And I Love H.E.R.: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(1911; 2008)

By Eric Sams | 14 July 2008

The newest (though admittedly circumstantial) setback in Danny! Swain’s self-professedly tumultuous career is having dropped a rap album within chronological distance of Shapeshifters, Invincible’s Detroit Rap City behemoth. But, while And I Love H.E.R. is decidedly not Shapeshifters, the two do share some ground. Like the line from “Recognize” on Shapeshifters that raises the central question that Danny! asks over and over, already knowing the answer: “Is it the opposite of synthetic / When the check get on the level with respect / Or is it bogus like identity theft?”

Yeah, Danny! knows the answer to this question all too well. It’s the way that he deals with the answer that sets his record apart from other releases making drive-by judgments on the state of the rap game. “Intro” is striking for it’s self-effacing anti-swagger. “All I want to do is shine / But they gave me a dimmer / They threw me overboard / I ain’t even a swimmer / Havin’ talent ain’t enough in this affair / They say you got to be ground breaking just for niggas to care.” Swain feels himself equal to the task of making a great rap record, but he’s not quite sure that that means anything in and of itself. He’s achieved some measure of success, but he hasn’t deluded himself about how much further into the hallowed ground of stardom his flow may take him; and this is a self-awareness truly singular among artists in his genre, who traffic in flights, both real and imagined, of opulent grandeur. The message, coolly delivered, seems to be: “Can leave rap alone, the game don’t need me.”

...Which is true, as far as it goes. One particularly lamentable aspect of the corporate music establishment is that Music certainly doesn’t require talented artists to sustain itself. This is an interesting thought, if left to percolate a bit: Since the average music consumer, when given a choice in terms of quality, often elects to listen to feckless, formulaic bilge, there is no evidence whatever that the music industry would be harmed in any way—let alone grind to a halt—if all the under-appreciated artists with creative vision, capability, and drive threw up their hands, forsook the dream, and became, say, tax attorneys or arc welders. In other words, Best Buy music fans who don’t look past the “Just Released” rack despite the fact that there are currently myriad superior options would take no notice if the creative undercurrent stopped flowing. This is how come Rob Thomas.

But here’s the other fascinating thing about Danny!: that being so clear-eyed about the disparity between his mic skills and his relative importance in the world, he acknowledges it, puts it aside, and goes about making an excellent rap album nonetheless. Let the realities of musical hegemony and marketing and economy be what they are, I’m dope and here’s why. This is why he goes through the trouble of packaging the disc like it’s “real” and then putting “Anita Dammstreetteam” as his publicist. (And, full disclosure, hollering directly to some staff on the Glow in the liners.)

This is a fucking phenomenal and seldom utilized mindset in which to set about creating something; Danny!’s dogged adherence to an admittedly limited form creates a sort of insular transcendence to which we at the Glow often apply ourselves. And though perhaps our circlejerking in-jokes and inhouse rhetoric may be a bit less, erm, productive an act of creation than what Danny! accomplishes here, the intent remains the same: to be the best at that which we (inherently, at times despairingly) are. In our case, webzine—in his, rapper you’ve slept on. If that seemed kind of cocky, it was, but forestall your hatemail long enough to read the next sentence. The eloquent expression of this struggle with which we so closely identify is reason enough for CMG to encourage others to listen to And I Love H.E.R.. But there are better reasons than underdog solidarity to spread the word on Danny!

Not the least of which is that Swain’s vulnerability—this album is really just one big raw patch of vulnerability—produces some of his most honest, dexterous, and trenchant rhymes. See, it’s not entirely true what I said before about Danny! being able to put the whole mic skills/respect dissonance behind him. Despite his self-admonishment to “just make the music, Danny. Please shut the fuck up,” he’s constantly questioning himself on this album. Questions that ostensibly reveal his personal insecurities, but also have implications for the larger issues of fame and commercialism themselves. Swain wants you to think he’s being cheeky on “Guess Who’s Back” when he asks, “Should I make a rhyme a day / Just so I can keep the milk carton away?” Maybe he is being cheeky, but there’s also a level on which he’s commenting on labels’ preset release schedules specifically designed to keep that new Ace Hood single thumping in your forebrain right up until the next one comes out. There’s also a level where he’s asking you, earnestly, a little desperately, “Is that really what I have to do?”

Nowhere is this searching, brutal personal inventory performed more starkly than on soul-baring “Wanderland.” The track, in its comparison of an aspiring young rapper to a stripper—both exploiting themselves, both hoping their current situations are only a means and not an end—asks the inescapable corollary question to the one Invincible poses: “If talent is no guarantee of success, when is it time to chuck it in and become a tax attorney or an arc welder?” This Danny Swain belies the beat-making B-boy braggart Danny! who shows up on tracks like “Guess Who’s Back?” and “Jet Set,” comparing himself to the Beatles, and making sure people know “I ain’t a poor man’s nobody” (a nod to a career-long beef with being compared to Kanye). Danny! would answer this second question with a resolute “never,” but the author of “Wanderland” is no stranger to doubts of the deepest, darkest species, that maybe the driving motivation in your life is a lie.

There’s nothing contrived about this internal conflict. Danny Swain really does find himself in an awkward flux state of the music business; half-famous, obviously talented, rising more slowly than he’d like to, and coming apart at the seams as a result. It may be hell for him, but it’s compelling listening for anyone smart enough to shitcan the Kanye comparisons long enough to sit down and give this record the attention it deserves. Indeed, Swain is possessed with a generous musicality: these seventy minutes swim by, and it’s fun to hear him on a giddy, shimmering high like “The Groove.” But when the record stops spinning the glow of exclamation-point Danny fades, and we’re left haunted by the emcee with the question mark after his name.

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