The UK urban music scene birthed a gifted individual who had more than an ambition, he had a life. A life that developed alongside the premature British music scene, a development where more than 2 decades later he established himself with today’s industry pioneers.
Derek Andrew Safo, musical known as Sway DaSafo, was born and raised by his Ghanaian parents in Hornsey, North London. Whilst musical interests grew with age, Derek found his ability in song writing by mimicking and rewriting lyrics by his favourite artists. By the time he got to secondary school he was experimenting with various instruments which he used to make music production for local artists and with winning over his peers with his witty and humorous personality Derek was drawn towards writing and producing his own tracks.
By the time he was in his teens Sway had joined a collective who called themselves the ‘Phynix Crew’, who later emerged with two other Hip Hop collectives as ‘One’. During this time whilst studying at college Sway worked a part-time job producing ringtones for a company and as musical ambitions grew he decided to set up a home studio so him and his crew could record material consistently. One single in particular, ‘Still On My Own’, was A-Listed on BBC’s radio 1Xtra when it was first launched. This later followed with the group’s debut album ‘Onederful World’ which featured a majority of Sway’s musical production.
The group entered the MOBO Unsung where they reached the finals, although One were defeated specialist DJ’s Westwood and Semtex had recognised their talent and showed their support with airplay on Radio 1 and 1Xtra. Not long after in 2003 Sway began a solo career, but with his accreditation within music production his cousin DJ Ink introduced him to Drum & Bass crew ‘Fifth Element’ and began making beats for them.
“It’s been a 20 year process; it’s been a long road. I started rapping a long time ago but at the point where I started to become conscience of the business side, marketing sides and the strategy I was about 19 and I’m 25 now. This was when I was like right I need to do this to get to that and that to get to this, such as networking and creating my own luck and tats why I’ve stood for longer than a lot of other people. And even though I’m independent I’ve always been placed on a level of major deals.”-Sway
Whilst raising his profile Sway established his own label ‘Dcypha Productions’ where he released various street mix tapes including ‘This Is My Demo’ 1 and 2, ‘This Is My Rave’, ‘The Dotted Lines’ and his debut album in 2005 ‘This Is My Promo’. His album was a huge success with singles ‘Up Your Speed’ featuring Pyrelli and ‘Little Derek’ which broke into the UK national charts at NO.38. Following the success Sway won The Best Newcomer 2006 MOBO Award defeating the likes of 50 Cent and the Game. In the same year his album was nominated in the Mercury Music Prize Award and won a BET award for Best Hip Hop Act, and without concluding the accreditation Sway was nominated for The Best Male MOBO Award 2008.
After a busy schedule of collaborations, touring Europe and breaking free from the media’s sterotype, Sway is back with the highly anticipated album, ‘The Signature LP’, which represents his musical growth and maturity. The first single ‘F Ur Ex’ featuring MC $tush was play listed across commercial and underground radio station and the second single ‘Saturday Night Hustle’ featuring the phenomenal pop/R&B artist Lemar which is sampling the 80’s classic duet ‘Saturday Love’ was released in August in preparation of the LP launch on September 29th.
ukhh.com are quite a bit behind on bringing you this interview which was done pre-LP launch but we felt it was still worth bringing you a bit more up to date on Sways output!
Hi Sway how’s it all going?
It’s going good man I can’t complain!
How are the preparations going for the release of The Signature LP?
We’ve just released the first single ‘Saturday Night Hustle’ featuring Lemar which is doing really well and the video has been getting some really good reviews. Getting a lot of good feedback from radio, we’ve been play listed on Choice FM, 1Xtra and we’re waiting to reach Radio One. It’s all about the cross over right about now.
What was it like working with Lemar on ‘The Saturday Night Hustle’ single?
Really good man, he’s really down to earth and a very inspiring person to work with and I have a lot of respect for him
It looks like you had a lot of fun making the video?
Yeah it was loads of fun! I’m not really the type of rapper who has loads of girls in an video and all that but for this video we done a casting for 46 girls and we only took 10 so that was really interesting
Did you feel like a ladies man then?!
Yeah it was quite flattering!
So who’s featured on the new album?
Akon’s on the album, Darren B who is a really good soulful R&B singer from North London, his voice is crazy he’s going to be massive! We’ve also got Leo formally known as Leo The Lion from The Streets, a guy called Noah who’s actually one of my business partners who made it to the album and it may even be the next single.
Does this project feature much of your own music production?
Yeah I produced a lot of the album and even the tracks I didn’t produce I took them apart and put them together again, I’m not just a rapper in studio I really like to get inside the music. A lot of hard work has gone into the album; there are about 34 musicians all together on the album which includes a 22 piece orchestra so there’s definitely a level there that I’ve never touched before. It’s a new territory for me so it’s a very exciting time but very nerve racking as well.
You released your first album back in 2005, why have you kept the fans waiting for the follow up?
Basically I’ve had a lot of unfortunate situations which delayed the recording of the second album. I lost a lot of people in terms of my two business partners passed away in the same year, one of my cousins passed away and one of my best friends Kaya passed away and it’s almost been like a dream? Half dream half nightmare in terms of having the time to grieve and finding an understanding of what’s going on in my life. But I’ve gone from that to working with a 22 piece orchestra so it’s been one extreme to another for me, it’s been a real delicate time for me in finding out what I want in life.
Have the personal experiences inspired you musically?
Oh yeah definitely man. This album is a lot more heartfelt and emotional, its personal but I’ve consciously done it so other people can relate to it. The album is not about ME it’s about US, meaning me and the listener in terms of them hearing what I went through and how I felt. I have one track on there called ‘Pray For Kaya’ which is specifically about Kaya who was one of my best friend and also a big role model in the urban music scene, she was known as the queen of clubs an model.
What’s it been like touring worldwide?
Touring worldwide has been crazy man, I’ve gone from like Brazil to Ayia Napa it’s been crazy. The last track on my album is called ‘Special Place’ which is all about the different places that I’ve been to and the bottom line for me is I go wherever music is, wherever the music takes me.
How are the people outside the UK appreciating your music?
Yeah it’s crazy especially my home town Ghana, its crazy there for me now. Its been building so rapidly I’ve been getting so much radio and press, I try my very best in recording an album that is world class.
What promotional avenues were there when you first started out because obviously you’ve been in the game for so many years now you must have seen it all change?
Myspace and that stuff weren’t around which was a good thing for me because it meant I had to work harder and when you work harder the rewards last longer. So with the ground work I’ve put in now, I’ve literally gone up to the radio stations to speak to DJ’s and gone to record shops and drop in records, you know all of that hard graft and grind has paid off because all these people who were developing with me are bigger DJ’s now as well. Just like how journalists I knew back then are bigger journalists now, just like how I’ve become a bigger artist. The scene moves at the same time whereas right now its much harder, if I was to just start off now it would be harder because the independent barrier has already been broken. Like even major artists like Kano and Dizzee Rascal have gone independent so it’s not a special thing anymore, whereas back when I started it was special and people understood that.
Staying on that note there’s not many UK Hip Hop artists signed to majors, do you think the industry tends to turn a blind eye because the movement is mirroring the US from when they first started out so they’re wanting to avoid the politics?
At the end of the day music is a business; it’s really up to the artist to create the market you know what I mean? If you want it enough then people will want to make money out of you, you need to create the hype for them to be interested in you. In terms of the labels they turn a blind eye to what’s not got a commercial valuable, for a while the government were blaming the whole street crime stuff on urban music so if they don’t support it then the crime rate will go down but it’s actually got worse. Knife crime is worse than it’s ever been right now and only up until recently, UK urban artists weren’t in that main frame.
What are your intentions with your label, Dcypha Records?
I’ve signed 2 producers and 2 artists so far, one of them is a folk slash indie artist called Kevin Tuffy and I’m going to put money into his projects but its not about Sway trying to take over the Indie world or anything like that I generally like his music and I want him to be able to do what I did and take it to another level. I want the label to grow together I don’t want to get a bulk of money in and just start signing people, I want to work with people who are ‘becoming’ an artist and they can watch and learn what I went through.
How are you finding being the front man as well as the business man?
It’s not easy but I enjoy it, I thrive off challenges I always need to be hands on no matter what I do I can’t sit back. I always want to know what’s going on and be part of the plot, I can’t just sit back and be proud of what I’ve got because at the end of the day when things don’t go according plan I want to be able to look at myself and say I’m the reason for this and I need to make it better as supposed to blaming someone who isn’t doing their job properly.
Have you found it difficult building up working relationships when looking for someone who looks out for your best interests?
Yes definitely to be totally honest with you the people who have your career at their best interest are the people who work with you when you don’t have any interest. I mean the phone got passed to me from Ben who set up this interview, Ben has been there from the beginning, before all the hype he’s always been in the picture. Whereas there have been other people in the team who just work with the hype instead of encouraging me and helping me out, these people have been sacked and we have a whole new team now, its all a good look man we have a strong team and I’m very positive with what’s about to happen.
Sounds great! What’s been your biggest musical achievement?
This album, The Signature LP, it’s about everything I’ve been through in life and what I’ve done.
So what’s set for 2009?
2009 we’ll go for European domination and then move onto world domination!
the latest single “Silver & Gold” featuring Akon is out now, Sway also features on the material by Two Fingers, on Big Dada, a collaborative effort by Amon Tobin and Doubleclick which definitely needs your attention too…