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Sway: Little Derek's doing OK!

TALENTED: British rapper Sway

HIS FLOW travels faster than the speed of sound. His ability to produce a club smash is just as fast, but in person, talented north London rapper, Sway is as cool as they come.

“Hey Dionne, long time. How you doing?” Sway speaks slowly, smiles with familiarity and allows his body to sink into the room’s chair when we meet.

I’ve been following Sway’s career for years and his ability to go from a high-octane performance to a laid-back (close to slumber) stance is impressive, almost slightly unnerving.

“I’m tired, but interviews are the easy part,” he interjects when I share my observation with him. Ahhhh, I see. …

Sway, real name Derek Safo, is one of London’s most talented wordsmiths having amassed a sizeable following throughout his his career, which has included pushing out an extraordinary body of work, inclusive of mixtapes and albums, a number of features and a spot of acting (Channel 4’s Top Boy).

He has also picked up some notable awards along the way too. In 2005, he won a MOBO award for Best Hip-Hop Act, defeating heavyweight hip-hop artists 50 Cent and The Game. The following year, he beat off stiff competition from fellow UK rappers, Dizzee Rascal and Kano to win a Black Entertainment Television (BET) award for Best UK Hip-Hop Act – no mean feat.

He went onto sign to US music mogul, Akon’s Konvict Music record label in 2007, further solidifying what we all knew all along – this Tottenham star was destined for worldwide success.

“Yeah, it’s been a journey. I’ve been very blessed,” the 30-year-old humbly says.

The rapper, who is as proud of his parents’ Ghanaian roots as he is of his British birthplace (often pictured with a bandana representing one or the other), has been diligently honing his craft from his early teens. Starting his musical journey as a member of Tottenham-based hip-hop trio Phynix Crew, who later merged with two other rap groups to form One.

After establishing himself as a solo artist, he founded Dcypha Productions along with DJ Turkish and Junior Dcypha in 2004, which enabled them to record, promote and release their own music - ultimately giving them full autonomy in decision making - without having to be at the mercy of UK record labels.

Sway once said in an interview: "Me and the team decide my singles, what sort of marketing tactics to use etc, it's all done in-house."

He released his debut album, the Mercury Music Prize nominated, This Is My Demo in 2006, which spurned the hit Little Derek, Flo Fashion - a catchy dig at ‘bling bling’ culture - and Up Your Speed, which featured regular UK collaborator, Pyrelli – each pushing his impressive lungs, which I’m sure can belt out ten words per second, that much harder.

Sway laughs at my mention of his speed-defying flow.

“When you’re in the studio, you have to consider the live performance because a lot of the time I make the mistake of not considering and when it comes to doing the fast parts in the rap, I’ve had to proper finesse it because everyone wants to hear it happen. At the end of Up Your Speed – everyone is like, he does it in the video, he does it on the record, but can he do it live? So I make a big deal out of how much practice I put into getting that right.”

In April, Sway released Level Up, which featured newcomer Kelsey McHugh and reached number 10 in the UK charts. Its predecessor Still Speedin’ had previously held the record for becoming the star’s biggest hit to date charting in the top 20 in the middle of the Christmas chart battles.

“It’s taken a while to get this overall acclaim but it just goes to show that persistence is always the way forward,” he says.

Sway is currently putting the finishing touches to his album Deliverance, which will be released later this year. In the meantime, Song For The City is acting as the tantilising taster for the main course.

The chilled track is Sway’s love letter to his London hometown, but he says it can be adapted to suit the listener.

 “This song is about my home city but the underlying message is about being proud of where you come from, I want this to inspire people wherever they’re from”.

The recording process included work with a 30-piece orchestra and the proud north-Londoner has also enlisted the help of the choir from his old school, Highgate Wood in Crouch End, north London, a decision that personally meant a great deal to him.

His eyes light up when we talk about his new work and as animated as can be, he tells me: “My future holds a lot of great stuff man. I’ve been very blessed to be working with potentially the best, actually, not potentially probably the biggest producer/DJ in the world, and it’s an overwhelming experience that I’m able to collaborate with this person and a few other people in any capacity, it’s going to be amazing!”

He tells me who this producer/DJ is off record, but makes me promise to keep it to myself until HE announces it. My word is bond.

Check out Song For The City on YouTube now. Deliverance will be released next year. For more info follow @SwayUK on Twitter

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