After years of getting kicked around by the music industry, Danny Swain is finally getting his revenge. The emcee-producer's seventh album in total and his first release under the Okayplayer Records banner, Payback is the culmination of the conceptual trilogy that began with 2006's Charm and continued with 2008's And I Love H.E.R.. Comprising 17 original records (including Booth-featured singles "Evil," "Long Time Comin'" and "I Don't Wanna Hear That Sh*t"), the set chronicles the artist's career ups and downs through the allegorical tale of a criminal awaiting trial. Swain produces the entire set, channeling Missy Elliott and Timbo's late-90's Swing Mob sound.
Payback Album Review
But Danny! isn’t dead, he’s very much alive, and angry. Ironically, while most of the album focuses on his battles with the public and industry – sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically – Payback isn’t the album that will bring the mainstream flocking to Danny!. Instead, true to its title, Payback sounds more like a catharsis, an extended musical middle finger filled with the kind of instrumental interludes, frenetic humor and unconstrained personality that will leave heads nodding, and Clear Channel running in the opposite direction.
Case in point, Even Louder, a cut that opens with a hilarious nod to ‘90s R&B then quickly switches into a bass-driven track that Danny! and guests Tanya Morgan fill with rhymes about Childish Gambino-living coeds, sweated-out perms and an extended instrumental outro. And as long as we’re talking about purely enjoyable tracks, Evil might just feature Danny!’s best production on the album, perfectly pairing a hook from Gavin Castleton with a layering of instruments that somehow manage to blend electric guitars, a flute, strings and more into a seamless product. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Go That-a-Way, a cut whose beat is part Timbaland-homage, part Double Dutch Bus shout out and lyrically a far less-angry version of Eminem’s The Way I Am. Damn, I know the man’s on TV and what not, but can you at least let him go to the bathroom before trying sliding him your mixtape? Pair tracks like that with open attempts at inspiration like Keep Your Head to the Sky and Little Black Boy and Payback has never sounded this head-nodding.
While it’d be an exaggeration to call Payback a concept album, Danny! does create a storyline that runs through the album involving never explicitly named charges, a resulting media frenzy and eventual suicide (too-late Spoiler Alert). In case you didn’t catch the metaphor there – the intense scrutiny placed on artists, the - Danny!’s more than happy to spell out Payback’s mission statement in his rhymes. Do It All Over Again finds him laying out years of frustration in one, nearly nine-minute track. I know he’s speaking for a lot of rappers when he says, “If underrated is a compliment you can keep it.” Or as he puts it on the soulful Get Up (word to Joan Rivers), “How am I supposed to motivate when half these mofos don’t believe in me?” It’s a question he spends much of the album attempting to answer.
I don’t know about “best” or “dopest” or anyone of 100 adjectives Danny! would like to see me affix to Payback, but it is the most thought-provoking. Thanks in large part to the production I could see anyone enjoying a casual listen to Payback, but to truly appreciate this album you’ve got to be either a rapper or a serious rap fan. The Timbland-production touches, the Swizz Beatz and Diddy jokes, the digs at struggle rappers and, yes, internet critics, if you’re not in on the jokes and references you’ll miss half the story. Or to put it more bluntly, if you don’t get the point of putting Blu and Lil B on a track titled Misunderstood, you won’t get much on this album. So while Danny! may say that he’s striving for large-scale success, the truth is that he doesn’t make music for a lot of people to like, he makes music for a few people to love. The secret, though, is that “few” is more numerous than you might think. So frankly I’d think twice before hating on Danny! – Payback can be a b**ch.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins