.

11. Go That-A-Way
Danny! must really like Tim as here we get parts of Missy Elliot’s Gossip Folks.” Here he is goes a little lighthearted as he describes his frustration for nobodies wanting beats and verses for free. Not a bad track, but nothing too spectacular either. I understand wanting a break from the heavier subjects but at this point in the album it sounds a little out of place.

12. Misunderstood
Featuring Lil B and Blu
Danny! may have the most eclectic contact list in Hip Hop. Lil B? Really? Sure, why not. Lil B refrains from his Based God persona to actually deliver a coherent sixteen. Blu also doesn’t disappoint with a solid verse as well. But this is truly Danny!’s track as he delivers a cinematic short story of a man in a relationship with a drug addicted and traumatized girl friend who he tries to support. “Little Black Boy” was my favorite song on the album, but “Misunderstood” was a very close second. This one was on repeat for a bit. We also get the intro for the next track which is raunchy and hilarious.

13. I Don’t Wanna Hear That Shit (remix)
Featuring Sup Boo

Fellas, we all know there’s nothing worse than when the girl you’ve been feeling hits you with the dreaded ‘friend zone’. Well, maybe having to be the good friend and listen as your friends happily tells you about the sex she’s not having with you, only then to complain about said dude. This track is pure comedy as Danny! lets his girl know he’s not trying to hear all the mess:

Why you, call me so late tonight?
Let me guess, somebody else has broken your heart
I don’t wanna hear that shit
If you think I do, you must be outta your mind bitch
But I try to be nice, really wish you’d leave me alone
Stop asking me for advice, why you gotta put me in the friend zone?
What the fuck do I look like? What I ever do to make you think this was alright?

Sup Boo comes in to put Danny! in his place and rides for the ladies. If you need a laugh definitely play this.

14. Do It All Over Again
Featuring ?uestlove
Hopefully you already know when you see ?uestlove on the track that  the sound will be amazing. The track is beautifully produced as D.Swain wastes no time in sharing his story. He sounds magnificent spitting his underdog story here. I know with guys like Drake it’s hard to remember but it wasn’t long ago that guys couldn’t just be ordinary in Rap. Instead they had to be cartoonish characterizations of thugs and pimps to get radio play, or languish in the underground with their backpacks and knit caps. Danny! is one of the forefathers of the common man rap. He tells his story in a fresh and entertaining way that’s not heavy handed or boring. The track is a behemoth at over ten minutes, but if you have the time definitely let this one play. Joi returns to plea with Danny! to be careful and that he needs to make some changes in his life at the end of the track.

15. Keep your Head To The Sky
Featuring Collette
Danny! again flexes his storytelling skills as he using two verses to detail two different narratives. The first verse describes a young girl who has dreams of singing but doesn’t have the confidence to follow her dreams and instead lets her mother derail her from pursuing her dream. The second verse is dedicated to a young man from a broken home who has skills as a emcee but using the pain from his father leaving to justify him not trying in school, at work or at his dream. The hook is inspiring and Danny! again does a great job in crafting a believable and relatable song.

16. Far Away
Featuring Collette
Collette returns to croon and slow the pace down and as D.Swain raps about feeling so far away from success although he has put in all the work necessary to blow up. The hunger in his rhymes is evident as he shows no signs of letting up from his grind. Slightly repetitive but solid nonetheless, it’s clear that Danny! doesn’t lack consistency.

17. Payback
Featuring iLLmont
Danny! must be extremely self aware as again he closes out a song with someone telling him to quit with the ‘smooth shit’ and play something ‘rugged’. Not one to disappoint, he puts together a raucous collab with iLLmont to flex on the haters. iLLmont member Allen Thomas comes with some heat that stands out amongst solid contributions from the rest of his crew:

I’m a mic device domestic abuser
With the head like a male Medusa
And weight of a Cruiser
You niggas is sore losers, true shit
I got your girl and I ain’t even have to seduce her
Or pursue her
We lay back on the Payback
While your man’s hair goes way back
Spittin’ straight facts
With iLLmont up in the tape deck
Kid we lace crack
In the grip of crushed codeine
Got cats loud
Cheerin’ like my clique’s the home team

Not to be outdone on his closer, Danny! shows that why he’s not afraid to share a track with anyone:

Smokin’ sour diesel with Evel Knievel
Watchin’ Leave It To Beaver reruns with twenty-three nuns
And fifty priests
Sixty feet under sea level
She-devils rebel and rabble-rousin’
I grab a thousand pounds of sheet metal
And manufacture my own guns
Makeshift artillery, I’m killin’ these niggas
Fracture their nose, dun
Take Kidz In The Hall, toss ’em down a hallway and I finish ’em off
While I play a round of miniature golf
(There he go again!) Back on my bullshit
Smackin’ new jacks in the skull with the back of my pool stick
Diagnosed with an overdose of Imodium
Made a bomb out of hydrogen sodium, strapped it to the podium
I ain’t the hottest in the game, I’m the only one
Fuck nigga, you can runteldat
But tell it fast, ’cause I smell a gas leak in the furnace
I’m furnished with the knowledge to beat Copernicus in a tournament
Competition, diminsh ’em
iLLmont, finish ’em

Lyrically the track is flawless but it kind of feels disjointed from an album that tried so hard to create a story. Great track, but maybe not in the right spot.

Bottom Line:
If you couldn’t tell from reading the review Danny! is an amazing lyricist who captivates for the entire album. Renaissance man and jack-of-all trades are two terms that come to mind as he truly knows not only how to put words together but can also change up his style and delivery. There wasn’t a track where I felt that Danny! phoned it in or lacked effort or creativity. Yet lyrics aren’t everything and we also have to examine the music. There were a couple times were the production just seemed to just drag and some parts seemed to blend together. There were also some questionable calls in terms of sequencing as some of the interludes and a few of the tracks seemed out of place and could have worked better in different slots of the album. For a veteran producer like Danny! this was surprising as he has shown on numerous occasions his ability to put together an album.

Nevertheless one can’t deny the heart and passion that Danny! displayed on his Okayplayer debut. If this is a sign of things to come, it won’t be possible for Danny! to be an underdog, because he’ll finally be on top.