When a UK rapper wins a MOBO, a BET, and gets nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, has three successful mixtapes, more features and radio appearances than the words ‘hip’ or ‘hop’, and still isn’t ready to slo’ down you know RWD have to investigate. Derek Andrew Safo aka Sway faces Danny Walker’s analysis of the Konvict Muzik situation, the effect of losing Kaya and Puffy, and why his barber has made the long-awaited Signature LP…
“Do you want to listen to the album first?” wonders Run Music’s leggy legend, Ben Harris [AKA Sway’s PR, who you may remember got a special thank you on This Is My Demo’s liner notes]. The reply to this legitimate question was a weird one and I managed to combine two answers in an uncontrollable giddy fit. “Oh my go-yes-h,” I spat in the most unprofessional manner. Fortunately Junior and Bommer of Team Dcypha and the capped and chilled Sway – who entered the RWD office five seconds after the doppelclanger – had the 16 track CD ready. “He’s cool man; he’s really good right now. I’m healthy,” Mr Safo smiles confirming that Little Derek is doing just fine. “I’m ready to do it. I’m excited; I’m very eager and enthusiastic about releasing this second album, The Signature LP.”
As the headphones begin to waver under the thumping beat of orchestra-biased, Fit For A King (Sway’s swagger is fiery on this), I soon get the feeling that production levels have increased twenty-fold. “I don’t think there’s been a rapper in the country that has given as much as I have,” he states sincerely. “I’ve got a 22 piece orchestra on there. I’ve got at least another 15 musicians too, including Jason (Mark Ronson’s keyboard player), Amadoo (one of the best bass players in the country), June Brown (the best saxophone player) – she tours all over – and we have Silverstone, who is crazy on the keys as well. Even tracks that I didn’t produce, I rearrange. I definitely played my Virgo/ perfectionist role on this album,” he laughs. “I totally took them apart and put them together again.” This can be said of the next two tracks my ears are treated to, Say It Twice where he freakishly and funnily doubles up on everything. “That’s for American’s who can’t understand my flow. I created a track so they don’t have to press rewind,” he smiles. The other is the Sewuese-flavoured, Lemar-featuring, Shux-produced, first single; Saturday Night Hustle, which is one of the best as the ‘Maharishi Guy’ goes radio friendly and creates a potential chart crusher. “It was a banger before I put Lemar on it,” he insists. “I’ve got a lot of love for Lemar, there is a lot of mutual respect going on. He jumped on my album cos he was in my debt; I did his tour which was actually more beneficial to me but maybe we somehow managed to convince him it was the other way around.”
Sway and Dcypha are very convincing, especially to those born Aliuane Badara Thiam and go by the name of Akon. Much like TK Maxx, Sway’s been fighting labels for years. With each one trying to get his signature on the dotted line, how does he explain the Konvict deal? After listening to THREE sweet seconds of In The Morning Ft. Akon, (“I’m holding that one back, I’m holding it back”) RWD get to the bottom of it once and for all. “The deal is not as straight forward as everybody thinks. It’s not Sway signs to Konvict. I’ve worked too hard to just give it all up. Dcypha is still the label. It’s just that now we’re under a bigger umbrella on a worldwide level. Akon’s working on Michael Jackson’s album – which me and Bommer got a sneak preview of – it’s crazy. I’m also working on Akon’s single, so I get looked after, I’m trusted within the team, I fly out to different places just to link up with them and we work hard, I’ve collaborated with Kardi, on Pray For Kaya, it’s actually a family thing not just a straight, signs for Konvict. I am part of the Konvict Muzik family. That is official; the ink has dried on that.”
With my ears still devouring Sway’s latest and him making sure I don’t go back to hear that mystical Akon track (damn), I glide through more of the LP. Next up, that $tush saddled street smash F UR X which sits nicely with the rest of the tracks much like Up Your Speed did on …Demo. Then Upload a gritty Terror Danjah follow up to, you guessed it, Download. After that was My Kind Of Girl Ft. 2 Face, a Safo produced tale of African parents excepting certain types of girls. As I listen out for the skits I come across the ‘new Charlie Boy’ on a self-titled, Sway-produced, Lauren Mason featuring, truth-filled riddim titled Jason Waste. ‘My name is Jason and I’m not gay,’ resonates from the opening bar and you can tell that his will be the anthem for wasters. “It’s the day in the life of a Wasteman,” Sway laughs as he overhears the intro, but something is wrong. Where is Kofi Annan’s pal? He can’t still be swimming to England can he? “Charlie Boy is still around; he’s still there and laying in the cut,” the slouched rapper answers as I grill him about the potential culling of one of our favourite characters. “He’s patently waiting for the right time to be back in the spotlight.” Phew, so he will feature on Signature? “It’s kinda weird cos the album is more musical, it’s more serious, bar Charlie Boy and Jason Waste and maybe Upload. It’s a pretty serious album so to incorporate Charlie Boy is gonna be quite difficult but he needs to make an appearance.” Yes he does, in a video eating tea with the Queen perhaps? We’ll watch that space.
As the personal playback continues I’m soon caught slipping, singing along to Man Of The Match, a footy themed, whistle-heavy track (“About me being Man of the Match”) and Stereo, a standout, bass-heavy monster. The hook is catchy like Chicken Pox. ‘Been around the globe, sailed around the seas/ I don’t really care about these silly wannabes,’ he raps over American producer Chops’ watt-worthy production. The explanation of Stereo is a quick and simple one. “That’s just battle rap Sway of old. I’m just showing off.”
Indeed but in terms of content, delivery and getting raw emotion on a song, nothing can be more so than the piano-led tear jerker, Pray For Kaya. This moving track details what was going through Sway’s mind as his close friend, the industry loved Queen of Clubs, Kaya Bousquet, lay in a coma. ‘We prayed for Puffy but God still took him,’ I hear in the first verse in between tales of the cinema going good times that they shared. There are several lump in the throat moments after the unhurried intro; ‘I just wish I could have called her on the phone that day and told her not to go,’ and ‘If you’ve got a bit of fire in you that means you got a bit of Kaya in you.’ Instead of giving up though, this Haringey-bred, Jonnies Barber regular turned negative low moments into positive ones. “It was only when Puffy died – he was one of my business partners – I thought I really need to step up the value and put in more money to make it something that people really remember forever and ever,” he explains of raising the bar. “Losing my friends like Kaya, Olu, my cousin Kwesi, Banger and more all within the last 20 months, I thought it was God was showing all of us signs that this life is too short. Walk Away, which I didn’t play you, features one of my barbers, Father Noah. It’s a track about re-evaluating the situation, it’s not really an anti-gun/ anti-knife track, but it does spread the message about thinking twice before you act. You can end up in jail just wasting your life.”
After laid-back Look After My Girl Ft. Darren B and End of the Road a guitar-ridden track featuring Sting’s daughter, Coco, hit my ears we finish on Special Place. This is 6.03 catchy minutes of Sway ‘Taking music around the world’ and asking others from the scene to join him cos he ‘Can’t do this by himself’. After stop is reluctantly pressed, it’s easy to see that not only is Sway proud of his Ghanaian parentage he’s swollen with pride about this album. “It’s a product I am totally proud of,” he announces, sitting up in his chair and alert like he’s just heard the seductive siren of an ice cream van. “I’m gonna push it until the wheels fall off. This album is going to be a success. If I have to drag people out of their houses individually and take them into HMV, I’ll do it 100,000 times; I’ll do it.” After hearing 81.25% of the Signature LP it’s safe to say the UK’s No.1 rapper is back.