Lodged behind large spectacles and a full beard with a few grey smatterings, Sway Dasafo, the celebrated Ghanaian-UK rapper’s face doesn’t reveal much. His hands, though, swathed in a gold-embroidered kaftan, indulge in regular gesticulations that attend his responses.
Our interview succeeds an ACCES 2019 discussion in Accra that also had on its panel Nigeria’s Skales and the BBC’s Rita Ray on Afrobeats’ recent global explosion. Sway says that he always saw it coming, for which reason his catalogue contains songs from as far back as 2014 that hold references to the sonic leanings.
“It’s inevitable,” he submits, “The world moves in trends.” In the UK for instance, he points out that this is especially true about dancehall.
The ACCES discussion also saw him impress the need for musicians to be more than fruits; to be trees. I probe this, calling up a 2014 verse he contributed to Edem’s “The One,” on which he makes a similar analogy.
“We need to be providers,” he begins his answer, an avid pace lining his response, which is encased in an English accent. “We need to be providers on every single level.” More often than not, he goes on, popular music is characterised by an inherent fixation with flagbearers, especially for a particular community — such as Sarkodie, in the case of Tema.
Yet, not everybody can be at the forefront, he says. “Somebody else has to build the structure in order for things to go further.” That somebody, it turns out, was him. Thus, in 2013, after an illustrious run of releases, he returned to the back-end of things, reviving Dcypha Productions, his independent which would become home to Tiggs Da Author and YouTube star, KSI.
Therefore, though he still enjoys “being an artist,” there are other frontiers he intends to explore (such as publishing a book), for which reason he needed to withdraw from the limelight and re-strategise.
“When you’re an artist, everything hinges on your last successful record. So if I carried on as an artist, it’s inevitable that things will start going down. It’s the way of the world: people lose interest, fan bases grow up. If I wait for that long, and I wait for my stage to dwindle, I can’t use what I’ve built up as an artist as collateral to build a business.”
He had to know when to pause.
Unsurprisingly, that decision came with repercussions. When an artist steps back from music, which is his primary source of income, his finances take a dip. “But then, it all makes up for it when you start learning the business of it.”
It also offers a creative freedom that was previously lacking. “Now,” he explains, “if I’m making music, I know I can make music as a luxury…because my businesses feed me, my family, and people around me. When I’m making music, I can make it purely from the heart, and creatively — not cuz I need to chase a hit.”
Many music lovers would instantly disagree with his last statement. They would wager, citing his noticeable avoidance of pop templates, rather sticking to a habitually diaristic honesty over a unique, fast-paced flow, that the rapper has always preferred creativity to commerce. I raise this with him.
He agrees but must offer a bit of clarification. “I have, but then I’ve always had to play the game,” by which he means having to adhere to the radio climate, chart politics among other things which, “for me, are not as important as the creative aspect.”
On his repute as “the rapper’s rapper,” he describes it as nothing short of “an honour,” even if that has come with time and practice. He expounds: rappers (notably Lupe Fiasco, Akon, and Pharrell Williams) who place him on such a high lyrical pedestal are typically artists he respects greatly too, which is why it’s all so surreal for him.
Among his albums, my favourite is the Signature LP, his elegant 2008 sophomore offering that tackled the psychology of loss, and was also marketed as his grand blueprint. For many years, when I have needed to recommend a single Sway album to anyone unfamiliar with the rapper, I have, without a single thought, pointed to that project.
So, where does the Signature LP fall among his discography?
Not very highly, he’s afraid, albeit a massive commercial success (The Signature LP courted him fame in the US, and the notice of the big guns, including Akon, whose Konvict Muzic, to which the likes of Lady Gaga and T-Pain were signed, secured Sway’s signature in 2008).
My eyes enlarge in astonishment.
Sway explains: It was during the Signature LP that he experienced some of his lowest moments. Without going into specifics, he concedes that there are records he is not proud of. He also confesses that the record came with “ego, too many lights, and too much confusion.”
Deliverance, The Signature’s successor which came seven years later, is the one, he says. That album, to his mind, is a celebration of his transition unto his current path — one of recovery.
He’s also quick to laud the charming innocence of This is my Demo, his critically received debut. From the start of his career, and perhaps due to a chronic aversion to the “flashing lights,” Sway has famously rapped about hanging his microphone after five albums. But is an artist is right in putting a cap on the amount of material he must publish, seeing that art is, well, art?
“Sometimes,” he answers — if for nothing at all, to accommodate for other aspects of said artist’s creativity.
As Sway, he’s put out five albums; duly honoured that statement.
Therefore, what’s next?
A whole new chapter, apparently.
For starters, he has reverted to Sway Dasafo, no longer trading by just “Sway.”
What’s the difference?
“Sway Dasafo is a 36-year-old man. I’m thinking differently from the 21-year-old Sway. I’m writing differently; my subject matters are different. What I want to express is different. My purpose is similar and in line, but it’s at a different level.”
And how many albums can his fans expect from Sway Dasafo?
“As many as I want.”