It’s no secret that the UK isn’t exactly renowned for its hip-hop exports. For the most part, that’s down to the stark difference in British and American cultures. Whether it’s politics, or slang, or fashion, or the fact that you can’t replace a letter in your name with a Pound sign in the same way you can a Dollar sign, each side of the Atlantic is playing on a completely different field. I’ve always liked that, though. Hip-hop has always meant more than just the music. It’s an expression of who you are, where you’re from, and what you stand for.
To flip it around, we’ve got grime here in the UK. American’s can’t touch grime in the same way a British artist can because London is the nucleus for that entire movement. It’s the life-source. Sure, you can produce a grime beat and rap over that, but without the familiar accent and the references to British culture that make grime, grime - it’s just not the same thing. But here’s the clincher: It doesn’t have to be the same. There’s no rule book. Music is creative expression, and right here in 2014, the lines between genres are blurrier than ever before.
Take Danny Brown as an example. There’s a guy who started out straight US hip-hop, meanwhile discovering British grime culture. Over the years, he has fused the two identities together, to carve out his own lane. That’s some low-key genius, not too dissimilar from Rick Rubin’s approach to early Def Jam or even Beastie Boys. It’s about recognising what’s good, moulding those elements to work to your strengths and producing something that’s beyond everyone else. That’s how stars are born, folks. And this is exactly where I’m going to turn the spotlight onto Danny Seth.
It’s important to remember that the common denominator in all of this is respect. Respect for culture, respect for art and respect for the creators themselves. Danny Seth is an artist that has respect for his roots, with an equal amount of respect for the US hip-hop culture that he grew up on through headphones, music videos, and eventually the Internet. In turn, Danny is now demanding a respect of his own. He’s out here representing Britain in the USA’s backyard, and he’s not the only one. As part of a generation where location is less of a barrier than ever before, shouldn’t we be embracing the innovation that we now have access to, rather than worrying about what Emoji flag is in the next person’s Instagram bio?
Fuck, I could talk about this for hours. Let’s just cut to the chase. Danny Seth is a hip-hop artist. He can rap, he knows his history, and he has the foresight to be producing music that’s not only relevant now, but relevant moving forward into this new dawn of hip-hop. This man understands the importance of quality, but more importantly, he understands the importance of honesty.
Without further delay or knowledge bombs, here’s what he had to say when we linked up in London recently.
TOM WINSLADE: Introduce yourself for those who don’t know already.
DANNY SETH: I’m Danny Seth. I’m a rapper from London and I’m trying to make history.
Let’s dial it back, how does a white Jewish guy from North West London fall into making rap music?
With great difficulty, to be honest. Being where I’m from, rap is not an everyday thing. I grew up with the richest kids around me and I was always different, no matter what it was. Music’s always been a passion for me, though. I actually used to be a DJ back in the day. Early dub, dubstep, hip-hop. I used to clash it up. This was when I was 16/17, when dubstep wasn’t what you’d call “dubstep” today, y’know?
I feel you.
What happened next?
I wanted to learn more, so I took my music abroad. I always used to write, but I never wanted to tell my friends. It wasn’t really an accepted thing back home. So I ended up heading out to to LA, to intern for a record label. A friend from the same hometown as me is in a band called Modestep, and one day I heard them playing while I was sifting through music in my office, and I was like, “Fuck, if a kid from my area can make it out to an office in LA, then why the fuck can I not do it too?” - like, anything is possible. So I started taking my writing more seriously, stopped listening to other people and started doing my own thing.
I imagine you also had to listen to a ton of shitty music when you were sorting through other artist’s demos every day. Did that push you?
Oh, for sure! It made me realise there’s a gap out there. There’s a market for English rappers that can be taken seriously in America. US hip-hop has always been a love for me and just because I’m from the UK, I don’t want that to restrict me in what I want to do.
How did you first stumble across hip-hop? Was it an early influence on you?
When I was young, I was a massive Michael Jackson fan. I used to dance to all the videos... I mean, I even got the Bad logo tattooed on my arm. Like, he’s a fucking inspiration to me. Then when I was 10, 11, 12, I remember the Marshall Mathers LP came out and my mum was one of the only mums that used to let me listen to it in the car with my friends, despite the swearing and shit. I remember coming home from school with my best friend Luke and we went through to the record shop when his sister bought Clipse, Lord Willin’. That’s when I discovered that other side of hip-hop, away from Eminem, and more that whole Pharrell/Neptunes production side of things. Pharrell became another huge idol of mine from there. And yeah, that’s how I got into hip-hop.
Got you. It gets me stoked that a British guy is representing us in this current generation of hip-hop. Was it a conscious decision to make something universal that will not only translate over to the States, but also fill a void back home?
I looked at it that way, yeah, but I also I know some people from England won’t agree with what I’m doing. Like, the thing with being British is people are really proud to make British music. Like, you want to represent the UK. I love that fact, but for me, because I could never rap about grime or guns and moving coke, ’cause I never done it, there are so many other niches in American hip-hop that I can vibe with. Like, the beats are very important to me. I don’t just rap over any beat. For me, it has to feel right, and for me, the whole American hip-hop thing is what I want to listen to in the club or wherever else. Of course, I love grime too, but something in my heart has always just been about US hip-hop.
Let’s talk about America then. It’s fair to say your attention’s been over there for a minute, rather than the UK. Why’s that?
Well, I haven’t played a UK show yet, but that’s been out of choice. I feel like I’ve got more of a point to prove before I come back home. I really wanna concentrate on my project, so I haven’t been accepting too many shows in general. I’ve been working on this project called Perception just so I can be like, “Yo, this is what I am. This is Danny Seth in a project, and yes, I can actually rap.” What I’ve put out so far has been best received in America, but my music is universal. I want everyone to feel like they can listen to it. The white kids, the black kids, the rich kids, the poor kids. Whether you’re from the hood or not. I feel like that’s something Drake is good at. He’s real and he transcends all of that shit. I think it’s all about being real these days, and I’ve been honest from the get-go. Yeah I’m white, I’m Jewish, I’m from North West London. There’s no point hiding that shit. I feel like the way I’ve been real with it has helped me push through in the States, and it’s starting to push through at home too.
You mentioned Perception back there - the upcoming project. What’s that all about?
This is my big, big thing. I’ve been working on it for two years now. With the title Perception, that’s in regard to how people will always have their own perception of whatever I do. So, some people will think my music is terrible, some people will think it’s amazing, some people will think “Why is he doing this?“, some people will think “Oh my god, he’s going to break America!” Like, so many people have perceptions of me already, and this is about addressing those differences. Every song on the project is very different. So, you’ll hear I can do the bangers, but then you can hear me doing these deeper, more soulful tracks too. With social media, it’s so easy for people to fire shots at me or tell me they love me, but that’s just their perception. It’s such a powerful word and I want it to remain open-ended. It’ll be like, “Here’s my album -perceive it however you want - but this is the best I can do.”
And it’ll be a free album, right?
Yeah, I’ll be putting it out for free. I just want as many people to listen to it as possible. You know, I feel like I need to earn people’s respect a little more before I expect them to pay for my music. I need to give them something first.
When are you hoping to release it? Is it almost ready to go?
I keep saying December, but I think it’s going to be January, man. I’ve gotta finish this film I’m working on and it’s all gotta be fine-tuned and scored. There’s a lot of things we’ve still got to do, but my two producers Zach Nahome and MD$ are on it. Like, I don’t really work with anyone else [for production]. I feel like I have to vibe with the right sort of person for it all to be on the right level.
I know we spoke about it earlier [before we started recording], but the film is also going to include a music video for “I Arise Because,” right?
It will come in conjunction with the Perception release. So, the film’s going to be called “Perception” and it will be split into two parts. One part is a dream sequence and the other part is a music video for “I Arise Because,” and it will all flow together. We might actually end up releasing the second part first. It’s to show that I understand the whole artsy side of it, but then I can also get down to the real rap shit. I don’t want to rush it, so I’m not thinking deadlines. I just want it to be perfect. Honestly, I think my biggest enemy in this is myself. Like, I don’t see any of these other rappers as competition because it’s all very different. I respect them all in their own right, but I what I’m really trying to do is change the world. I’m a perfectionist.
I wouldn’t say being a perfectionist is a bad thing when it comes to music though, man.
I was first put onto you by Ciesay of PLACES+FACES. After he mentioned your name, one of the first things I saw was a video of you performing at SXSW in Texas. Talk me through that experience.
That was wild, man. One of my good friends, Jesse, is the lead singer in a band called The Neighbourhood and it was his showcase. He hollered at me like, “Yo, I want you to come and open for me.” We’d been making a bunch of songs together for ages, but this wasn’t gonna be a hip hop crowd. I was just like, “Fuck it, I’ll try it,” and it went off, man. People really vibed with it and it made me see how you can tap into these different crowds, if you’ve got the right energy and can connect with them. That’s why I’m so excited to play my first London show, now. I feel like it’s the right time for people to see Danny for Danny.
You had Virgil Abloh DJing for you at that showcase too. That’s a big look. How did you guys hook up?
Well, shout out Virgil, he’s a very good friend of mine. He’s backed me from day one. I remember he reached out to me, like, two years ago, like, “Man, I fuck with this!” and he put me on his tape. We became good friends after that and we’d always see each other in different countries or whatever. He’s just a very, very down to earth guy for who he is. He’s been super cool to me and he’s a creative genius. Like, I respect everything that he does.
That’s dope. Do you ever go to him for advice?
Yeah man, definitely for creative advice. I think he’s going to be working on the second half of my film if he’s around. I mean, he’s always travelling. But yeah, he’s a very inspirational dude and he’s obviously done a lot of dope things.
He’ll obviously hook you up with Kanye too. You know, if you can get the nod from Yeezus...
[Laughs] Please, God. That’s the seal of approval, brah.
We touched on it before, but tracking back, you’ve got your first headline show in London coming up in December. How are you feeling about that?
I’m super excited. I fucking dreamed about coming home and playing. Like, the only other London show I accepted was a private show in Shoreditch House [earlier this year] for my friends and family. I just wanted to try out the new music and see how it went. I respect my friend’s opinions more than most people. Speaking of respect, DJ Semtex has been such a mentor to me, like, he is a fucking OG. He knows what he’s saying and he’s given me a lot of guidance. December 17th is his show and I can’t say no to Sem, so that’s that. There’s another dope London kid on that show called Jay Prince. It’s gonna be a lot of fun, especially trying out all the new stuff.
Merchandise. I’ve seen you scheming hard on that. What’s the plan there?
My whole movement is called The British Are Coming. I’m also part of the Last Night In Paris collective, so it’s a movement within the collective. With the merchandise, we’ve got the star emblem which is based upon the Union Jack but without the flag. I’m all about simplicity and my designer Skarie, who does all my graphic design and artwork, he’s my partner in all of this. We also have a clothing line called Boadicea, which was meant to drop two years ago but we got jacked by a certain streetwear company. Can’t say who, but they stole our designs, so we scrapped that and having been focusing on The British Are Coming merchandise, which should be in ready in time for the show in December. It’s proper, simple, clean.
It almost won’t be traditional merch, then. It’s more of a brand in itself?
Exactly. I mean, Boadicea is my brand and TBAC is my merchandise, but I’ll be treating my merchandise like a brand. It’s all top quality.
Tight. It’s all coming together man. So, we’ve covered your plans for the rest of the year, in the build up to Perception. What are the goals for 2015?
Taking over the world. As soon as Perception is done, I’m ready to let it flow. I’m just hoping people perceive me in the way I’m want to be perceived. I’ve been working so hard on this thing, like, I was sick for six months last year and they didn’t even know if I was gonna recover. After that, my whole mindset flipped. Like, I was put here to finish this task and I’m excited. I think it’s going to be crazy.
Finally, shout them all out.
Shout out Skarie, shout out Zach, shout out MD$, shout out Collard, shout out Ciesay, shout out all the Paris boys, shout out Virg, shout out Semtex, shout out High Chat. Shout out The Hundreds and shout out Winslade. I appreciate it, man.