Contactmusic.com spoke with the straight talking rapper Sway while he is on his UK tour.
Hey Sway, congratulations on your 'This Is My Demo' album release, are you excited that it's finally out?
Thanks a lot. Yeah, defiantly man, but its more pressure now that it's out because I have risen up an expectation. On a musical level, I have put out such a variety of styles people are going to expect me to improve on it every time I come out. You see with the mix tapes I could afford to have a lot more freedom because there wasn't a set template of what people liked of Sway. It's more of a risk now that it's out.
How well did you sell with the mix tapes?
We did over 13,000. The bulk of them were sold in the UK with 60% being sold in London. We did really well. It's not even arguable who's sold the most mix tapes in the UK. A lot of underground people come out with these wild figures with no proof. I've got receipts and SOR receipts from the stores, so we can calculate what's been sold and show you where all the CD's have gone.
You're touring now too – how are people responding to you?
You see with an artist in my position, its a lot harder because people expect my name to pull in the punters, y'know what I mean. A lot of promoters stop at booking Sway, "we've booked Sway, let's see what happens", but they don't realise that they've got to put in the work. I am on the verge of being a break through artist and although I have been in a lot of mainstream publications, I am not in the forefront. When they read out the top acts in the UK, my name isn't going to come up, but if you read out the top up and comers I would probably be up there. So I am torn between promoters realising this and not. I did a show yesterday in Edinburgh where I thought I was going to get the least turn out but so far have gotten the most, there were a lot of fans that genuinely knew the records - really good response. But going as close as Watford, only 100 people turned up in a space for a 1000 capacity, I want to know why. So I did my research and went in the crowd to ask them how they knew about this event, and they tell me from my website. That's not enough. Promoters need to know that you can't put my name at the door and people are going to storm in, I am not in that position yet.
How do you describe your music to people that don't know your sound?
It's just music. You know what, its influences from everything, hip-hop, grime, drum and bass, soul, R&B, it's all in there. I don't mind the whole Urban title, I know a lot of people are not into it, but I am more concerned with what my music sounds like than what people are calling it. As long as you like my music you can call me rock. NME even put me as one of their top people in rock!
You have been nicknamed a 'one man Publicity Machine', was it always your intention to market yourself this way?
Not really. I just think logically, I think what needs to be done and then I do it, as it take less time doing it yourself than explaining to a group of people who may not understand what you're trying to say. With a lot of my plans it's been a snowball effect, which is what I did intend. I intended to do everything myself, then for people to come over and take those jobs when it became too much for me. Luckily for me I have a good team around who are seeing most of my vision.
Are you shocked that people believe so much in your talent?
Not necessarily. I mean, I am surprised at the level of which people get involved. I am a hard person to convince, like some people could think that someone is an excellent singer off the back of one performance but I need to hear a whole album and know what your song writing abilities are. So some people have brought into me quicker than I would have myself. With the first mix tape, it's like a Marmite case you either love it, or hate it, because being humorous is not an easy thing, its boarder line cheesy as there is a thin line between a joke and being a joke. But it seems most people have understood where I am coming from.
You have been very outspoken about your rejection of major record labels. Why is that?
Not a lot of the labels are sensible with their offers. I am not excited by money. All the advances are just an indication of how well they think I'm going to do, but I don't necessarily want to take all those wild advances. At this time, I don't wanna join a major hastily, they just want to cash in to all the hype, it is really easy to sign Sway now most of the hard work has been done, they know with even a little backing that I will easily sell 20,000, there is enough of a buzz to do that now. I like my freedom, it's been part of my story, and it's what has been separating me from a lot of other artists out there. But I have read all these publication where it makes out like I have all these labels calling me up every minute and I'm like 'f**k off', that's not the case.
What is your favourite track off the new album and why?
A father should never say who its favourite child is.
On 'Flo Fashion' you state you "never sold an aspirin and never done a raid", do you think these types of lyrics can harm your credibility at all, in an era where most rappers think that violent imagery equals their 'realness'?
Nah, not at all. The fact that I am so real with it adds to my credibility. The people that know me know me. I have witnessed gun crime violence first hand, not been involved in it or claiming that I'm some kind of gangster, but just from the area that I grow up in, so of course I am going to witness that. You can watch my videos and see the people I roll with. I'm not some nerd trying to be something I'm not – I'm a real person, I'm just trying to put out something other than that lifestyle. Any old fool can say 'yeah I got my strap (gun)' but would those guys use it? The people that really use it end up in prison or dead - it's as simple as that. You can't be talking about killing people like this, that's a really deep thing to say. People see it easily done on TV as if it's nothing, but until you see a friend lying in a coffin, you're gonna know you just can't talk about those things. Plus police listen to records all the time.
Well done with winning the MOBO, it really put your face out there. However with the backlash they received the year before about their support to UK acts, did you ever think that you were used to gain back their worth as an awards show?
That's a hard subject to tackle without offending anybody. It is blatantly obvious that MOBO made an affect. Although it may have seemed a bit drastic to some, it had to be drastic as it was the year of UK talent rising and they had no choice but to embrace that. You got Channel U exploding and 1xtra doing their thing allowing people with not much money or backing to be heard. So at that time I was an artist that wasn't signed - it was too easy for them (MOBO) to put, a Kano or a Dizzie up there. I however needed that push, but it backfired on the music industry as everyone was backing me from the record labels to even MOBO organisers themselves, probably thinking I wouldn't get the majority vote. It was a good situation for me and a good situation for MOBO.
You are on the unreleased Kanye West/Clinton Sparks 'Touch the Sky' mix tape with your 'No Doe, No Show' track. How did that come about?
Basically 'No Doe, No Show' was such a throw away track. I wrote it, like I explained earlier about promoters not doing their jobs, and I was just sick of it. So I did that track and put it on a mix tape as a message to them (promoters) not to mess me around. I gave a sample of the mix to DJ Semtix, cos he has this habit of pushing UK artists into American music peoples faces, he has done it with Dizzie, he's done it with Taz. He will play them a UK beat just to get a reaction. So Clinton Sparks must have asked who was doing their thing in the UK and Semtex sent over a couple of tracks and one of them was 'No Doe, No Show' and Clinton Sparks picked that out of the bunch. On the flip side though, it's not the tune I would have said represented me – but at the end of the day you cant control where your music goes, it's out there and I'm cool with it.
If you had the chance to work with anybody outside of R&B and Rap music who would you work with and why?
It would be Madness, they have inspired me a lot, and I like the energy in their music. I went to see them last year in Astoria and I have never seen a crowd jump so much, no even at a rap show. Never. It was weird to see that.
Is it true you are doing tracks with Akon and Basement Jaxx?
Yeah, I am.
Usually people want to know which artists other artists think are good, we at contactmusic.com would like to know who on the UK or US rap/grime scene you think are not?
Ahh, you're trying to be controversial. You will have to throw out some names.
I like him, he's good
I like him too, come on you are saying the obvious, give me a couple curveballs. I mean I know hundreds of people that I think are rubbish…
I anit naming them, that publicity for them.