American hip-hop heads are hypocrites. We demand realness, authenticity. There's no bigger sin than pretending to be someone you're not. At the same time, we're judgmental of anyone who's reality doesn't exacty match our reality. To our narcissistic eyes the only streets, the only blocks, we're willing to see are American blocks. The only authentic voices we're willing to hear as authentic are the voices that sound like us. It's why English rappers have had such a hard time truly making an impact in the U.S. Sure, American hip-hop fans will occasionally allow someone from outside our borders to enter for a moment - Dizzee Rascal, Lady Sovereign, etc. We'll treat them as an interesting novelty, embrace them for a moment, but it won't be long before we're deporting them again. Tinie Tempah's Disc-overy album went double-platinum internationally, but a deluxe version of the project specifically packaged to appeal to Americans barely made a wave on our shores. We can complain about Iggy Azalea rapping in a faux-Atlanta accent, but no matter how good she was, we would have never let her be anything more than "that female rapper from Australia" if she rapped in her native accent. Iggy Azalea is the spawn of our own musical zenophobia.
So yes, the first thing we have to talk about when we talk about Danny Seth is that he's from London and yes, he sounds like he's from London. As he said when we talked, "Everyone's going to have a perception of me before they even hear my music. They're going to be like he's white, he's from England, he's trying to do hip-hop." Danny's not hiding from those pre-conceptions at all - he is white, he is from London - but he's also trying to become something more than just those easy identifiers. He's trying to become someone who's known for making dope hip-hop. Period.
Danny's now readying for the release of his long-worked on album, Perception, a project he dares to hope will truly open some doors for himself and other U.K. artists, but you don't arrive at a point like that easily. Perception's now been three years in the making and the project's taken as many twists and turns as his life. "I went through a lot of shit with who I was as an artist, finding my sound," Danny said. "We had the album done two years ago, but it wasn't really my sound. I was trying to sound like someone else. It takes time to find yourself. That's why I spent two years doing a video ["I Arise Because"], because I wasn't going to let anyone see it before it looked how I wanted it to look. I oversaw the editing, I oversaw the CGI, it's mine."
Speaking to Danny extinguished any even faint flickers of doubt I had that this was a gimmick for Danny, that like so many other artists, from anywhere, hip-hop was a shortcut to fame and money. He spent three years working on this project. When we spoke, he had just come back from Finland. The engineer mixing his project wasn't doing work up to his standards, so he flew to Finland to finish mixes himself alongside one of his go-to production collaborators. You don't put in that much work behind-the-scenes, for that long, unless you truly care about the music, and the passion in his voice is palpable. "I need to tell my story, and this album took so long because I needed to get better at my craft," he said. "Three years ago I just couldn't make the music I was happy with."
In fact, most of what he now worries about is how much of that craft, all of that work, could potentially go unnoticed."We scored the whole thing [the album], every track is scored together. It's a story, a 17-track story, but do kids want to hear a story? How many will notice the tracklist is three sentences? That there's loads of hidden symbology in the art? I wondered, do I just screw this off and make an ignorant one-hit wonder, because that's all I'm seeing happen. But I'm so happy I stuck it through."
It's an understandably scary moment for an artist. You spend years grinding to make an album, pushing to the top of a mountain, but reaching the top of that mountain isn't the end, jumping off is. The second an artist's work hits the world they completely lose control over it. What they meant to say, how they hoped that work would be perceived, is now irrelevant, and even for a man who titled his album Perception for that exact reason, it's tough to be standing at the edge of that cliff, preparing to jump. "Is this going to be the album where UK hip-hop is taken seriously?" Danny asked. "Is it going to be trashed and forgotten about?"
The theme of all of our "Top Prospects" picks has been undetermined futures. I've been doing this long enough to have learned the futility of predictions. Former sure shots fade, new superstars come out of nowhere, and in Danny Seth's case there's more unpredictability than usual. It feels like more ears in America are open to rap from overseas than ever before, but we've still never seen a U.K. artist make a large, sustained impact on U.S. hip-hop, and by extension global hip-hop. As he seems to know himself, Danny very well could be the first, or maybe not, maybe he'll write his own story. But no matter how the future of Danny Seth plays out, he's knows the only way he's going to be successful is to be himself, and that includes repping his home soil to the fullest.
"I don't say Danny Seth is coming. I say the British are coming," Danny said. "I'm trying to represent all the kids who always wanted to see our rap in America. Just because we're from London doesn't mean we can't make the music we love."
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks on podcasts/radio/TV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]