Monday, 10 October 2005

This Is My Journey: Part 2

sway-1, originally uploaded by chantelle.

*I'd suggest reading the Part 1 first, scroll down if you want a piece.*
From Ghana With Love...
From a young age Sway had expressed a love for words, penning to tracks like ‘Turtle Power’ and reciting them at school assembly. Other favourites included Kris Kros ‘Jump’. But despite his articulate and informed nature he claims he can count the number of books he’s read on two hands (his favourite being Iceberg Slimm’s ‘Pimp’).

Arming himself with his school boy tag Sway, he began penning rhymes, initially to jungle (his cousin DJ Ink is in Metalheadz) before moving onto hip hop. He soon began rolling with locals like Pyrelli.

“We met on the streets. My mate had told me about this rapper Pyrelli and everyone argued who was better, I didn't care until heard a tape that shook me up. I didn't know people in the ends were spitting like that. The only thing I had over them was the Britishness - they had American twangs. Ink annihilated one of my first tapes because of my fakeness.”

It was still beats that interested Sway more than rapping, fame just not appealing. Even now he still expects to have more success longterm with his beats rather than his rhyming.

It was at 16 that Sway began entering open mic competitions and even got to the last round at Dingwalls where he was then beaten by Task Force’s Chester P Hackenbush (asked by Big Smoke whether he’d now win a re-match, Sway refused to comment). Regardless, it was the push Sway needed. Weeks later with his Tottenham trio Phynix Crew, they reached the Choice FM Rapology ’99 final. Soon after Phynix Crew joined forces with another collective to form ONE. Sick of battling, they switched their attention to making songs.

But with school done, he’d progressed onto study sound engineering at college and with part time jobs at Gap and composing ringtones, Sway was equally busy saving up enough money to build himself a decent home studio. It was here he began concocting his solo work and marketing plan, a plan that many-a-major label could take note from.

ONE went onto record the album Onederful World, selling around 2,000 units, Sway having produced nearly 50% of the project. Around the same time due to frustration he began pushing more solo material and debut release ‘On My Own’ (championed by DJ Excalibah) stirred the industry up.

“I really wanted the group (ONE) to work, it was a phenomenal group of 11 people, to this day I don't know a group with so many talented individuals but real life caught up with them. Some had babies, had to come out of their house you know too old to live with parents, then there was work… I had to keep going.”

With his attention focused, Sway moved on, putting his plans into action alongside his DJ Turkish and “favourite rapper of all time” Pyrelli. With his transgression from jungle to hip hop already accomplished, the grime scene with its new found flexibility towards styles of music and emceeing began to open their doors. He remains one of the few artists, bar the likes of Klashnekoff and Skinnyman, to have bridged such gaps.

“Hip hop heads think I’m quite grimey but the grime cats think I’m more of a hip hop artist. I think ultimately it’s because I’m entertaining that I’ve got that respect from both sides.”

The sell-out mixtape series, ‘This Is My Demo’, has proved a great catalyst. Volume 1 included punchlines to rival a Ricky Gervais script, showcasing a cross-section of his rhyming talents, from the cheeky to the serious over both self-produced and well known tracks such as Usher’s ‘Caught Up’ and J-Kwon’s ‘Tipsy’. Volume 2 took the formula progressively further.

“That was the plan exactly. Next Dan Greenpeace came. I'm not signed to him, he's distributing the This Is My Demo project. After that it's back to Dcypher and we'll do the next album and might get a deal or we might go with Dan again because he's done such a good job. It's a worthwhile investment though, I've worked hard to get to this level I can't see why someone wouldn't put money in because they'll make it back. I don't see anything as favours, everyone's going to earn out of it.”

With critical acclaim coming from media across the board, the Metro to Hip Hop Connection, it was only a matter of time until the remixes started coming. First there was Taz’s ‘Cowboy Film’ followed by work with Terri Walker and a cameo alongside Mike Skinner on The Mitchell Brothers ‘Harvey Nicks’. He also admits to those for Jamiroquai and Akon that didn’t make the cut. There was also supporting Dizzee Rascal on tour.

“Dizzee and I have talked about working together but I'm not on Dizzee's level as far as publicity's concerned. If I was to do a track with Dizzee now, In London it would be alright because I'm getting more popular but to Canada or something it would be like Dizzee's bringing me through which isn't what's going on. With The Mitchell's it's different. We're all up and comers even if Skinner was endorsing it. Terri Walker, she's R&B so I helped her as much as she helped me. I'd never pressure Dizzee to do something.”


So what makes a good rap to you?
Been able to convey a message clearly, being able to bring the listener to where you were when you wrote it, have people close their eyes and have them in a similar place to you intended them to be. Also delivery, clarity... the way you structure things.

What's the difference between an MC and a rapper?
They're the same to me. I'm more concerned with how people hear my music, ok the average British hip hopper who hasn't heard of me and hears MC Sway might be put off, turn the page because they were ignorant... that's the only way it could be detrimental but if that's the case I don't want those kind of people listening to my music.

Are you a battle rapper?
I won't lie, I've still got it in me, sometimes I itch to go at certain people but it's childish.

Do you enjoy listening to grime clashes?
Some of them are good, like Crazy Titch V Bruza cause I couldn't figure out who won that. I like them both a lot, that was the first time I'd seen Bruza and I was like 'I've got to work with this guy.'

Your production company Dcypha, has teamed up with Alliance what’s the deal?
My older cousin helped me financially to build a studio, I had some money saved, did a few hustles and we formed Dcypha and I made this is My Promo Vol. 1. Then there was another group Alliance run by a guy Puffy (he looks like Puff Daddy). I needed money to shoot my first video but I couldn't get clean money and we wanted clean money, there's consequences when you use money from certain people or you use certain money. We knew Puffy earned money in a good way but he was the last person I went to. We went to people I might have mentioned earlier, people with money, I'd worked for, I'd done favours. I always said I'd pay it back because I knew when my mixtape came out it was going to sell… Loads of people turned their backs on me, people I considered friends and stuff like that. Puffy was like “you’re getting popular, I'm trying to launch my artist Biggz, show me the ropes and I'll help you out.” I started taking Biggz to radio with me. He took a lot of short cuts, alot of grinding I'd done to get into position. With that we started Dcypha Alliance. That was just to do ‘This Is My Demo’ because we all get what we want out of it.

Onederful World to now, musically has it changed?
You can see the transformation, it's blatantly obvious what's going on. From ‘On My Own’ to ‘Onederful World’ to ‘This Is My Promo’. I was humorous then life was dulling my spirits, things started getting gloomy it took another trip to Ghana in 2003 where I was able to review my situation, who's who, what's what, where I was heading in all of that. It hooked me up. As soon as I got back I recorded ‘Flo Fashion’. The darker side was definitely creeping in on ‘Onederful World’ though.

Destiny’s Child are fans, any other celebrity fans you know of?
Tricky, he tried to sign me to his label actually. I'm mad but not as mad as Tricky. He's really dark but I'm a very colourful person, I mean the label was called Urban Poison. I liked him but I don't know what he saw in me cause I'm not a dark artist, I have dark elements and streaks... There's a few others I don't want to say that have got in contact with me. I don’t want to use other people to equate what I’ve got going on.

Who are you listening to right now?
The last album I bought was Common, it's alright. Before that I re-bought Slick Rick cause someone had stolen mine. UK wise no one's really dropped an album I've got. I like Kano a lot he's one of the most talented, him and Ghetto, Ghetto is underrated because he's in Kano's shadow. Ghetto reminds me of what Pyrelli is like to me. People mention me a lot more but Pyrelli is right here too and he's serious.

Do you ever regret anything you say, I was surprised you did the Fuck New York track?
I've been around a lot of DJ’s and I know hype is the promo tool to use. It builds reputation. I've been doing dubs from before Pepsi but that was just the first one that came out back in 2003. I was confident in giving this to radio as a marketing tool because I have a cousin in America who told me Tipsy was a big hit. I thought I'd capitalise off the push the record company over here would do. Some people did warn me about ‘the consequences’ and calming it down, I understand what they’re saying but…”

Some people think you’re now signed and this is just a continuation of your cleverly devised marketing plan?
Nah. People are calling, it's getting deep but I still haven't even got a manager. My press officer contacted me. I'm always interested to see how far someone will do, like to get me on a track cause that's how much effort I will put in when I work with them. I enjoy to see people work hard.

So deal or no deal, Sway has his work cut out to deliver an album that lives up to promise, but he’s trying not to leave a stone unturned, dealing with subject matters from abusive relationships to his outlook on London in what he describes as a cleaned up version of his mixtapes. Producers at the mixing desk are Shucks, Turkish, Shanobi, Wonder (Dizzee Rascal ‘Respect Me’) Terror Danjah (Kano, Shola Ama) and of course Sway himself.

“I've changed this album so much, I think I need to hold stuff back, then I think I can't because people are watching me. I'm trying to keep a balance because I want my second album to be explosive. I don't want people to be like ‘Sway's first album was the one’. I've seen too many artists do that and not top their 1st. You can hear that in my mixtapes, I'm getting more intense.”

Talking like ‘This Is My Album’ is only the prologue for now the case is adjourned but whatever the verdict, Sway’s adament he’ll take it in his stride.

“This journey, the one I'm on right now, it’s the best I’ve ever been on. Ultimately it's taking me to wherever it feels I need to be. That’s what this is all about.”

A version of this appears in Big Smoke, 2005.

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