Danny! (a.k.a. Danny Swain) raps with braggadocio over his contemporaries throughout Payback. He calls out Childish Gambino’s popularity on “Even Louder” and questions Wiz Khalifa’s preferences on “Go That-a-Way”. Razzes aside, the record is more about the recognition he craves, and any arrogance on Payback is tempered by solid storytelling. Danny! takes skits that plague most hip-hop records and puts them to work to serve a fictional through-line that recalls the tale of an incarcerated Danny Swain. Joi narrates, and guests leave voicemails (“Phonte”) and even call to complain about their sex lives (“Misunderstood”). The story is one big metaphor for how he’s been treated over the years, but the bad moods are simmered by this inventive way of connecting the pieces together.
And those pieces are harsh and poetic. “Little Black Boy” plays piano and lays down the story’s foundation (“A seed that was fixing to succeed they concede that they see something in him” is a strong sequence). “Shit Starters” is electric-guitar-driven rock featuring El-P (“Like cleanin’ out the bar with Bigfoot’s tossed off sanitary towels.” Jesus). The album centerpiece is the epic, 10-minute “Do It All Over Again”, with label-head Questlove behind the drumbeat to the frustration (“I couple that with my imminent diminishing hype/ Due to fickle motherfuckers that expect me to write/ And record an album daily so I won’t disappear/ ’Cause seven months is 80 centuries in Internet years”).
There are missteps. The album ultimately wears out its welcome with a nearly 90-minute runtime, and generic R&B choruses kill “Keep Your Head to the Sky” and “Far Away”. But these misgivings can’t squash such a large record. Payback earns repeat listens — difficult to do in an overflowing market of free mixtapes and record leaks. Come for the hype; stay for the delivery. He’s earned it.
Essential Tracks: “Little Black Boy”, “Shit Starters”, and “Go That-a-Way”