Relaunching after some years in the abyss, the acclaimed Okayplayer Records, home to some of the most revered acts in Hip Hop history makes its long awaited return to business. Much like the label’s own rise from the ashes, South Carolina rapper Danny Swain – or Danny! – embarks on his comeback of sorts, with his new album released through the OKP label.
The spirited and animated rapper/producer has had more than his fair share of musical obstacles and industry politics to hinder his progression. But after much grafting and co-signs from The Roots‘ stickman Questlove and the empirical Jay-Z, Swain’s Payback LP carries extra momentum upon its release.
A part concept album, part tribute project, Danny! pays tribute to the musical contributions of the legends Missy Elliott and Timbaland whilst playing out a fictional story of a rapper meeting a tragic end. Narrated by seasoned vocalist Joi throughout the project’s 18 tracks, Danny! first introduces listeners to his world on “Myintrotoletuknow” – a fresh, feel good cut with the rapper skipping through his short quick bio of his musical adventure thus far. Sampling the late Aaliyah‘s “Are You That Somebody,” “Myintro…” is the first of many Payback tracks which feature samples and interpretations of the legendary singer’s work.
Danny Swain’s charming, jester-like energy and delivery provides and easy and enjoyable listen throughout. Providing an equal mix of humour, controversy all without losing the focus of the narrative, Danny!’s material is easy to digest and enjoy – and with the rapper also producing all material, the beats on hand all symmetrically fit Danny’s often off-the-wall deliverance of verses.
Hijacking the drums from Scarface‘s classic joint “Guess Who’s Back,” the easing “Little Black Boy” plays out an emotive tale of the protagonist longing to grow up into something successful. “Evil,” the track which was performed on popular TV chat show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, adds another chapter to the story unravelling throughout Payback as Danny’s paranoia inducing rhymes of being tempted by the darker side of life play out in a cool fashion, thanks to guest features Gavin Castleton and Amber Rose Tamblyn.
Payback is stacked with numerous big name collaborations, which bolster an album which arguably may be slept on due to the rapper’s underground profile. The thunderous “Shit Starters” ropes in New York’s finest in the form of Swizz Beats, Jim Jones and former boss El-P, whilst the dulcet tones of Amel Larrieux adds delicacy to the groovy “Get Up” with the Hip Hop community polarising Lil B joining Swain and Blu on “Misunderstood.”
Although spouting witty punchlines and the odd barbs at rappers, Payback carries a sombre tone due in part to the heart heavy story narrated with sorrow by Joi on interludes scattered throughout. Swain adds to the darker tones on “Speed,” taking on the voice of his sister and mother, who display great concern of the rapper’s fast lifestyle and the conclusion to the tale [which comes at the tailend of "Do It All Over Again" featuring Questlove"] further compounds the underlying dark matter which is filtered throughout the album.
Regardless of the morbid climax to Payback, Danny manages to keep spirits high with charismatic performances which provide many of the highlights on the album. Drawing the line with overzealous fans is what inspires his lyrical rant on “Go That A-Way,” and keeps optimisms high on the catchy yet somewhat simplistic production of “Keep Your Head To The Sky” which samples the timeless Sounds of Blackness hit.
Having released numerous credible projects and mixtapes prior to this, Payback most certainly feels like the album with which Danny Swain has finally “arrived” with regards to his status in Hip Hop. With creative juices flowing at a rapid rate, Danny’s ode to Timbo and Missy mixed with an engaging storyline result in an enjoyable, musically stimulating project. Swain’s quick fired rhymes and storytelling work in tandem with the exceptional, nostalgia inducing instrumentals at his disposal.
Whilst the constant referring to Jigga and Questlove’s co-signing may feel exhausting, there is no doubt whatsoever that the plaudits were well and truly gained, even if on the sole merits of his newest album. Danny Swain most certainly achieved his “Payback” on all who slept on him, as the Okayplayer dynasty once again brings forth another potential Hip Hop hero for the underground.