Since the inception of recorded hip-hop, fatalism has hung close to the genre’s heels. The deaths of Scott La Rock, De La Soul, or 2Pac and Biggie are often cited as turning points, but none were first to call forth the vultures. Popularly, first place goes to hip-hop’s debut on commercial radio in 1979, courtesy of Sugarhill Gang’s massively popular “Rapper’s Delight.” The explosion of that song across the world arguably opened the call to question the culture’s legitimacy, thereby commencing the nearly thirty-year-old death knell. But regardless of who actually won the who’s-first game, hip-hop has been dead in somebody’s eyes from the jump. Death — and, perhaps more important, martyrdom — makes concrete the life cycle of being. Hip-hop, the miracle art form that made something out of what Reagan labeled nothing, becomes part of history when its flat-line is acknowledged. Hey, it’s flat now, but it must’ve been bumping a second ago, right?
So, no grains of salt need be tossed at the Danny Is Dead EP from emcee/producer Danny “Danny!” Swain. He ain’t dead — he just got signed to Definitive Jux. He released three albums independently and has already been short-listed for a Grammy. He’s young(-er than me). And did I mention he’s signed to Def Jux? Life for Danny hasn’t ended; it’s just started.
In truth, Danny Is Dead lays to rest one thing: Swain’s independent past. Thus, the EP is one last hurrah for his previous output. A collection of songs recorded around the time of the label signing, the results are surprisingly fleshed-out and fulfilling — hardly the typical B-sides, rarities, and demos effort of your favorite artist. He follows the blueprint of his main reference point — unsubtly given away with the De La-inspired title — to a T (perhaps obsessively, as on “Check It Out,” a “cover” of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Find a Way,” complete with a recreated beat and altered lyrics) and creates lush soul/jazz-sample-based works.
Though Swain wears his ’90s-baby badge proudly, his aesthetic is better described as quiet storm meets post-grad smarm. On one hand, he layers lush ringing keys atop shuffling drums to create a bedroom Love Unlimited Orchestra. However, his book of rhymes hovers between deeply introspective (most of the EP, particularly “Fly, Pt. 2,” deals with post-adolescent struggle and self-empowerment) and snidely Best Week Evar (easy shots at Britney Spears and Girlfriends’ Tracee Ellis Ross). Subsequently, the EP is an easier charm than his third and most recent album, Charm (several tracks from which are currently available as free downloads through the Def Jux site). Keep an eye out for a full-length forthcoming on Def Jux.