Sway’s new track ‘Still Speedin’ has been frying the airwaves, and entered the UK Charts’ Top 20 after being praised by Lewis Hamilton on Twitter. Fresh from collaborating with the likes of Lupe Fiasco and Styles P in the States, the 29-year-old rapper is now back on this side of the Atlantic.
Recently making an appearance in the TV drama Topboy with fellow UK MC Kano and rapper turned actor Ashley ‘Asher D’ Walters the North London star sat down to talk to TaleTela about everything he has been up to…
Talk to us about the record ‘Still Speedin’ and how it was working with Kano on the remix?
I’ve been a fan of Kano’s music for a long time, we’ve been mutual fans of each other and it’s quite strange that we had never worked with each other up until this point. I’ve been lucky to have a career with international reach, so even when I am not doing stuff in the UK I might be doing stuff in Japan, Australia or Africa. But I felt within the UK the last time people just accepted Sway for Sway without no major expectations was when I released my first album and ‘Up Your Speed.’
After that things kinda spiraled out of control, winning the MOBO Unsigned award, then being the first UK rapper to win a BET Hip Hop Award the expectations were risen, and I was affiliating myself with people with powerful machines and doing records with Akon and Lemar. Even though I did well, I fell one short of where people thought I should be, and that’s where the attention on Sway as a brand started to waver onto different artists – I felt like I lost something pure during the second album phase.
I wanted to bring it back to that core where I thought people accepted Sway the most. I felt that was ‘Up Your Speed’ and that’s why I decided to release ‘Still’ Speedin’ which is a continuation of that. I don’t overlook the whole second album because it’s been extremely lucrative for me and I learnt a lot, met some great people and made wonderful music but I just wanted to go back to that straight up raw, don’t-really-care-what-radio-has-to-say record. I didn’t think radio would take to the record the way they have, I thought the way I rap on the third verse would be too intangible for them. For me the record is already a success because my only intention was to connect to my fan base and pick up where I left off.
What was your reaction when you found out Lewis Hamilton had tweeted about the record?
I am a huge fan of his, I say in the record “I am the Lewis Hamilton of Rap.” He is someone who has a really great spiritual aura towards him. When he is in his zone you can feel it, he is not your average racer and is a very deep thinker. I can relate to that because I am like that sometimes, he is a talented individual and such an inspiration for all of us young British people and so I referenced him. When I saw his tweet, I went to the account and saw that it was verified and I was like ‘whoa’, I hit him back and was really happy to know that he had knowledge of the record. I am meeting racing legend Nigel Mansell next week and he asked me ‘How do you rap so fast?’ and I was like ‘How do you drive so fast?’ (Laughs) it’s been a very surreal experience for me. I couldn’t ask for anymore.
You recently starred in Channel 4 drama Topboy – what was that like?
I got the call last year about a TV programme that was going to represent the UK and the council estate mentality. I originally went for different role, which I am glad I didn’t get because he dies (laughs), I wasn’t right for that part but they were keen on keeping me involved. So they said ‘we’ve got another, really cool memorable cameo role for you.’ They then told me that my fingers were gonna get chopped off by Kano and Asher D, and I had to go and get a prosthetic fingers made. It’s only acting and I’ve got a huge respect for those rappers, the director was a great guy and the casting people…they were such a great team to work with and it’s about time that somebody released a drama that uncompromisingly depicted what exactly goes on in a council estate.
Is acting something you want to get into?
In all honesty I’m a music artist and that prioritises over everything, if I get a good script through then I’ll look into it but I am not in a rush to start getting agents…I’ll leave that to Noel Clarke and Adam Deacon those guys are real actors.
I know the show has been the target of some criticism can you speak on that?
I can understand someone from the street level saying ‘that’s not how life is for us’ but no one from the street level is saying that it’s more people that don’t understand the culture. Especially after the UK riots people want to know what kind of mentality is dominant within these kids and watching that programme you can see it. All they aspire to be is bigger than who they are – they just want money and sometimes they don’t understand they don’t have the right mental attitude or the right teachers to guide them and so the only people they can look up to is the drug dealers, the armed robbers and the people that are doing the negative things out there. It takes a different level of willpower to be from that environment and make something of yourself.
Some people have solely blamed Hip-Hop for the summer riots – thoughts?
I don’t think Hip-Hop can cause riots because I have never heard a record that says ‘go to Currys and go take TV’s, kick down JD Sports and take trainers.’ There is a general frustration within the council estates, there’s a frustration with people generally not knowing what is going on. I don’t think the government and the people in the media are as transparent as they need to be. There is a lot of ignorance, people assume the PM has a lot of money and because of that they should give them more, and when you’re in the dark and not in the know, you get frustrated, these kids were out there frustrated in the sense that they don’t have enough schemes to play and kids are energetic – if you don’t have anywhere to channel that energy and something crazy like the riots happen you just want to get involved.
These kids aren’t demons, they just don’t realise how serious things are until they get nicked and then they are like ‘Yo, these trainers are not worth it.’ If people knew more maybe they would have more respect for the police, like when the Mark Duggan situation happened there was no information, it was a catalyst for the disaster, if the police made a mistake somewhere they should have come forward admitting their mistake instead of people using that has an excuse to let their frustrations out in areas that were nowhere near where the original situations took place. I think it’s about education and people understanding each other, and that can only happen over time.
Certain people will look you in the face and tell you that despite the lack of information, they had no right to torch and loot small businesses and innocent communities – they will insist that Hip-Hop culture is a social stain and directly responsible for the summer’s events as a rapper what do you say to them?
I wouldn’t engage in conversation with people with that kind of mind frame because it’s not intelligent conversation for me. You can’t blame a style of music, you can’t blame a culture – the problem is widespread, the rioting kicked off in all these other cities what is the through line? They can’t all be listening to the same song or it would be number one ten times over. I think it’s a nice cop out to blame those events on a genre of music to distract from the actual issues involved…
A lot of people watched films Kidulthood and Adulthood and complained that it was not real and doesn’t represent them and was not authentic – a lot of others are now saying the opposite about Topboy what do you think is the difference between Topboy and the Kidulthood franchise…
I think with Adulthood and Kidulthood in an effort to draw people to the cinema, had to find a balance between being credible for the streets and being commercially successful. The films had to be understandable to the general public, so people who live in Barrow-in-Furness who are not in tune with what’s going down in that part of the UK would part with their money and go to the cinema. With Topboy we didn’t have to find that balance because it’s on TV, it’s intrusive and will be beamed into homes whether people like it or not – if they don’t they can just switch over. But with movies you have to get up, get into your car, drive down to the cinema and watch it – and so hard slang every two seconds isn’t going to attract a lot of people, not the people that need to be educated about that environment. So I can’t take anything away from Adulthood and Kidulthood, I think that they are great movies. I just think Topboy is more uncompromising because it could afford to be.
Tell us about your relationship with Lupe Fiasco…
Lupe is my brother, he is a great person, a great individual a real positive energy and I have collaborated with quite a lot of American artists like Styles P and Kardinal Offishall out of Canada but it wasn’t until Lupe, that I had an American feature on a US release. Lupe called me up early in the year about his record Lasers and said “I’ve got a new album coming out called ‘Lasers’ and I want you to be on it” and I was like “whoa, it’s an honour man, thank you.” We had worked together before but I knew ‘Lasers’ was Lupe’s big comeback album after being away for a while and for him to draw for me was an honour. Then I found out that I was the only rap feature on that entire album.
A lot of the American blogs were like, “who the hell is Sway? What’s going on? Who is this Sway guy?” We did the record ‘Break the Chain’ and it was well received, then the album went to number one on the US Billboard charts and I have Lupe to thank eternally for that level of recognition. We have a great working relationship, we are very like-minded although he is maybe a little more radical than I am but he is someone who sticks to what he believes in and sees it through, I can only respect that. As a lyricist, it goes without saying he is one of the best that ever did it.
Is he really that “far-out?”
Lupe actually is. The thing about Lupe is he doesn’t say anything or act anyway that he doesn’t really genuinely believe. He is not an actor, he doesn’t turn it on when the cameras are rolling. When there are no cameras about – it’s the same Lupe, he is the same person. He doesn’t speak on Palestine because it’s cool and the rebel thing to do, he believes it in his heart and he sees what is right and wrong with the world and speaks on it and feels it’s his duty to educate people on what he knows. I really respect him for taking the risk of injecting his beliefs into his music, because in the US with a voice like that it is a risk to talk about certain issues. More power to him because he is a great energy, and he has inspired me a lot.
If X Factor’s Cher Lloyd called you up to collaborate with you, like she did with Giggs – would you?
If it was like a rap song then no, because I don’t think she can rap like that. I will only appear on a rap record with rappers that I respect and keep me on my A game and I don’t think that she would be able to do that. I respect her managing to break through the way she did, and the talent that she has and her art form – she has star quality. But if it was just being on a rap track with Cher Lloyd then that’s just a bit ridiculous.