If you've never heard of Daniel Swain before reading this review, you're not alone. I'm not purposefully trying to no-sell his rap career, it's just the unfortunate truth of trying make a name for yourself in music. For every one MC on the indie level whose record you've actually heard, there are anywhere from 5 to 500 times as many more you haven't heard and probably never will. That doesn't make them unimportant necessarily, just unrecognized. There's only so many records that can be spun on radio, blended into a mixtape, or downloaded by MP3. In the age of overload even the most promising talent gets lost in the shuffle, shunted down an obscure by-way of the information highway that few will ever travel. If those few who do make the journey forget to mention it to their friends the road there might as well not even exist.
For me Mr. Swain was just such an artist. Nobody had ever bothered to mention him to me, but when I got his album a little research proved he had two previous entries in the rap world - "The College Kicked-Out" and "F.O.O.D." Both previous album were released under the moniker Danny! His third release "Charm" is billed the same way, but doesn't contain the ominous warning that his CDBaby page does that it's also his LAST. Well fuck, if that shit doesn't just suck, I don't know what was. I've never even heard the guy and he's already planning to retire from the rap game permanently; and unlike Jay-Z I don't think he's planning a comeback later on when he's bored with being the CEO of a major record label.
With all that said the artist who unabashedly describes himself as "South Carolina's most prolific producer/MC" has a lot going for him on "Charm" - enough so that upon listening to this album one wishes he would reconsider such an early retirement. After the obligatory "Intro" he's off to the right start on "Gime Me a Chance." In fact listening to the track you might think he was from the North Carolina instead of the South, because his freewheeling jazzy beat and smoothly flowed lyrics are reminiscent of 9th Wonder's production and Phonte's gifts as a vocalist. In other words, Daniel Swain is a one-man band version of Little Brother:
"I'm sick of bustin these tables for minimum wage
That's why I'm shakin everytime I put pen on the page
That's why my tightest shit's ignited with venom and rage
I've tried to fight it everytime that I've been on the stage
I shake hands with the rap fans
The teeny-boppers say they love me
Underground niggaz tell me 'That's whack Dan'
Man... can't you see that I'm on the grind?
My CD circulated in a couple states and they responded just fine
You mean to tell me if Akon can get signed, I can't get mine?
Sometimes I wanna grab the mic and just rhyme
Stand on a corner with a hat and collect dimes
My daughter just turned two, couldn't afford the Pro Keds
so I bought her just one shoe
Landlord screamin at me, rent six months due"
That's just the kind of hustle and flow that Danny needs to get over, so it's rather shocking that he hasn't gotten more publicity before now. Why hasn't he been in "Unsigned Hype" or been one of the choices from Chairman Mao? It's amazing that somebody with his talents fell through the cracks, but perhaps hip-hop decided they only need one self-produced MC with tight beats and rhymes to rise up from the underground, and Kanye West already had the crown. This comparison is even more appropriate after listening to the title track "Charm," as Mr. Swain matches a track of swinging R&B samples to a lackadaisical flow that's both conversational and comical. In fact "Charm" might be the perfect word to sum up Danny, because if you weren't convinced by the last track this one charms any listener into being a Danny fan:
"Sent my CD out to Puff, Puff passed
Must've had enough trash on his desk this year
Sent one to So So Def, but it fell on so-so-deaf ears
I never once shed tears, this must be a test here
I fell back, prayed about it, made a route
and now the kid got crazy clout, I ain't afraid to shout it
My charm got the ladies in the Carolina fallin in love
Niggaz that I never met befo' is callin me "cuz"
And it's all because, I went against the grain
I did my own thang, radio can kiss my anus
And all these other haters tryin to diss D. Swain is
just a damn shame, pop ya Crist' and champagne
They popped shit, sayin' "he's a nerd" or "he's gay"
Now they love me; I can get away with murder these days"
The trick for any MC in the industry, whether well known or unknown, is to stay relevant for an entire album. Being self-produced makes that an especially hard trick to pull off. You have to write raps that not only rhyme but have interesting concepts, while simultaneously crafting beats that bang without being hip-hop cliches. It's quite honestly almost impossible for me to fathom how Danny got so good at both and remained completely beneath my radar. He's not afraid to joke about rap trends with quips like "I got the internet goin' nuts/but I'ma spend my tour time in the hotel bonin sluts" on tracks like "Can't Wait," but it's equally obvious he can take the subject of female relations seriously when need be on "Temptation":
"I'm still sittin in my cubicle, no sleep for me tonight
Phone beep and Lisa's like "Listen what I can do to you"
She said when givin head, she's the best of course
And some other raunchy shit, but the text cut short
Gift horse, and I'm lookin at it dead in the mouth
Instead of the South, I should've moved to Maryland
My head is about, to explode - don't wanna fold
Gotta play my cards right; sort of like Solitaire and 'em
I swear it's been a minute...
Since temptation reared its ugly head, I'm headed for hell
If my baby momma finds out, I'm headed for worse"
Going through "Charm" one keeps searching for the track that will convince one Danny couldn't be this fresh and simultaneously so little known; it's as fruitless a search as trying to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Gin Rummy may be fond of saying "the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence" on Boondocks, but in this case it's clear the absence of whack tracks is itself evidence Danny is just as dope as Kanye or Little Brother. Whoops - hold up - Danny doesn't dig that comparison. On "The Last Laugh" he says "A better description is A Tribe Called Quest on acid/or EPMD on LSD." Danny's not afraid to share his drugged out beats either. The smooth flowing Peace blesses listeners with her dulcet tones on "Strange Fruit," while 'Drea gets her sing thing on for this track and the slick "Where Were You," and the up-and-coming Jinx gets a piece of the "No Guarantees (Remix)." No matter who else gets wreck though, it's Danny's show, as proven by the song "You Owe Me":
"Back to bass kicks, pennin tracks in the basement
Class act, matter fact I'm givin rappin a facelift
Haters talkin all that smack get smacked
I rap ex-act-i-ly how I have to be
I'm glad to be the talk of the town
I offered you clowns pound
You left me hangin so I'm tossin you down
They tried to stone me
Kicked, punched; six months later now they
Clone me; holding me up, they postpone me
Niggaz that don't know me, they're backin me now
I made it cool to be yourself, they're just jackin my style
You owe me"
One thing's clear about Danny's own comparison to Tribe - he combines +Beats+ with +Rhymes+ and brings them to +Life+. While the whole album is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish, recommended tracks include the pensive "What Now," the familiar "Fly" with a beat some may remember from O.C.'s "Far From Yours," and the outstanding closing melody of "Now You're Gone." Actually that's a bit misleading, because all of the songs are outstanding, and each listener is likely to find their own personal favorites in the process of being charmed by Daniel Swain. At the time Danny recorded the closing track he was only 22 years of age and mentions it in the song. I know he may have given up hopes of making it big in hip-hop, but 22 is far too young for somebody as talented as he is to call it quits. Recognition may come tomorrow or five years from now, but if Swain keeps making albums like "Charm" recognition will ultimately be inevitable. The talent displayed on this CD shines brightly and proves that not only was his the right road to take, but soon to be the road MORE travelled.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: March 7, 2006