I had received a few requests to write about the trials and tribulations of Danny Swain, better known as either D. Swain or simply Danny!, so I figured that the six-year anniversary of his original underground release, The College Kicked-Out, was a good enough time to start.
As one could probably gather from the album title, Danny Swain is heavily influenced by producer-slash-rappers such as Kanye West, and he handles his debut release almost entirely by himself, even providing his own ad-libs and the responses to said ad-libs. Also, just like West, Danny! is a fan of incorporating soulful samples into his work.
However, The College Kicked-Out isn't just an elaborate prank intended to confuse potential customers into buying the wrong album. The title refers directly to Danny's own life experience, specifically when he was expelled from Claflin University after being accused of being the ringleader in a campus-wide grade-changing scheme which resulted in hundreds of students receiving higher marks than they deserved. After being bounced from his school, Danny! found himself alone with his music, as well: a lot of the folks that were going to help him out with his debut were also students who suddenly wanted nothing to do with him.
Undeterred, Danny Swain set about recording The College Kicked-Out by himself, ultimately releasing it on his own Badenov Records, named after the villain from The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle: thankfully, I don't believe there are any references to that cartoon on the album itself. The College Kicked-Out was released to mixed reviews, many of which made the same Kanye West connection as I did in the opening paragraphs, but it didn't really help that both men filled their debut projects with self-deprecating humor and soul samples: there was really no way around the comparison.
Thankfully, The College Kicked-Out was seen by a handful of tastemakers as a refreshing look at our chosen genre, and with each subsequent release, Danny! has built his brand while growing as an artist.
But none of that has anything to do with this particular release.
Danny Swain claims that he will refund your money personally if you don't like The College Kicked-Out. While the jury is (obviously) still out for me, the fact that he sidesteps the rap album intro cliché to deliver a verse is a good sign. He sounds alright (and unpolished, but in a genuine way), and the music backing him was decent enough. Aside from the fact that he's already acting as cocky as a certain other rapper whose album title was borrowed and altered for this very project, this could be interesting.
2. I NEED A PUBLICIST
The beat takes the high-speed soul sample route that has been raped and pillaged so many times that straight-up jacking someone else's instrumental wold be considered fucking original at this point. Danny!'s lyrics, though, about his need for someone to help him market himself, were entertaining enough, although a couple more drafts could have been beneficial to tweaking some of the wordplay. But fuck it, he dreams of having a drink with Tina Fey, which works for me just fine: who wouldn't want to have a drink with her?
3. STAY AWAY
Danny! crafts an entire beat around the same sample that Pete Rock used for the pre-chorus on Ghostface Killah's “Be Easy”, but the rolling drums he pairs it up with don't mix well together. The clashing sounds fight for your attention, causing you to completely ignore Danny!'s lyrics. At least that's what happened to me, anyway. A remix of this with a better rhythm could sound alright, but what we ended up with is pretty dull.
4. I'M MOVIN' OUT
I wasn't feeling this song, but I appreciate Danny!'s shift in subject matter, as this entire song is an argument with his baby's mother, one that he ultimately wants to give up on by leaving her (and the kid) behind. This sounds like a low-rent Kanye track, although the attention to detail probably would have been magnified (and slightly comical) when filtered through the 'Ye lens. Bleh.
5. TALK TO YOU (REMIX)
I'm not really sure where the original version of this song ended up, but Danny!'s apology to the United States (the actual country, not necessarily all of the people housed within) was actually pretty good. His lyrics stay on topic, and he keeps the internal commentary focused, which can be hard when talking about the sorry state of affairs in our nation, especially when a good portion of the population feels that less than two years is more that adequate time for Obama to reverse all of the bullshit that Bush put the country through over an eight-year period. He repeats some phrases a few too many times, though: I kind of stopped caring that he was glad to be having a conversation with an abstract representation of America. He obviously cares about what's going on in the world, though, so this was an interesting diversion.
Because every new artist needs to release a song with their rap moniker in the title, Danny! dedicates a song to himself, dropping bar after bar of goofy comparisons, ill-timed braggadocio, and clever jokes, even though he admits that his flow is only “a'ight”. The beat was annoying as fuck, but the lyrics were pushed to the forefront by the mastering process (the vocals on every song are much louder than the instrumentals, now that I think about it), so it didn't affect me as much. Thus far on The College Kicked-Out, all I'm hearing is a guy whose flow is informed by 'Ye and Eminem, but isn't anything special or original. Hopefully this will change soon.
7. CAN'T NOBODY
Danny! throws himself in front of the firing squad by criticizing the last bar in his own first verse immediately after delivering it, but I think he should have taken things a bit farther: this entire song sounded generic, even if the sentiment was genuine. The soul samples are beyond tired, and Danny!'s love for his mother, while appreciated by her (I'm guessing), deserved better. Nice to know that she stuck with him even after the whole “expulsion” thing, though: that was awfully nice of her.
8. MY BABY
Danny! aims for the unorthodox with this beat, but instead accidentally captures the essence of mental illness: the instrumental moves around so much that it can actually make you nauseous. Lyrically, though, Danny!'s self-proclaimed “'Bonita Applebum' for 2004” isn't that bad, as he doesn't submit to the typical twists and turns that a rapper trying to woo a love interest tends to: he even calls himself out when it seems otherwise. I'll hand it to him, the beat is different. If only it weren't attached to this otherwise decent song.
9. SECOND TIME AROUND
Danny!'s “obligatory bounce track” isn't very bouncy, and the beat is quite annoying, but our host does ride the track pretty effectively: at least he proves that he is capable of adapting to his surroundings. But I wasn't feeling a fucking thing on here. If this is his “bounce” song, I'd hate to hear his “boom bap” sound.
This one floated in one ear and right out the other before I could grasp what Danny! was going for. So I'm going to guess...ambient Night Court incidental music. Was I close?
11. WHEN YOU GET THERE
That title could easily be applied to a song dedicated to lost loved ones (although, admittedly, it wouldn't make perfect sense without altering the title, unless you were directing your lost loved ones to meet up with other lost loved ones who have already taken up residency), but Danny! gives listeners a monologue about how he misses an old friend who moved away to find her happiness. I was already bored before he went on his bizarre tangent about Sonic drive-ins, so this shit obviously didn't work for me.
12. I WISH
While this wasn't the cover of the Skee-Lo hit that I was not-so-secretly hoping for, Danny! still wins over audiences with his overly positive tone and self-deprecating humor, talking shit about his own lyrical prowess. The gimmick grows tired before long, but our host seems to have a revelation toward the end, when he starts questioning the decisions he has made in his own life. He even helpfully notes that he introduces exactly forty-nine wishes on the song, counting them himself so that we don't have to.
13. MY WAY
Danny! takes the reflective route, but this isn't the most engaging song ever recorded or anything. I think he has something worth saying, but hopefully his later output is much more...more.
14. NO GUARANTEES
Meh. Although his self-awareness if oddly refreshing in our chosen genre.
The following song is a bonus track on second pressings of The College Kicked-Out.
15. CLAP BACK
“Clap Back” is the only song on The College Kicked-Out that directly references the whole “expulsion” thing that actually caused the album to be recorded in the first place. Appropriately enough, he performs his verses over a schizophrenic blend of instrumentals (including a stripped-down version of Jay-Z's “Public Service Announcement” and what sounds like an alternate take of his own “Talk To You) that musically informs listeners of the state of mind he may have been in when all of this shit was going down in the first place. His delivery sounds just a tad bit more carefully crafted than on the rest of the project, likely due to it having been recorded a year after the original cut of the project. This was an okay way to end the album, I guess.
THE LAST WORD: It would be easy for me to write that most hip hop heads won't care to look in Danny!'s direction but dismissing the man is to do him a disservice. True, The College Kicked-Out won't appeal to most of you two, as Danny! comes across as a Black Milk/Kanye West clone who talks his shit over self-produced beats, most of which adhere to a blueprint that throws in soul samples with suck reckless abandon that they should appear on endangered species lists very soon. Also, he talks to himself waaaaaay too fucking much. The comparisons to Kanye are kind of obvious (the very title of the album, The College Kicked-Out, send out invitations on glossy 60-point stock with a phone number to RSVP), but 'Ye wins this battle even without participating. However, if one is only paying attention to talent and not the substance or vehicle involved, Danny Swain is deserving of a wider audience: his rhymes are filled with personal observations and humor, both of which would sound much better over more polished instrumentals. Dude goes overkill on the color commentary between verses and songs (not every track needs a spoken word intro, outro, and intermission), but I get the feeling that, once he works out these kinks, Danny! might be worth following. Not with The College Kicked-Out, though: this disc is pretty dull.