Danny Boy Tells All About Death Row Years, Part Two
Exclusive: In the conclusion to his jaw-dropping Q&A with DX, Danny talks Tupac, Afeni's alleged greed, and why Snoop and DPG hated him.
In part one of Danny Boy’s bombshell conversation with HipHopDX, the former Death Row Records singer spoke about the now strained relationship with his onetime biggest supporter at Death Row, DJ Quik, (who crafted the majority of the tracks heard on WIDEawake Entertainment’s recently released collection of un-vaulted Danny songs from his mid-‘90s tenure on Death Row, the remarkably well-preserved It’s About Time). The Chi-Town born vocalist also shed some light on the good and bad sides of his “father,” former Death Row CEO Suge Knight. And most noteworthy during the first half of his Q&A with DX, Danny Boy addressed the longstanding rumors regarding the fondness “father” had for “son,” speculation of which was fueled by onetime scribe for The Source Ronin Ro in his expose of Death Row, Have Gun Will Travel. Danny’s commentary in response to those claims has since spawned a rhyming reply from Mr. Ro to DB’s declaration to DX that if he ever lays eyes on the journalist he plans to “beat his ass,” (a bizarre verbal retaliation that can be heard via track #5 on Mr. Ro’s MySpace).
Now, in the conclusion to DX’s discussion with Danny Boy, the Atlanta-based vocalist talks about his time as Tupac’s go-to hookman, (and which Danny-assisted classic the late legend wasn’t too fond of), how he was allegedly cheated out of payment for those hooks by ‘Pac’s mother, Afeni Shakur. And maybe most interestingly, DB explains how he found himself on the red side of Death Row’s divided operation and why “Snoop and them didn’t really like me.”
HipHopDX: Let’s go back here a little bit, the ’95 Source Awards with you standing next to Suge is obviously a moment locked into time now… Did you realize in that moment that [the] speech that Suge was giving was basically a declaration of war on the east coast?
Danny Boy: It wasn’t a declaration of war on the east coast, that was specifically what it said, it said if you didn’t want your CEO dancing in your videos [come to Death Row Records] – we know what CEO danced in videos at that time, and he’s still dancing, that was Puffy. It wasn’t nothing about no east coast and west coast thing, ‘cause at the time we were saying that, we were going back and forth, chillin’ in New York. And I’d like to give shouts-out to the girl that I had an opportunity to chill with out there, what's up.
DX: ...So…just so I understand what happened, you’re basically out of contact with [Suge Knight] for a year-and-a-half after he goes to jail. Is that when you left Death Row and went back to Chicago?
Danny Boy: I left Death Row when a lot of [Federal agents] started parking on my front grass, and I was living in a neighborhood where they shouldn’t have been there. That’s when I left Death Row… I was there to sing, and there was nothing to be searching me for ‘cause I was there to sing. I was in California to sing. And, you know out of all the bad moments that everybody had a chance to read about, there were good moments [too]. [But], I had lost a father to the jail system [in Suge], and a brother that had passed on, which was [Tupac Shakur]. So, a lot of things were going on in my mind, [and] so I had to get back to where I was from, where I felt comfortable. And you could find me at that time under my grandmother, on 19th & Trumbull, sitting at her foot, getting her to pray for me, because some of the things that I made it through I thought I wouldn’t make it through… I went from living a fabulous life [at Death Row], [and] I can’t complain about the life that I lived. If I never get a chance to stand on a big stage [again], and never get a chance to stay in a big house – been there, done that, drove whatever car I wanted, spent the kind of money that I wanted to spend… I wouldn’t trade it in for the world, [and] the experiences that I got from it [were] awesome.
DX: Was there a moment…from that era that you remember distinctly were you were genuinely happy, were you were just like, “This is the life”?
Danny Boy: Everyday on Death Row was that feeling… And any dude that was on Death Row that say that they wasn’t happy when they woke up in the morning during the heydays – and the heydays is when Suge was cutting checks. [There] wasn’t a check you couldn’t call up there and ask for. Even though in the end I found out he was a thief, and he was just giving us [a small portion] of what was owed to us. But [before that], we were happy. Everybody was happy then. So I think everybody [that was on the label] can share that moment, [that] at least [at] one point in time we all were happy.
DX: And hangin’ out with Tupac at the height of his fame must’ve been memorable for an 18-year-old young man. [Laughs]
Danny Boy: No doubt, man. I wasn’t really into Rap, to tell you the truth. But, I had went [to Dannemora, New York] to see ‘Pac a couple of times [while he was in Clinton Correctional Facility in 1995] – well I went with Suge. While Suge was in there visiting, I was sitting across the street in the restaurant waiting for him to come out. And I did that several times until the day [in October 1995] that we went down there to pick him up [and take him] back to California… And we vibed from that time, from that time of him walking out the gates [and] getting into the car, and Suge telling him, “Oh, Danny Boy know any oldies.” And I think before we got to our plane, I probably had sang at least 20 old school cuts. ‘Pac was like, “You don’t know this [one]!,” and I sang this, and this went on and on. And that’s how the relationship began.
DX: “Picture Me Rollin’,” “Heaven Ain’t Hard 2 Find,” What’z Ya Phone #,” and of course the classic, “I Ain’t Mad At Cha,” ‘Pac was really showing love to put you on so much of All Eyez On Me.
Danny Boy: I mean, it was more [songs] than that. But you know, his mammy – I mean his mama, she changed a lot of the songs [for] some of the latest-released [versions and removed my vocals]. [Regardless], it was a privilege to be able to record with him. But whenever there was a singing part [on a 2Pac song], if it’s a man singing on it, you better believe ‘Pac was calling me in there to do it.
DX: And did he ever express to you directly why he was such a – I mean, was it just the DJ Quik thing where he was just a huge fan?
Danny Boy: Aw man, we was family, man. That was everyday, dude. It coulda been [during] the ride from a party and [2Pac would be like], “I want you to get on this, DB.” ‘Pac kinda felt like he could run me, as a little brother… I could be in a room recording my record, [the songs that became] the It’s About Time record, and ‘Pac would be in the back room recording and he’ll walk in [my recording room] while I’m on the mic [like], “C’mon, I need you right now [to sing on this]…” And that’s how we came up with some of those songs - through drunk moments, through us just chillin’, through us partying in the studio. And some of [those] songs he didn’t even like. He wasn’t too fond of “I Ain’t Mad At Cha.” Even shooting the video – he never had an opportunity to see that video.
DX: And I think you sort’ve alluded to it a little bit there earlier, I understand you never got paid for all those classic vocals you sung for that album?
Danny Boy: Nah, [and] if I could give a shout-out to his mother, Afeni Shakur, I would like for her to consider the contract that she and I signed. She probably owe me about $1.4 million. And I know she got it. I’d appreciate it if she could give me about 10% of it…
DX: I saw the AllHipHop interview from late 2008 where you said, “She’s a fake, she’s a phony.” My question is, wasn’t this Suge Knight’s responsibility though? Because Afeni doesn’t assume the rights to these songs and stuff until sometime later, [so] wasn’t it Suge Knight’s responsibility to make sure you got paid?
Danny Boy: At the beginning, it was his responsibility, because I was in a publishing deal with Suge Knight. But, if you can recall…there was so much stuff going [on] around Tupac’s music [after his passing] – ‘Pac’s mama was accusing Suge of stealing, and this and that. And she assumed [Tupac’s] estate. So what happened was, when I was old enough to realize that these people owed me money, [and] when I got an attorney, it put everybody’s money on hold and nobody could get paid [for those Tupac songs I was featured on]. So everybody was calling me saying, “Hey look dude, you got…over $50 million being held up. [So] let’s make a deal, and let’s make this thing happen. We’re gonna get you paid.” And [came across as a] lady that was after her son’s money, I was after my mother’s son’s money, which was mine. And [so] she and I signed an agreement that 30 days after this agreement is signed…30 days after it was signed she was supposed to cut me a check. I called her [after] 30 days, she didn’t talk to me. I called [after] 30 more days, she didn’t talk to me. By the time I got back in contact with her people they said they cut the check and gave it to Suge.
DX: And Suge I presume wasn’t eager to give it to you or…?
Danny Boy: Suge told me first off for the percentage that I agreed with he wouldn’t have accepted no money for that, because I should’ve gotten more. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, is if [she] wasn’t for sure [about Suge’s] business, especially [since] she’s fighting for Tupac money and not sure if Suge is doing ‘Pac right, why would you turn around and give my money to that man?
DX: But he owned 100% of the publishing though, correct?
Danny Boy: Nobody owns a 100% of the publishing. He owned 50% of the publishing.
DX: Okay…I’m just confused [as to] what kinda publishing deals you guys were signing.
Danny Boy: He did a 50/50 publishing deal, it’s just nobody got none of it [besides him], [so] he eventually owned 100%.
DX: Yeah, that’s the way I understood it, [and that he was] cutting you guys allowances – like Snoop Dogg and all them, they got like 40, 50 thousand dollar-a-month allowances or something like that.
Danny Boy: No doubt.
DX: But that was in lieu of the monies they were supposed to be receiving.
Danny Boy: That’s all that was. But when you a person that ain’t got that kind of money, and never had that kind of money, you appreciate it.
DX: [Laughs] I’m sure you do. And I’m presuming you never got paid for “Toss It Up,” ‘cause there’s like 14 different singers on that joint [Laughs.]
Danny Boy: Never got paid for none of them songs, man. I did over eight songs [that were formally released back then], and never received a check from it. [I] never received a check [for] “Come When I Call” [from the Murder Was The Case soundtrack]. Just nothing. All I did get was a monthly salary.
DX: No disrespect to you, but that “Toss It Up” remix that ended up on the Makaveli album was a hot mess. [Laughs]
Danny Boy: Yeah, it’s a hot mess because of people that ain’t had nothing to do with the projects started doing projects. So I agree witchu, a 100%.
DX: The way I understood it…I guess ‘Pac either was given that beat originally by Dr. Dre – the beat that became Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”…
Danny Boy: Nah, that was really a diss song [aimed at Dr. Dre]. They heard [“No Diggity” featuring Dre], and the next thing you know we was in the studio cutting it. We took the [Blackstreet] track. They wasn’t given nothing [by Dr. Dre]… We sang “Toss It Up” [over] the same “No Diggity” track, and [Blackstreet] did a cease and desist letter to us and stated that we couldn’t [release] it. So, that’s how the remix – the [version] that everybody had an opportunity to hear, that’s [why] the beat changed.
DX: You alluded to this earlier too, you weren’t on any of ‘Pac’s posthumous albums – I think I know the reason why now [Laughs] Have all the songs you recorded with him though been formally released in some fashion or is there stuff in the vault still?
Danny Boy: I’m sure they got plenty of music with me and ‘Pac on it [in the vault].
DX: And I noticed you did a lot with ‘Pac, but you’re not on Dogg Food, you’re not on Tha Doggfather. Did you record much at all with Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound?
Danny Boy: Snoop [Dogg] and [Tha Dogg Pound] didn’t really like me. There was two sides [at Death Row]…and I’d like to tell everybody it was the Smith’s and the Jones’. Suge, ‘Pac and myself, we were the Smith’s. And Snoop Dogg and the rest of them dudes were the Jones’. We got together and we did music together, and we celebrated together, but I don’t remember none of us at each other's birthday party.
DX: …If I understand correctly, total, just all the stuff that you did do [during your time at Death Row], you’ve guesstimated that you have literally hundreds of songs in the Death Row vault?
Danny Boy: Fo’ sho. I got more songs in there than anybody…
DX: …You were recording like a madman then.
Danny Boy: Just like ‘Pac… He recording hard in the back [room], [so] I’m fin to go harder. I’m fin to do two more songs. And I’m not saying all of ‘em was as good as ‘Pac’s. ‘Cause, at that time there was so many things I needed to learn [about] recording.
DX: And…there are allegedly Dr. Dre produced Danny Boy joints in those hundreds of songs?
Danny Boy: Yeah, Dr. Dre produced one or two songs on me. He didn’t like me neither, but I got a song or two out of him. Thank you, Dre.
DX: [Laughs] And, are we gonna get more of those previously unreleased Danny Boy songs via more Danny Boy albums from this new Death Row/WIDEawake arrangement?
Danny Boy: …I’m working with WIDEawake, [and] we’re gonna see the kinda business that they’re gonna do on this It’s About Time album. And I’m sure that they have other plans of releasing some of the other material. I’m working on a Death Row book, Danny Boy: Life on Death Row. I’m working on that book, and what I plan to do is put a CD in the back of that [to] kind of give people some of the music that I was doing at that time, as well as some of the features that I [had on other Death Row artist’s songs]… So, I’m looking forward to [WIDEawake] participating in that…
DX: [Your 1996 single], “Slip N’ Slide,” I noticed that wasn’t on this It’s About Time album. Was that [song part of] your original album [recorded in ‘95/’96]? Like, I’m trying to figure out where [the songs included on] this It’s About Time album came in the chronology of…
Danny Boy: I think a couple of people up at WIDEawake – I don’t know who up there is feeling like they’re producers and they were able to put together a record, ‘cause whoever put this record together obviously wasn’t around [back in ‘96]. So, they just took some songs – they seen my name on some lists and probably listened to the things that they liked and put [those songs] on there. I think they [dropped] the ball when they didn’t put “Slip N’ Slide” [on the album] and “It’s Over Now,” [which originally appeared on the Gridlock’d soundtrack in 1997]…
DX: I understand…[the label’s CEO], Lara Lavi, she’s gone from that situation now?
Danny Boy: Yeah, they having a couple of internal things going on over there [at WIDEawake].
DX: Just out of curiosity, are there any Danny Boy, Nate Dogg and Jewell collabos in the vault somewhere?
Danny Boy: Hell naw. [Laughs] I’m sorry to answer it like that, but yeah, I’m sure I got some in there with Jewell. But Nate Dogg and them didn’t like me. Snoop and them didn’t like me because Nate Dogg was they singer, [and] they thought Nate could sing better than me. So they wouldn’t let me get on anything [of theirs].
DX: I guess I was just curious ‘cause people forget that Death Row had a really impressive lineup of R&B artists at one time too.
Danny Boy: Oh yeah, no doubt. Nate Dogg’s incredible. Jewell was incredible. And K-Ci & JoJo and all those dudes were on the way over there [to Death Row].
DX: …After all the work you, Nate and Jewell put in during y’alls Death Row years, how did it feel when Michel’le’s Hung Jury album was released in ’98 when y’alls albums still hadn’t been formally released?
Danny Boy: She only got her album out because her and Suge was – I don’t know what the hell they was doing, they were married or whatever it was. I think he just [green-lit] her album because of that, because that project was thrown together. She didn’t put as much time into her project as we had [into ours]. And to be quite frank, it was wack. Hung Jury was the right name for it.
DX: The jury’s out. [Laughs] With all the delays and drama you were dealing with during that era, why’d you go back to Death Row/Tha Row after Suge got out from prison in 2001?
Danny Boy: Dude called me, man, and I went off of this thing called loyalty, being loyal. And he called me back out to try to make some things happen. And at that time I was [in Chicago working as] a mortician, [and] I was a waiter. And so many other people were turning my music away, and [so] I really just thought that would be another opportunity for me to get my music where I needed it.
DX: And so that’s how you ended up on so much of the Dysfunktional Family soundtrack [released in 2003]?
Danny Boy: Yes.
DX: Just out of curiosity, did you ever have a chance to work with the lovely Left-Eye?
Danny Boy: Yes! Left-Eye, yes I did [get to work with her].
DX: …That documentary that her family put out through Vh1 about those last days of her life I just thought that was really insightful and showed her in a much different light from that N.I.N.A. character Suge Knight had created [for her].
Danny Boy: No, N.I.N.A. was her for real, man… Left-Eye was hell on wheels.
DX: [Laughs] So just one last question about that sort of in-between period from [your time with] the old Death Row to Tha Row, I noticed in some of your credits you were doing songs with like Do Or Die, and Twista… Were you like still trying to do some of the local music scene while you were back in Chicago [in the late ‘90s]?
Danny Boy: I was definitely doing it. I’m always doing…hooks, I enjoy doing hooks. And that was my opportunity really of eating [off music after Death Row], so I did have an opportunity to do some hit records with Twista on his first album [with The Speedknot Mobstaz in 1998]. I think [the song] was called “Front Porch.” And on…the Kamikaze album [I was] on a song called “Snoopin’.” But Do Or Die, all of us had been doing talent shows, and we were raised up in the same neighborhoods…
DX: Would you still do hooks? ‘Cause it sounds like you’re still sort of on the line between Gospel and secular. Would you do hooks for rappers at this point?
Danny Boy: Yeah, I’ll do hooks. I don’t mind about [doing them] as long as it’s something that’s not gonna be against my [faith]. I don’t want people to feel that, “Oh, dude go to church on Sunday and he talking like this on Monday.” As long as it’s not gonna interfere with my spirituality…I definitely love doing hooks. Let me give that phone number that people can reach me for, that’s 404-474-0434. And I charge $2,000 a hook, so…put it out there for me.
DX: Okay. I don’t know what other kind of calls you’re gonna get, but I’ll put it [out] there if you want… So now you’ve started your own label. What are the immediate plans for – is it called Gospel 1st…?
Danny Boy: We have a division which is called Gospel 1st, and more of a secular R&B division, which is Artists 1st. And I’m looking to put my [new] project out on Artists 1st. It will not be a Gospel project, but – I’m not putting a title to it whether it’s Gospel or secular. It’s gonna be love songs on it; it’ll be something that can touch your spirit. With this label we have…a staff of producers, and writers. And I have other artists around me. My protégé, my nephew, he’s working on his project… And it’s so many things that we wanna do, but I think the immediate thing [that] we’re trying to do is just get distribution, and get the correct funding to support us as a label so that we can get an opportunity to do what we need to do… [For now] I’m actually working on – I guess I should call it a mixtape… I’m working on that right now. And, I have a YouTube [channel], which is DannyBoyUnpluggedTV. I’m always doing some live performances [for that]…just to kinda get my name back out there, and to introduce myself to people that don’t know me, and reintroduce myself to people that forgot about me.
DX: I was really feeling that “Words Can’t Explain.” Your vocals on that are amazing.
Danny Boy: Thank you, man. I love singing. God gifted me… I found a lot of other things that I can do, but singing is the one of ‘em that I can live with.
DX: …One of my immediate thoughts [when I heard the song] was now he can finally dead those comparisons to Stokley of Mint Condition. [Laughs]
Danny Boy: That’s my daddy for real. Now you wanna know who my real daddy is, Stokley of Mint Condition, that’s my daddy. [Laughs]
DX: Did you guys ever cross paths…?
Danny Boy: Yeah, I met him one time and he hurt my feelings, could you believe that? I met him one time, and I thought it was gonna be like a cool meeting because artists know when other artists are kinda feeling ‘em, and know that they picking some stuff off of ‘em and grew up under ‘em. And when I met him I was like, “Aww Stokley, I’m such a fan…” And he was like, “Alright, nice to meet you” and walked away. So, I was messed up for [a minute like], “I’m not going to no more Stokley concerts! I’m not watching Stokley.” But, a couple hours after I said it I was watching him [perform] again.