Everyone dreams of the day they’re going to quit their pain-in-the-ass day job. They have it mapped out, whether or not they want it to be more of a ceremony or a simple clock-out-and-go. Danny Watts has his day planned out a bit differently.
“I would speak to my boss lady,” Watts tells me. “She's been super-cool and helpful. She's been to shows, helped me find time off work, changed my schedule so I could work on music more frequently, and so much more.”
His days of being a slave to a regular 9-to-5 are up after Friday’s release of Black Boy Meets World. The day after the album lands, Watts, 29, will punch in and out for the last time. The co-workers will understandably notice how his music career has taken off. His boss, the woman who brought him to work when he hit rock-bottom, would earn all of his appreciation and love. “You don't find too many people who help you with your own interests when it has no benefit to them,” he says. “I love her for that.”
Watts’s decision to quit came not as a mandate or a divine order from a higher power. The lanky Houston rapper and father of a precious little girl found his answer via the notification of a two-month tour. His job, even though he loves some of the people who work there, wouldn’t be receptive to one of their contracted guys leaving for two entire months and still remaining on the payroll. So last month, Watts put in his notice, a “no brainer” decision that later became a full-on leap of faith.
To know of Danny Watts is to dive deep into a web of clouded thoughts, decisions he’d later come to regret and a call toward something. His rapping style has earned him bona fides from coast to coast and yet there’s always an uncertainty in his delivery. The assuredness comes behind a pitter-patter of thoughts; hardscrabble and introspective peers into his mind-set. He knows Houston, the ebbs and flows of the scene as well as its inhabitants. He used to hide behind his words, an abstract thought process to refuse what his actual reality was. Now, that's no longer the case.
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Black Boy Meets World, his full-length debut, opens with an admission of prayers gone unanswered. “I don’t trust myself enough/ I need to have a little more faith,” he sings in a raspy voice. “I tried to pray to God, he don’t hear me/ Talked to my Mom, she don’t feel me though/ Called up my Pops, he don’t answer the phone.” It’s a 30-minute exercise, pressed-together thoughts that come spilling out like people anxiously trying to exit a crowded elevator.
Getting to this point, a period that Watts titles the “Eyes Wide Shut” chapter of his life, came with its own jagged scars and fragments of emotional shrapnel. “I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t accepting of what was happening around me,” he says with a calmness to him. “Inside I knew that I didn’t align with what was happening, I just didn’t have the courage to move away from it.” He fought off stagnancy, refused to be active and worked at music with little effort or forward thought. He just got by on talent, similarly to how a basketball player with all the gifts in the world wouldn’t dare himself to be even greater.
Watts understands that Black Boy Meets World is him opening up and telling stories he’s kept internalized for years. Only close friends got to hear the stories in Watts’s head. He’s no longer blaming the world for his issues and has come to grips with them, whether it be his father leaving his family when he was a child or him sort of stumbling into those same faults with his daughter. On “Uprooted,” one of the album’s more freeing singles, he pours it all out and beats himself up for committing the sins of his old man. All of this managed to come out in a manic, weeklong recording session in Los Angeles. Under the eye of Jonathan “Jonwayne” Wayne, a two-year plan was carried out in seven days for a grueling, therapeutic session of recordings.
When the pair met in 2015, Jonwayne immediately told Watts there was only one way they’d ever collaborate: in person. That meant Watts had to fly out to Los Angeles. “Usually when I've made mistakes in my career, it was due to the lack of trust in my gut. A certain amount of what governs the creative world is intangible and also a force I subscribe to,” he says of the Houston MC. “Other than that, I think it was a combination of potential I could see in both the work and work ethic. His willingness to go the extra mile showed me a capable canvas.”
The first result found Watts contributing to Jonwayne’s lauded Rap Album 2, where, on “Rainbows,” the Houston rapper has time to shine all himself. Backed by lucid, looping production from Jonwayne himself, Watts acted with no hesitation. He was gleeful inside of a dark, purposeful thump. The two became fast friends during the Rap Album 2 session as Watts saw one of the rappers he was a fan of bring him into a world where he could interact with his other L.A. heroes such as Thundercat, Flying Lotus and some members of The Internet. All within a week’s time, Danny Watts had fallen in love with the tight-knit community that was the L.A. rap scene. Solid with the effort, Jonwayne brought Watts on to join his Authors Recording Company label and put forth an idea that Watts couldn’t readily reject.
“I would always come back home full of energy and vigor, excited for the endless possibilities. Then I would fall back into living complacently,” Watts says of the initial meetings before he retreated back into his shell. Television became his mistress, work became his full-time obsession.
“I did that for two years because I was seriously thinking about quitting music,” he says flatly. “I’m very thankful that Jon was patient with me throughout this process. Fast-forward to July 2017. Jon hit me up because he was setting up his tour and he wanted me on it. He told me that I needed to have the album done by August in order to go on the tour with him. I flew out there for a week with no material written. I didn’t even know if I could do it. Once I was there, I put my head down and powered through it.”
Says Jonwayne, “Making the album in a week was as accidental and spontaneous as any part of the creative process should be, though I think we found ourselves to be unsuspecting but willing participants. What the process allowed Danny to do was let his brain shut up for a second while his heart did all the work. It's a process that sometimes takes years or, as it turns out, a week.”
The plan was made then: Watts would write and record everything for the album within a week’s time. Jonwayne would arrange and produce it. The evidence of the process spills out on songs where Watts’ mind is trapped on the burning images of a robbery and how helpless he feels during it. The album’s closer finds Watts right back at square one. Having tackled his own masculinity in the face of death, fear and thoughts of not fulfilling his wants and desires as a man, he gives thanks to his mother who raised him as a single parent and pushed him to keep going. Her voice is the last we hear on Black Boy Meets World, one of beaming pride that her boy refused to succumb to his demons and pushed forward.
Watts’ wordplay and occasional deadpan delivery is his strength. Lines that would appear to be throwaway bars for other rappers are tightly woven into his story. Because it is his story, there’s no outside force that can dictate how it goes. No come ons or calls to create a certain type of record. Black Boy Meets World allows its lead creator to take H-Town menace and gloom a la Scarface on The Diary and apply it to his own life and its own pitfalls. He can acknowledge his mistakes without caution. As the album progresses, one comes to realize that the Danny Watts of four years ago is gone, replaced with a man who understands accountability, high and low.
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“The last day of recording, when it was announced that I was done, I broke down and cried,” he says. “I held it in that entire week and focused only on the task at hand. So that last day was real emotional but also satisfying for me. Just thinking about all that I had to overcome. I remember they also adjusted the tracklist on the last day too. I thought I was almost done with the album but Jon came in and told me that we needed to take away some of the tracks. So on the last session, with only hours left to finish, I had to write three new songs to replace the ones taken off the record. I also had to make sure they were good enough to make the album. I had no room for error.”
On songs like “Lullaby For You,” the sludgy and late-night bruiser “Pill” and “Young And Reckless,” Watts finds ways to bend himself up. He can reminisce about a friend getting shot and killed in front of him but also paint a picture about a father wanting more for his daughter and himself. “Young And Reckless” fields the album’s most seamless hook, a jagged yet self-realized piece of authenticity. “Young and reckless/ We don’t follow directions/ We just ignore the message/ Then fall back on aggression.” There’s no falling back for Watts; backsliding to the past isn’t optional. Come Saturday, he won’t have a full-time job to consider as a crutch.
“This is my first time being fully confident in something I've done when it comes to music. I'm not excited that people are about to hear a portion of my story,” Watts says of the finished product. “That's the surreal part in all of this. I've always written about my life in private and shared with those who become close to me. I feel like I'm releasing a book detailing certain things that I've gone through. It feels amazing.”