Stuff I should have reviewed earlier in the year: Sway – The Signature LP
In the first 18 months odd of his career, Sway DaSafo engendered more good will than most labels’ entire rosters manage in their combined careers. People wanted him to blow up, and blow up hard. This was back in the proto-Myspace days, which helped the seemingly organic buzz that built up around him: you got on board when you hear “Thief’s Theme Freestyle” or “Flo Fashion” or his J-Kwon remix, his Klashnekoff remix, his Usher remix, mixtapes 1, 2, or that weird ass “Sway In Newcastle” mixtape, “Up Your Speed”… there was never an overbearing “shit son, this guy got next” consensus/media hype about N8’s finest until he won the 2005 MOBO for “Best Hip Hop Act”. At which point his PR agency stopped returning my emails about a possible interview with/feature on him for Stylus Magazine, and instead booked him in a support slot for a Madness gig. Good work all round. Anyway, so when the debut album came around, we overrated it. Heavily. I was shouting it out as a 9/10 album of the year contender when it dropped, when in all fairness it’s a 7. 7.5 if we’re being generous. There was an appreciation that Sway needed to dumb down his style if he wanted to sell, make it less for the heads and more for the mainstream audience (and better he chased the Choice FM dollar than rolled on the then-nascent grindie movement), but it was a little too dumb, a little too clean. There wasn’t a “I’m so urban, the white part of my eyes are black” or a “Flow so nicely you won’t even know when it’s dropped, like Shystie”. It was good, fine, pleasant… but Sway up until that point had been a lot more than “pleasant”. But the reviews were good because, like the closest American comparison to him Ludacris, Sway has personality and charisma in spades. It carries you.
All of this didn’t actually help him sell, really. There was the hilarious “post Mercury nomination” boost to deal with: after the 2006 Mercury Awards, every single act nominated made it into Amazon’s “50 most sold today” listings (including jazz soloist Zoe “The Rock” Rahman and “some chick who used to be in Lamb”) except Sway. Who clocked in at an impressive 781. Seven hundred. And eighty-one.
Which is why I put off listening to “The Signature” for so long. The same overly positive reviews that stunk of teachers over-praising a kid in his report in the belief that it might stop him fucking up over the next few terms. Plus the album being delayed over half a year (two months of the delay was in order to fit a duet with Akon on there) didn’t bode well.
Let’s start off with the Akon track. “Silver & Gold”, produced by the game guy who produced “The Sweet Escape”, and would you credit it, Akon’s talking about strippers. The track sounds like it would have been a big hit in Mediterranean Europe circa 2004, lots of downtempo synths and plinky-plink choruses. What does Sway have to say? “I’m running with Akon, but I’m not T-Pain”. Thanks Sway.
It’s hard to work out with Sway simply can’t be bothered or whether he’s trying so hard to cop a mainstream-friendly flow that he’s forgotten everything that could endear him to his original fanbase. On the track “Stereo”: “I’m an OG, people owe me.” On the “KNIFE TERROR STALKING LONDON’S STREETS”-focussed “Walk Away” he manages to hit completely the wrong note when impersonating a life support machine crashing, and instead sounds more like a kettle.
It’s not awful though. There’s possibly a message here than in the stuff that seems a lot less targeted at breaking through to a US audience he a) sounds like he’s having more fun b) rapping at a rate faster than two syllables a minute and c) actually makes good songs. “F Ur X” is little more than an updated “I Luv U”, but that song dropped half a decade back now and nobody can remember that far. “Jason Waste” is a gimmicky runthrough of the day in the life of, yes, a wasteman, and suggests that maybe someone should get Sway on Live Lounge to kick a cover of “Up The Junction” ASAP. And on “Saturday Night Hustle” (which charted at a stunning 61) he rolls with 2003’s very own Lemar, runs through a list of his clothing measurements, and still sounds like he’d get you throwing your Cris in the air. Throwing your Cris in the air in a branch of Yates’s, admittedly, but still throwing your Cris in the air.
But there’s too much mediocrity, too much contrivedness, and nowhere near enough of the multi-syllable rhyme-spitting, off-beat rhymes rhymed off the beat, and general personality-filled push of his earlier work to make “The Signature” worth retaining. As a man who used to live just off Turnpike Lane, I support anyone’s endeavours to get the fuck out of Haringey by any means necessary. It’s just a shame he couldn’t do it by rocking tracks like he used to in 05.
SPECIAL BONUS MATERIAL
Remember him this way, before he used to dress up as Panic! At The Disco’s weedman: