Exclusive: The former Death Row inmate addresses longstanding rumors regarding Suge Knight's fondness for this then underage "son," DJ Quik's shunning him, and much more.
How would you feel if anytime anyone wanted to speak with you all they wanted to do was talk about what was going on in your life 14, 15 years ago? Well former Death Row Records singer Danny Boy knows all too well what that feels like. Having been a part of the Death Row dynasty during its mid-‘90s peak, Danny is to this day routinely bombarded with questions about his work with Tupac for 1996’s All Eyez On Me, his protégé role to Suge Knight, (as the then teenage vocalist from Chicago’s Westside was groomed to one day assume the reigns of the mighty west coast empire from its infamous CEO), and just about any other question one can think to ask Danny regarding his tenure with one of the most impressive labels in Hip Hop history.
Now in his early-thirties, the father, husband, and proprietor of My Soul Café, (whose charter location is on the south side of Chicago, with a second store set to soon open in Atlanta), is still, to the surprise of surely some, actively pursuing his music career, both on the secular and Gospel ends of the music spectrum. And now thanks to WIDEawake Entertainment acquiring the Death Row catalog and recently releasing It’s About Time, (a collection of slinky funk-flavored R&B tracks, 70% of which were crafted by Danny’s primary producer during his Death Row days, DJ Quik), both longtime fans and newcomers to Danny’s silky smooth vocals can take a trip back to the beginning of the early days of DB’s career to hear some of his previously unreleased gems from the pinnacle of the Death Row era.
Speaking to HipHopDX from his homebase in Atlanta, (where Danny has resided since 2004, following he and his wife’s decision to relocate from Los Angeles to the ATL a year after their nuptials in ’03), Danny happily obliged one more inquiry into his past, (which induced some unintentionally salty language from the self-described church boy that you’re likely not to hear uttered in any house of the Lord.) And in this first-half of his jaw-dropping interview with DX, DB bluntly addressed the longstanding rumors regarding the then underage crooner and his legally adopted father, Suge Knight, why Danny no longer speaks to DJ Quik and other former Death Row affiliates, and even why he was at one point “prepared to kill my brother.” For anyone old enough to remember when Suge’s powerhouse label ruled the Rap game, or even for those too young to recognize the name Danny Boy, the in-depth Q&A below is sure to illuminate just what life was like for one inmate on Death Row.
HipHopDX: Your latest Gospel single, “Words Can’t Explain,” and your long-in-the-vault Death Row Records debut, It’s About Time, were released six days apart in April. How surreal was that to have your past and present colliding at the same time?
Danny Boy: I was very excited about the old project…because that’s music that I recorded back when I was 17-years-old, back on Death Row [Records], when Death Row was in its heyday. And over the years people have always contacted me wanting to know about the project…so I was very excited for them to hear that. At the same time, on my label, Artist 1st, I’m working on my own project independently, and I just wanted to make sure that I put out something to give the people [so they can] have an opportunity to…hear where I am today vocally and musically.
DX: How did the guy who used to sing lyrics like, “Now I may be very young / But I’ll get you sprung / If you let me play with your pearl tongue…”
Danny Boy: [Laughs] You wrong, man.
DX: [Laughs] How did that guy wind up going Gospel?
Danny Boy: It’s really funny when people say, “Danny Boy gone Gospel” and just…putting a title on the type of music that I sing. And my people really get mad at me for saying that [but] I’m a Ray Charles type artist. Ray Charles would sing any music that touched people. He was always singing different music, whether it was Country, Rock & Roll… Gospel is my roots. That’s where I come from. I’m a church boy that’s just had an opportunity to be in the streets, and be around a lot of different things and experience the outside rim of church. But I also over the years [have] matured so much spiritually [that] certain songs I used to do I’m just not interested in doing ‘em no more. Because I do have kids that listen to me, [and] as far as my own kids, so I’m very cautious…
Music is missing so much, the elements of something that’s gonna touch people’s spirit. And even the “Words Can’t Explain” [record], it said nothing about Jesus but my music still is ministry for me. I wanna make sure that my music touch people, that it invokes love, that people will get something out of it…so we can help ‘em along they day.
DX: I know it’s your past, but I just gotta mention how well that song that the lyrics above came from, “Come When I Call” off the Murder Was The Case soundtrack, has held up 15 years later. You and DJ Quik cooked up a quiet storm classic with that one.
Danny Boy: Hey man, I’m excited about it too. I won’t take it back neither. That was one of the first songs I had an opportunity to record on Death Row Records. And working with DJ Quik, he’s an awesome producer, writer…and that’s just one of the songs that we came up with. And it represents where I’m from. I’m from Chicago, and I was telling the truth in it, “Chi-Town winds blow so cold, I can’t imagine not having somebody to hold.” [Laughs.]
DX: I love [that] joint that Quik did on It’s About Time, “Steppin’.”
Danny Boy: Thank you, man. That’s crazy too, because…even when some of my people heard it they was like, “Man, you got that from R. Kelly.” And I said, “How dumb do you sound, because these were songs that I recorded close to 15 years ago…” And [so] I think that was recorded a little bit before “Step In The Name Of Love” was. But Chicago was known for steppin’, and at that time…I was excited to get an opportunity to get off [on] the Westside but still have a piece of [home] with me, and steppin’ was a piece of it that I was able to take and try to introduce to the world…
DX: It’s just hard to believe they didn’t release that. If that woulda dropped in ’96 that woulda been like a smash hit.
Danny Boy: Oh man, it hurts so bad to hear everybody say that like, “Man this was the album for ’96!” [But still] I’m like, “Jesus, Thank You!”
DX: So just to clarify, was Quik like your main producer? Was he the guy [in-house at Death Row] that was on the Danny Boy assignment?
Danny Boy: I would say Quik was like my main fan there at Death Row. And I don’t say that being egotistic at all when I say fan, ‘cause he really supported my music from the time I met him. I met him one day, the next day we were in the studio recording “Come When I Call.” It wasn’t even supposed to make it on the Murder Was The Case record and he rallied like, “Man, this a hit!” And everyday we were always doing something new. And he was always introducing me to the best of musicians, and the best of vocalists. And I took [that] and I learned so much from DJ Quik. Like I said, he rallied behind me more than anybody on the label.
DX: Have you guys stayed in contact; you think there’s any future collaboration…?
Danny Boy: I hope it’s some future collaboration, man. [Having been] on that Death Row label [though], so many people have turned they back on me, scared to talk to me. I don’t know why he don’t talk to me – why he and I don’t talk anymore. I’ve reached out to him a couple of times and just no response. But like I said, I come from Death Row Records, [and] that’s [caused] so many doors [to] have been closed in my face, just because of that name, and because I was adopted by Suge [Knight] at a young age and he was my legal guardian. So there was so many things that was held against me [in the industry] because of that. Even with being with the label [and] going to another label, I was trying to get away from [Death Row] so long and get my own project put out and people would be like, “Man, we really like you but…what Mr. Knight gonna think?” And I suffered from that awhile, and that turned me into a mortician, and a carpenter, and a waiter, and a security guard. So there’s so many other things that I had to go do because people were scared to deal with me.
DX: I wanna go back to your transition from secular to Gospel real quick…how much of your decision to move away from singing gangstafied R&B had to do with your life during those Death Row days?
Danny Boy: Aw man, it had a lot to do with it. To be in an airplane [on the way to my video shoot for “Slip ‘N Slide”]…and it’s falling a thousand feet a minute on fire, and I’m able to stand and give my testimony on that [plane]. And [I also] just missed the ride with [Tupac Shakur] and Suge that day when ‘Pac got shot. Me and ‘Pac would play the same game that a lot of little brothers and big brothers played, which was [calling] shotgun… They called me and told me that it was time to go to the fight, and on my way out of the hotel, the Luxor hotel, I had ketchup that got on the back of my pants and the valet guy told me like, “Dude, you got something on your pants.” [So] I called back to Suge and told him…[and] I went to the mall to try and get new clothes… And [so] I didn’t get a chance to make it to the fight, ‘cause you know [Mike] Tyson at that time was a knockout-er real quick. And by that time Suge called me [and] told me they on their way [to Club 662]. By the time I got to the club it had been an hour [since Suge’s call], and [then] guys came in and said that Suge and ‘Pac had been killed. So, I always give God thanks for ketchup [Laughs.] I thank him for Heinz ketchup, ‘cause that what was on my pants and that’s what stopped me from getting in that car that day.
…And through those things, spiritually it definitely grounds you and bring you back to where you need to be, ‘cause I knew God had a purpose for me. That he had a purpose for me, that he had a purpose for my life. And so many other gifts that I [now] have, as I just told you I’ve embalmed at least 250 people, and never been to school for it. I was a carpenter; I can…tear a house down and build it right back up… God has gifted me with so many other things. But throughout all of those things that I was doing I was gifted as a singer still – I was a singing mortician; I was a singing dude as I was embalming people. So that took me back to my gifts. And it just made me grow stronger in my spirituality, because if it was left up to anybody I’d be dead. If it was left up to the people that was back in ’96 – some of them counted me off. I been called a dopehead. [People have said], “Oh, we thought Danny Boy died once ‘Pac died.” Or, “We thought Danny Boy died of an overdose.” So spiritually that pulls you back to let people know that I have been through these things, I have experienced these things. I’ve been shot at, and I’m telling you [the truth] when I tell you I seen the bullet coming past me. So I know that there’s a mission for me to do. For God to give me the opportunity to see all of these things, and to see all of these things fall out of place, and to keep me here, that’s what’ll bring your spirit back right.
DX: Now, being old enough to remember that early-to-mid ‘90s era when Death Row was at their peak, you know all I wanna ask you about is Suge and ‘Pac. [Laughs]
Danny Boy: Okay, that’s [cool], I ain’t mad at that. That’s what got me where I am today. I don’t mind no questions. Ain’t nothing [I’m] scared to answer.
DX: Well let’s take a little walk down memory lane here… You recently told HipHopRuckus.com that in the days following Tupac’s murder, “Suge lost his mind around that time…The devil took over.” How did the devil take over Suge Knight?
Danny Boy: I don’t know if they [quoted] me right, but in that time of ‘Pac dying…Suge damn-near lost his mind because one of his best friends, one of his good friends, somebody that he treated as a little brother, somebody that he treated as a son, was gone. It was a surprise to all of us, and it affected all of us, because this was somebody that we was with on a daily basis. This wasn’t just…like some of these record companies - we see you when we doing something. We slept in the same hotels. If it was one woman coming she knew she couldn’t come [alone and] she had to come with about four or five [girlfriends] because we were crewed up like that. So, it affected [Suge after ‘Pac was murdered]. When I spoke of Suge losing his mind and the devil taking over, [that] was after his going to jail. Sometimes when people go to jail they lose they mind. I noticed that ‘cause I got a brother that did 14 years, and throughout all of those years that he did he always wrote me letters every year – he wrote me at least one letter [every year] that [said] when I get out I’ma do something to you. When I get out I’ma break your legs, when I get out I’ma do this… And [so] I thought that when I picked my brother up from jail - I was prepared to kill my brother. Because I didn’t know what he was gonna do. But I also know that this was just somebody that had been locked up, and was holding a lot of things from being locked up against everybody else. And that’s just what happen with people that’s locked up. So, after Suge went to jail I do think the devil took over his mind, because it was so many people that had turned against him…
DX: Now you know…that there are folks who believe the devil took over Suge Knight long before the fall of 1996. How much of the horror stories that we’ve heard over the years involving Suge are true?
Danny Boy: When you say horror stories – everybody whoop ass in the industry. Everybody. It’s nothing fresh; it’s nothing new about somebody getting an ass-whoopin’. [I’m sure] Babyface done had some ass beat up. I’m not gonna put it past nobody. They just put Suge out there ‘cause he was a gangsta and he was willing to go stand and show everybody. And I’m not taking up for him, ‘cause the nigga owe me at least two, three million dollars. I’m not taking up for him at all, but I speak what’s right. None of these dudes – if we go into everybody horror story, if we go into everybody closet, even for myself, and maybe for people that be interviewing people, if you go into the things that you used to do people [will] call all us horrific. As far as some of the other things…having to ride on people, man, its fights everyday. Lil Wayne getting into it with somebody, Cash Money [Records] getting into it with somebody, [but] that don’t mean that somebody let the devil take over. That just means that the devil is kinda just getting in a situation where he see he can get in at. And what other [better] way to get in is [there than] with an entertainer?
DX: Going back to that HipHopRuckus interview, you said that Suge was, “…grooming me to run the company, so I sat in all the meetings.” Were there genuine plans in place for you to take over Death Row at some point?
Danny Boy: Oh, I thought that I was gonna be the Chief [Executive] of Death Row for a long time, because like I said, I was being groomed for it. I was in [real] meetings. A lot of people can say they were in meetings, but they were probably meeting with the janitors and the painters and stuff like that. I did have an opportunity to meet with Jimmy Iovine. Suge kept me real close. And for a long time I was reading a lot of papers for Suge… He was helping me understand the business. I can’t let it get by that people don’t understand that Suge Knight knew the business when he was doing it. That’s what made Death Row what it was – not just the beats, not just the songs, and not just the artists. So, I do believe that he was grooming me. I was having an opportunity to sit down with Jimmy Iovine. It’s a lot of artists, I don’t think [that] can say they sat in on board meetings at [17-years-old] where a lot of decisions were being made, and they had an opportunity to see the blueprint.
DX: So the obvious question is then, why didn’t you take the reigns of the company when Suge got locked up a month after ‘Pac’s passing?
Danny Boy: It’s like anything else: haters. There was one fool that took over the record company by the name of Reggie Wright, [who] was Suge old security guard. And…they kept me away from Suge. I hadn’t talked to Suge in about a year-and-a-half [after] he first got locked up. And this was somebody that I [previously] talked to on a daily basis. This was somebody that made sure that I was cool on a daily basis. And they kinda took that away from me because they knew that I was gonna be the man. They couldn’t accept the fact that a [18-year-old] was fin to be running [the company] – And I was gonna be pushing some records, not just running a business, but I was gonna push some records and I was gonna make sure that the artists that we did have left, and the artists that was [still] there, that they woulda gotten they just due. I woulda wrote a check – without Suge knowing it – to make sure that people were getting treated right… But, the other people that had an opportunity to run that label, they didn’t know shit about the music business. They weren’t talented. They was just an ex-police officer that couldn’t even – His knee was out, [so] he couldn’t even get back on the force. So the best thing for him to do was to keep me out of the way. And he done a great job [at that]. Thank You, Reggie Wright.
DX: So…just the obvious, why was Suge so convinced of your ability you think? Like, why was he doing so much for you specifically?
Danny Boy: You know I was young, man, and I really can’t explain that. I just must say that it [wasn’t] nothing new [for] Suge. Suge ain’t the only gangsta I know [either]. He’s not the first gangsta I [knew], and wasn’t the first gangsta that raised me. You know, I’m just a church boy and some of the gangsta dudes I guess they liked my prayer.
DX: [Laughs] Are you still legally Suge Knight’s son?
Danny Boy: I’m a grown man, so I don’t know if I should say [I’m] legally his son anymore. But, he treated me as a son, and I still love him as a father – if that answer the question for you. As far as talking to him [at this point], I’m probably more of a disgruntled child now.
DX: Well I mean, when he first did the deal for you [when you were 15-years-old] he had to legally adopt you in the state of California, right?
Danny Boy: Well, it was about a year later. Because in order to have a [work contract] in the state of California and you’re a minor, in order to enter into a minor agreement you must have a guardian around and my mother passed at 15. My daddy is 84-years-old today, so you talking about he was [almost 60-years-old back then] and his plans wasn’t moving to California…
DX: I just wanted to clear up some of that, ‘cause you know – I’m sure you do know – that the rumor mill went into high gear with that son stuff…
Danny Boy: Oh yeah. Yeah, you can go ahead and ask me that if you want to. I know what you getting at, c’mon ask it.
DX: …The rumor was Suge was jailin’ you down.
Danny Boy: Jailin’ me down, what that mean, fucking me?
Danny Boy: If he was fucking me I’d be out with a book and a movie right now. I wouldn’t be broke, I guarantee you that. I feel like making up a he-was-fucking-me story just so I can get some money, since all these other punks got stories coming out and they making up shit. But fortunately that wasn’t the case. A lot of people [also] thought I was 29 and 25-years-old at the time when I was [a teenager]. I can’t help it if they manhood was short.
DX: I appreciate you being direct about that, that’s not a question I personally wanna ask just to let you know…
Danny Boy: And I usually don’t talk like this, ‘cause I know my pastor gonna read it, but fuck Ronin Ro for bringing that up [in his book, Have Gun Will Travel]. You can put this on paper, when I catch him I’ma beat his ass.
Stay tuned to HipHopDX for the eye-popping conclusion to our conversation with Danny Boy, in which he reveals what life with Tupac was like, (and surprisingly which Danny-featured classic from All Eyez On Me ‘Pac didn’t care for), why he has yet to be compensated for his work on ‘Pac’s monumental double-disc, (and why he believes ‘Pac’s mother is more responsible for that lack of payment than Suge), how the very real divide that existed at Death Row between blue and red led to Danny’s absence from Dogg Food and Tha Dogg Father, and much, much more.