Interview by Parisa Eshrati
After his two month-long tour across the country, we sat down with Houston rapper Danny Watts to discuss the themes and intentions behind his debut LP, Black Boy Meets World. We spoke about confronting reality through poetry, gaining innocence after childhood, and peeling back layers to become more vulnerable.
Let’s talk about the evolution of your writing style. You’ve always written poetry but you also used to work on short stories and even wrote a novel. You described those writings as an escape from your reality, but your lyricism now is directly confronting it. What made you start using writing as a tool for confrontation rather than an escape?
I really struggled with confidence up until my twenties. I was afraid to vocalize how I felt about things, and I shied away from being upfront about my emotions. I was always a physically confrontational person, but I never opened myself up in any honest way. So, I think that over the years there was a natural progression to me becoming more open. You get older, you learn, you make mistakes, and you grow into who you really are as a person. Once I hit my second childhood in my early twenties, I started to form my own identity as far as who I truly feel I am and what I aspire to become.
My writing style before I worked on the album was very dense and verbose. I was still being honest and speaking on my emotions, but you had to really listen attentively and dissect my words to understand them. When it came time to make my album, Black Boy Meets World, Jon[wayne, producer] told me that the album wouldn’t work unless I was more direct with what I wanted to express. I sat with that idea of people actually being able to take away whatever it is that I would want them to gain from my music, and on top of that there was a tight time constraint for making this album. So, everything just kind of fell into place and my new writing style just naturally evolved that way.
I imagine developing this new straight-forward style of writing must’ve been a very vulnerable process. Aside from listeners being able to take away your message more easily, how has making yourself that vulnerable been advantageous as a rapper who’s introducing himself to a new audience?
I think it’s been extremely beneficial for me to be more vulnerable both to the people I already know and to this new audience. Black Boy Meets World really is a period piece of me going back to my teenage years and the emotional mind-state I was in at that time. I keep a diary, so it’s easy for me to go back and tap into those raw emotions, but sharing those experiences is a really vulnerable process.
I’m just now realizing the impact of me opening myself up from this tour. This opportunity of meeting people face-to-face who’ve listened and absorbed my words has really changed my perspective on vulnerability. I’m understanding that it’s actually a strength and not a weakness, and by being vulnerable myself it helps other to find strength within themselves to do the same thing. Seeing this reaction has been such a big inspiration and motivation for me to stay on this path and share my story, and I really appreciate people growing and sharing with me.
Let’s talk about some of the themes throughout the album. In “Things We Have To Do”, you bring up the idea of living off a primal instinct throughout your younger years. Can you elaborate on how the quality of primal instinct influenced your artistry, and if that perhaps played into the fact that you were able to make the album in one week?
Yeah, for sure. That track directly is about me being robbed when I was younger and the natural conditioning that develops when you see certain things happen on a daily basis...like people being victims, seeing violence all around you. You become numb to it because it just becomes reality for you. I would say that living off of instinct like that allowed me to pay attention to what goes on around me and the direct influence I have on my surroundings.
There was a lot of peer pressure that I would put on my friends when I was younger and vice versa, and now that I recognize the strength of personal influence, I realize I could’ve just as easily influenced those people to do something more positive. In various aspects of my life, not just in writing, this primal instinct has taught me to trust my gut. At the same time, realizing my own strength, I’ve learned to manipulate any negative gut feelings so I can stay more positive in thought. Specifically for making my album though, that instinct came into play because it helped me not mull over decisions. We had just the one week to make it, so when I heard an instrumental beat and could feel emotions in my gut, I’d just take it and go.
Given the experiences you discuss in the album, it seems like you didn’t get to feel much innocence as a child, which is why I love that line in the track “Uprooted” saying how your daughter is the source of all your innocence. Can you reflect on how this writing this song allowed you to understand the concept of innocence in a new light?
I feel like being able to experience innocence is something that’s really, really important. I think I still hold onto that in myself to this day just because my innocence was stripped away from me in my younger years. I didn’t have the chance to just be a kid, so I’m still very innocent in my heart and mind. People tell me I have a youthful spirit or I’m irresponsible in that way, and I think that’s just become one of my distinct qualities.
A lot of artists over the years have used that phrase “stay golden”, and that’s something I aspire to do. I still feel like my heart is pure in intention and there’s a golden aura about me. I see that in my daughter too. When I’m with her, I see how supportive she is of everything and how she soaks everything in like a sponge. She’s easy to love and easily gives love too, and I’ve learned how important that is. I believe that love is so crucial, and I try not to be too heady or overly opinionated on anything. I don’t try to concern myself with things that are beyond me. I just try to be kind and loving to everybody, and that’s the most important aspect of life to me.
Once I started connecting the dots from writing “Uprooted”, I realized that this cycle all stems from me not having the opportunity to be innocent at a younger age, By the time I got into my second childhood in my twenties, I said that I would get my innocence whether people liked it or not. So, the opportunity of innocence kind of extended itself to me. Life now is supposedly about responsibility and making heavy decisions, which I still do, but I still carry my innocence about me and I really appreciate that.
You describe in the album how you mostly had female role models, and your mom and grandma were your biggest influences in life. Let’s talk about the importance of incorporating feminine influence in your work, and perhaps you could share some specific things they taught you that you carry into your work today.
I’ve always liked to speak about the female figures in my life because that’s where I got all my strength from. I didn’t have my dad around, so my mom and grandma had to play many roles in my life. They were the two prime examples I had growing up to learn from. My grandmother was a refuge for me. She provided an environment where I could go to escape my troubles from school, home, or whatever. Growing up, I watched my mom constantly working hard and never complain. I hardly ever saw her cry, and when she did she would wipe her tears away immediately so I had the security of knowing that everything was going to be alright.
They both were also the first examples I had of making sacrifices for others. They sacrificed so much for me growing up. My grandma would buy me a video game even when she didn’t have money to buy something nice for herself. My mom would make sure I had food on the table even when she couldn’t afford to eat anything herself, because sometimes there really was only enough food for one person.
I think it’s important for me to incorporate their influence in my music because I recognize that the strength that I carry within myself to be confident and steadfast in my beliefs all comes from the two of them. They pretty much taught me everything, and I credit them to helping me become the man that I am today. I wouldn’t necessarily say that crediting them is a conscious thing, it comes natural for any woman that I feel provides some type of influence to my life. I want to give them credit not only because they are women, but because they all really were essential to how my life panned out. I do the same for crediting the men who supported me in my life, but in today’s climate it’s very important to emphasize the importance of feminine influence and give credit to women since unfortunately not enough people do. But yeah, I think it’s really cool that my music lends itself to speaking of the strength of women and how important they are to our communities.
You’ve said how you feel like you’ve gained the ability to draw people in at shows and convey your emotions with the best intent to your audience. What other abilities have you gained or just discovered about yourself on this tour?
You know, the atmosphere of a lot of rap music nowadays draws in a lot of people who want to come to a show to party, dance and just have a good time -- which is all cool, but Jon[wayne] and I strive to exist in a different climate. We want to provide real emotions to our performances, something more than just a show to dance to. I’m peeling back layers of myself so people can see who I really am as a person.
Finding the confidence to do that on stage is a hard thing to do, and so many of these songs are extremely emotional for me. But once I got the hang of how to draw people in and connect with the audience, it’s been nonstop growth from there. I can get over the discomfort of stage fright and just be able to share myself with the audience. I put myself back in those hard emotions night in and night out, and I’m happy I found the confidence to do something so difficult like that so I can really convey the importance behind my words. These aren’t just random songs that I wrote. I’m sharing myself as a person, and I want people to take away a piece of who I am and build a connection with me, themselves, and their community.
It seems like you’re extremely eager to get back to writing and recording. What can we look forward to from you upcoming year?
I’m definitely ready to work on album two. I had been wanting to work on Black Boy Meets World for four years, but had to put it off for so long until I could get it finished this year. I’d still like to continue touring for this album more because I think this is an important record. Around this time, a lot of blogs and websites do a Top 10 List and I’m confident that I have a Top 10 album regardless of being a new artist. I want to push Black Boy Meets World as far as it can go, and after that I’ll see what I can do for album two. I want to expand on what I already have started and take my artistry to the next level. That’s the plan for me.