Sway DaSafo, not be confused with Sway from Sway & King Tech/MTV USA is one of the biggest rappers to come out of the UK, he has broken down doors with his witty word play, crazy double time flows and his signing with Akon in 2008.
He was one of the first rap artists to make a serious impact on an independent label and charted in 2004 with his debut single ‘Little Derek’ with no help from any major label. He has since toured with Dizzee Rascal and The Streets and has worked with a wide variety of artists in the UK from Giggs to Wretch 32 to Mr Hudson and the list goes on and on. In 2006, he won the BET award for ‘Best UK Hip Hop Act’. He has recently recorded with Talib Kweli artists and is intent on setting the bar very high with his new LP, The Deliverance.
AllHipHop.com was very lucky to hear a few tracks off the new LP – which is sounding massive to say the least. Stand out tracks include ‘Reign Dance’ produced by DJ Ink, ‘To Be Frank’ produced Raptor and ‘Table For One’ featuring up and coming vocalist Ed Sheeran and produced by Turkish. All of the tracks were lyrically dazzling and astute. However, the track which will be Sway’s biggest hit to date is ‘Century’ featuring Mr. Hudson and produced by dance floor goliath Tiesto.
We hooked up with Sway – in North London – for a chat about the development of the scene here in the UK, his background and how he got into music, his eventual link up with Lupe for ‘Break The Chain’, the Akon connection, the difference of styles here in the UK and London, and why someone from the UK is going to break North America:
AllHipHop.com: When and why did you start emceeing?
Sway: I started emceeing because I have always had a love for music, I have always known that I wanted to get into the music industry, and I have always had a love for English as well.
I was quite good in school, I was good in most subjects but English in particularly – creative writing, poetry, I used to spend extra time analysing that. I had a love for words – that with my love for music was just combined.
Originally, I wanted to just become a producer – produce records and help other people to rap. Because in the beginning, all of the rappers that I was looking up to at the beginning were all in America (when I was really young) and all I was being influenced by, was what was going on in the charts. All that I was being influenced by was American Hip-Hop.
AllHipHop.com: Which American Hip-Hop?
Sway: Oh, man! Back then (really far back), from the Vanilla Ices’ to the MC Hammers’.
AllHipHop.com: Kriss Kross? [laughter]
Sway: Exactly! I was a huge Kriss Kross fan. At the end of the day – these were good, decent pop songs that are all I had access to. It just didn’t sound right the whole English rap thing. So I was just always under the impression that I was going to produce beats, because the beats don’t have no accent.
AllHipHop.com: So you started producing first?
Sway: I started producing first – then freestyling over my own beats. Then the thing was I couldn’t really find rappers the way I wanted them to sound on my own beats. So I started rapping and funnily enough the rapping took the forefront over the production.
AllHipHop.com: What style of production was that – was that Hip-Hop, was that influenced by any other (genre)?
Sway: It was Hip-Hop, but it was influenced a lot by the Hip-Hop I was into when I was younger which the West Coast style of Hip-Hop was.
AllHipHop.com: Was that mid-90s?
Sway: Yeah, around that time. It was one of my favourite groups of all time Bone Thugs N Harmony. They were revealed to me through Crossroads, and then I went back through their back catalogue and their first album became one of my favourite albums of all time. I liked that sound, I liked the fact it was still musical but Hip-Hop at the same time.
AllHipHop.com: The double time flow as well?
Sway: I was brought up in the drum and bass era, the jungle era – I had a lot of family in the jungle game. My cousin is DJ Ink, Loxy is family – they were part of Metalheadz. I used to go round to his house and they would be DJing drum and bass. I was into Heartless (a UK garage crew), Skibadee all them guys, those were the people I was like ”woah – we can actually rap in our (London) accents and it can sound good”. My style was kind of like a mesh between the Bone Thugs N Harmony thing going on and also the UK double time.
AllHipHop.com: How much has the jungle/rave scene been an influence to your style?
Sway: It’s been a massive influence to me because I started messing around with drum and bass, I started freestyling over it, it developed my ability to be able to rap fast.
AllHipHop.com: Did you chat (rap) with (DJ) Ink at all?
Sway: Yeah, we actually formed a group called Fifth Element.
AllHipHop.com: That was around 2002, I remember that – that was when all the Adam F ‘Kaos’ stuff was going on?
Sway: Exactly, I mean it was quite early for that – to mix like lyrical Hip-Hop/raps with drum and bass beats – we were really ahead of the time for that. People just didn’t get it at that point. So we kind of called it a day on that and I just went back to my solo stuff.
AllHipHop.com: How much has pirate radio been an influence to your style?
Sway: Pirate radio in the early days was very influential.
AllHipHop.com: What pirate radio stations?
Sway: Heat FM, De Ja Vu, there was one radio station called – Raw FM, that Skinnyman brought me on. It was the first time that I was on radio and he brought me onto his show that he used to do every week – It was called ‘The Mud Show’. I was brought up there by Tibbs who was a member of my group and was also a member of The Mud Family which was Skinnyman’s collective. It enabled us to get heard, that along with the open mic sessions.
I’m not a grime MC and I would never consider myself a grime MC so I never came through the ranks strictly through pirate radio. I got my name through freestyle sessions in conjunction with some of the pirate radio stuff. It has been a great help to my career and definitely a great help to the scene.
AllHipHop.com: How did the ‘Lasers’/’Break the Chain’ (Lupe Fiasco) link up come about?
Sway: I’ll take you back that story goes quite deep – I was in South By Southwest about 4 or 5 years ago. I never knew too much about Lupe, I had heard about him and I had heard a few tracks here and there, I had heard he was a great rapper. Someone said to me ‘Lupe Fiasco is in town and he is a big fan of your music’. I thought “that’s really cool, because this is the same time ‘Touch The Sky’ came out and this is the guy on the Kanye West record and he is interested in me!
We went up to the Hilton hotel in Texas and I met up with Lupe and we clicked straight away, he is my kinda guy. He was excited about his music; he knew about my music, he played me the album (Food & Liquor) before anyone had heard it. He said “Jay Z is gonna get behind this”. He had just shot the video for ‘Kick-Push’, there was just great synergy between us, we chilled, we had a laugh.
You know, we have both had a lot of good moments and bad moments within the industry and we relate on a lot of different levels.
My Mum’s Christian and my Dad’s Muslim – he’s a Muslim as well; we speak about that, different aspects of life. We’re very similar and we click.
When it came to ‘Lasers’ – he hit me up Twitter, even though he’s got my number, saying; “Sway, I wanna get you on a verse for the album” (‘Lasers’). I was like “cool lets do it!” no questions asked. Whatever the tune was going to be about I was going to do it, because it’s Lupe and he’s my people and I respect him and I respect his judgement musically. He gave me the record and it was produced by Ishi and features Eric Turner.
(ED: this is the same production/vocal combination as the Billboard 100 top 20 hit and UK number 1 smash for Tinie Tempah, ‘Written In The Stars).
I was like; “It’s got me written all over it” and he said the same thing. “You are the only person I could think of to be on this record”. I didn’t even know that I was the only (other) rapper on the album – it was only until he made the press release that I was like “woah!”.
AllHipHop.com: What is going on with the Akon situation?
Sway: I am always gonna have a lot of love for Akon and I am still affiliated with the Konvict family and they have done so much great stuff for me. I was caught up in a crazy catch 22 scenario, where I was never actually signed to Akon in the UK – it was just in America. It kind of back fired on me and I kind of shot myself in the foot with that situation. Akon and ourselves had announced that I was in his camp and I still had this independent release pending to be released here.
Now I had this album that was more or less ready to go, now all the press was asking for Akon “Is he going to be on the album?”. If he didn’t feature on the album we would’ve had ‘egg on our faces’. You know, you can’t announce a signing and not have the person who is trying to push you throughout the world. That was a fight to get that record (‘Silver & Gold’) first of all, because obviously Akon has people he has to answer to.
They were like, “Why are you giving this record worth £150,000 – when you could sell that record for £150,000 – why you giving to a guy, who is going to make money away from you? You’re not entitled to anything he has got in the UK”.
But through hustle, bustle and belief with people like Georgio Tuinfort and Babs pushing it, people from that camp saying; “You know what, we’re looking after Sway”. We finally got the record. By the time we got the record, the momentum of the album, started to die down – because we waited so long for the record.
When we did finally put it out there, it was actually the same time that Akon was putting out his album (‘Freedom’). So the lead single we were putting out (‘Silver & Gold’) was competing with Akon under a major and Akon under our little label, so we didn’t get any support from radio, not much support from TV and the song went under the radar. People judged me off the back of that song – when I never got any support on it. But the song has gone onto sell over 40,000 copies/units with no radio and has collectively over 5 million youtube views. That song had the potential to be really big at that time when it was released. But people never heard it and things weren’t promoted in the right fashion.
It opened a lot of doors for me, being affiliated with Akon because he is a worldwide household name, he was on my mix tape and I met Georgio Tuinfort (who is under Akon) and he is now one of my co-publishers, I signed a deal in Japan and Australia off the back of my worldwide acclaim.
AllHipHop.com: Going back to what we were talking about earlier, how much do you think So Solid had to do with the evolution of grime and UK emceeing in general?
Sway: They have a great deal to do with the success of today’s market, they showed that there was a demand out there for British rap. There was others as well, you know Estelle she did her thing. She had ‘1980’ which was a big record over here before she went over to America, you had More Fire crew, you had Pay As You Go, you had So Solid. Even when you take it back to the London Posse and The Demon Boyz, Roots Manuva, Blak Twang. There just wasn’t a scene then, a collective (like there is now).
I could go on, the list is endless – but it shows, they are examples that there is a market for this and if we push it and we get the support it could blow up – like it has today.
AllHipHop.com: This leads onto my next question, what sort of effect did the original UK hip-hop (London Posse, Demon Boyz, Skinnyman), have on you but also the UK scene in general?
Sway: If it wasn’t for people like them, there wouldn’t be people like me, if it wasn’t for people like me there wouldn’t be people like Chipmunk. It is a domino effect. People have to open the doors, then people have to open it wider, some people run with it. People can say, Kool Herc is not making any money – but he was doing it when it wasn’t about money. He was opening doors for people like Jay Z. So that is why he still gets the recognition he so deserves. Not to say he was the only one, but he’s the name people seem to call out.
AllHipHop.com: How much do you think the grime scene has opened up the market for MCs in this country?
Sway: I think what the grime scene did was give the streets a voice, people from the council estate communities. They love Tupac, they love Biggie – but them guys are ‘over there’. That is the mentality for the people on the streets, these boys when you watch ‘Lord Of The Decks’ or ‘Lord Of The Mics’, these boys are ‘over here’ – people can relate to it more!
It started expanding and expanding – UK Hip-Hop didn’t really have that. UK Hip-Hop was kind of like ‘a sister Hip-Hop’. The fact that you even call it a UK version of something that exists, you are already making it second best, so with grime – it was the first of it’s kind. The great thing about grime and hip- hop is that they are actually the same thing but people like to differentiate it.
AllHipHop.com: Similar sort of thing, like crunk?
Sway: Exactly, nail on the head, mate!
AllHipHop.com: How do you think from a lyrical perspective or a sound perspective the grime MCs differ from the ‘road-rap’ MCs (K-Koke, Giggs) to the original UK Hip-Hop MCs?
Sway: I think it is down to individuals because you have people from the road, people like Wretch 32 who are very intelligent lyrically. Or Giggs – if you listen to the way he puts his words together. Yeah he might be talking about a lot of street shit most of the time, but he is intelligent the way he puts it together. It’s not ABC, he has a lot of clarity – he leaves a lot of space the way he puts it together, it’s intelligent music. It’s not a case of the Hip-Hop guys have got all the lyrics, it’s all about the individual artists. You know, you have guys in the Hip-Hop side of things, which are not as lyrical as Wretch. But then you have guys in the grime scene that can be as lyrical as Akala – it’s an individual situation.
AllHipHop.com: On that note, where do you see the London/UK MC going from now? What do you think can be achieved on a global level?
Sway: I think one of us is going to break America! I am not talking breaking, being about pop or being a member of a band, I am talking about standing their ground next to J.Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Jay Z, Jay Electronica on a record and become accepted like in the same way Slick Rick was accepted. Like in the same way people would love to do a track with Jay Z, because he is respected. Not for what they can gain in the UK, not because; “I wanna work with this guy, because I heard he has got a crazy buzz in the UK and I have never been to England before and I am trying to go out there and get English girls”. Someone who gets the respect – I have been fortunate enough to get that quite a lot. It just shows that there is room for that to happen.
AllHipHop.com: What artists are you feeling from the UK and globally?
Sway: I am feeling what Lupe is doing obviously, I like Rick Ross. UK wise, I have always respected what Akala has been about. I got some new artists I am working with who I think are hot – Klayz, Raptor and DC. There are so many people.
AllHipHop.com When was the new LP released – The Deliverance?
Sway: The new LP came out in September.
AllHipHop.com: What label – is it still independent?
Sway: Dot, dot, dot.
AllHipHop.com: I am gonna go for a generic Hip-Hop question – Top 3 MCs of all time, dead or alive?
Sway: Wow, you’re killing me. Tupac, Eminem and, I don’t want to but I am going to have to – Jay Z. His (Jay Z) catalogue is similar to Tupac and Eminem, so you can judge them equally. We don’t know what Biggie would’ve done if he was left to his own devices, after ‘Life After Death’ and the path he was going towards that real commercial route, anything could’ve been possible.
Sometimes it’s like a football player. (ED: Soccer player for the American audience) You can score one great goal or you could score a couple and if you can do that over years, continuously score goals there is something special. But if something happens and you damage your leg nobody is really able to know (what you are capable of). I am probably gonna get killed in New York for this, like I love Biggie and everything but he doesn’t stand up against Tupac, Eminem and Jay Z based on that.
AllHipHop.com: I got one more, top 3 LPs of all time?
Sway: DJ Quik – ‘Balance & Options’, Bone Thugs N Harmony – ‘E.1999 Eternal’ and Sway ‘This Is My Demo’
Be sure to check out the below links on Sway to keep up to date with his goings on and download all of the latest mixtapes on his site. Follow Sway on Twitter at @Sway_Dasafo or on the Web at www.sway.uk.com.
Jamie B-C is a writer and online music marketer, who has been passionately involved in UK underground music since the late 90’s. He currently writes a blog which follows UK rave and Hip-Hop culture. Follow Jamie B-C on Twitter at @beatcultureldn or on the Web at www.beatculture.net.