There is no denial that hip-hop culture is now a global phenomenon. Although hip-hop originated in the US, it has always changed within a local [country’s] context. Since BTS came to light, the South Korean music industry has been taking the world by storm. But let’s not forget, the country is more than just K-pop, and hip-hop (as well as other genres for that matter) is now building its own pyramid of successful artists who have managed to impress many listeners. One of those talents is Song Seok-hyun, a.k.a. Sway D, a hip-hop artist who doesn’t shy away from singing and songwriting either.
Sway D debuted in 2015 when he joined Hi-Lite Records. Within six years, he recorded 35 songs (if I count correctly) and participated in many collaborations, including artists such as Reddy, Chancellor, Paloalto, Yun B, and Woodie Gochild, just to name a few. Sway D also took part in Show Me the Money, one of the most popular rap competitions in South Korea, where he showcased his rapping skills against Zene The Zilla.
Back in 2019, before the spread of the Covid pandemic, Sway D managed to perform in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland. For those who had the opportunity to see the man, they were surely very lucky fans. As of November 2021, Sway D has become an independent artist who, without a doubt, will pave his own path into the world of hip-hop. Just before the New Year, we were lucky to have a chat with the artist. Sway D talked about his music, future plans, and his approach when it comes to writing his lyrics.
Image © Courtesy of Sway D
Prior to discussing your music, I was wondering what got you into hip-hop and how you came to realise that music was the way forward for you?
I picked up a guitar when I was young and got into rock music as a result. I would often imagine myself singing and playing guitar. Rock was the first but naturally, I got interested in other music genres as well. In high school, I suddenly got really into hip-hop specifically. I listened to Drunken Tiger (Tiger JK) endlessly and often rapped his songs at karaoke. Then, the year I turned 20, I suddenly had this thought, “I should make my own music”. This was when I was just playing games with my friends at a PC café. Just like that, so out of the blue! That’s how I started making beats and penning lyrics. So, I guess there isn’t any significant event that made me start music. It all really happened so suddenly and I just kept going up until I looked around and found myself where I am now.
Whenever I listen to your music, whether it’s your solo tracks or collaborations, I can easily say that you are not monotonous with your musical arrangements; each song brings something new and exciting. Although I have to translate the lyrics quite often, this doesn’t discourage me from listening to your music. On the contrary, I want to hear more. I am really curious about the creative process behind your songwriting. What kind of approach do you use to write your lyrics?
In line with my previous answer, I think I like it when things unfold suddenly in my life. In both music and life, I start without any particular thought or plan, but when I kind of bring my mind to focus and observe myself, I realise I am already going in some direction. This happens when I’m making music, too. When I bring my mind to focus, I start to see the path I should be following for the day’s song. I think I have an instinctual habit of seeing the bigger picture of a song because I have been making beats and lyrics from day one. Ideas pop up unprompted on how I should change, vary, or transform a song. I have no set method for either composing or songwriting. I just play around, have fun, and then suddenly, all the ideas I need come and find me.
Image © Courtesy of Sway D
Previously, you collaborated with Reddy, Chancellor, Paloalto, Yun B, Zene the Zilla, and Woodie Gochild, just to name a few. The songs that you collaborated on (Air, Automatic [Hi-Mix], Break Bread, Color Gang, etc.) give different vibes; were there any artistic differences between you and the aforementioned artists during the recording process?
This is my method: every time, I just don’t give a shit!!!!! I think I did whatever I wanted to and had fun however I wanted to.
After 6 years with Hi-Lite, you recently parted your way with the label. Now that you are an independent artist, how do you see your sounds evolving in the next couple of years or so?
I want to have more freedom with music. I want to enjoy myself more and feel at ease with making music. Just like the young Sway D I used to be when he first started making music… I bet I learned and grew a lot playing in the big leagues for the past 6 years in ways even I’m not aware of. I want to take out those lessons I gained one by one. I have this belief that something new, fresh, and awesome as hell is suddenly going to come my way again. I just want to go with the flow and let the newness lead me. Keep your eyes on me, everyone. Watch out for the new Story of Hurricane from Sway D coming up…
In November of 2021, you released Go Way (co-composed and co-produced by Damon Joe), your last track as part of Hi-Lite. Seems like you left that song for your fans and your colleagues, people who supported you throughout your musical journey. One can only hope that this is not the end of your voyage as an artist. What made you write Go Way in the first place?
The song was my way of leaving behind great memories and heading forward towards new ones… I intentionally put in a lot of different meanings into the song. But overall, I just wanted a great ending for Sway D of Hi-Lite Records.
Image © Courtesy of Sway D
As you are known for being a hip-hop artist, are there any music styles/genres that you would like to try out with your future releases?
To begin with, I don’t even want to limit or trap myself in the concept of genres. I’m going to do whatever I want and make songs as varied as the music I listen to. I want to be free with music and go wherever my heart decides to go.
Would you say the music that inspires your work matches what you listen to when you are a part of an audience? Or are you a fan of genres other than your own?
I really do listen to all sorts of different music. For instance, I’ve been going through a bit of a difficult time lately and feeling worn out. So, I listened to a ton of meditation music. Even under normal circumstances, the music I listen to the most is music with a chill vibe. My friends are surprised whenever they get in my car because they expect me to listen to only loud music. My car has been playing very comforting music lately. Good energy comes from a relaxed heart, I say.
Improvisation is a large part of the creative process for many artists. How strictly do you separate improvising and composing in your work?
I love the word “suddenly”, and that’s similar to “improvisation”. Situations that suddenly happen to me often turn into splendid ideas. There were many times when even incoherent lines I wrote down or recorded on my phone turned into great ideas later. But it’s important to note that I’m always sincere when I’m making music. Whether I improvised it or spent every waking second on it, every song I made, I made it with true joy and heart.
Image © Courtesy of Sway D
Looking at your current life, to what extent do you think your surroundings shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?
Korea has a word called ‘hee-no-ae-rock’ (happiness, anger, sorrow, pleasure). Going through happiness, anger, sorrow, and pleasure creates good stories for me to tell. I think my stories from these experiences add sincerity to my music. A song has to be sincere to be so good it causes goosebumps. Sincerity is the way I get my heart across to listeners.
Looking at the South Korean music industry, is there anything you would like to change in the industry that might help artists get bigger exposure in the domestic and foreign market?
I don’t know, is there anything I could change even if I wanted to? [laughs] If you just enjoy yourself, good opportunities will come your way. For instance, I never expected I’d tour Europe, but I did. Good, unexpected things like that usually come suddenly out of the blue, I think.
Has being an artist changed other aspects of your life?
People recognising me on the street and greeting me. That is the biggest part. It’s the fact that someone knows who I am, and my life is influencing other people, even if it’s just in a small way. It makes me want my influence to be a good influence.
On which of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?
There’s a song called Break Bread that all the Hi-Lite Records artists recorded together. My verse in the song got good reviews. I was actually super drunk when I was recording that! But it made me enjoy myself so much. All the artists at the studio cheered for me when I got out of the recording booth. That joyful energy carried through into the song, I think. Again, it’s all about the energy that comes out when you are sincere!!! If I may pick one more song, my recent song Go Way. The song feels like an upgrade compared to my previous songs.
Image © Courtesy of Sway D
When driving, is there a certain song that has you blasting the stereo with windows down?
Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again, one of my favourite songs, still makes my heart beat faster. There’s a reason why so many people love that song, speaking as one of those people. When I’m in the car and I step on the gas right when the first verse starts, it feels like I’m in a Fast and Furious movie.
For the past decade, South Korea has been producing excellent quality rappers who are now making their way to Europe and the USA. What’s your opinion on your country’s hip-hop scene?
The scene has gotten really big and I think it is just going to get bigger. My hope is that many artists from Korea will become global just as BTS’s music has become global. Of course, I want to shake up the world like a HURRICANE too, as rapper Sway D.
What do you find are the main challenges of being a musician?
It’s just the worst when you are low on money… You’ve got to earn a lot of money.
Looking at the current situation [Covid-19], what’s your wider vision? What do you hope to achieve within the next year or so?
I’m simply working on enjoying myself every day. A smile is a must if you want enough strength to take on the day. That’s what I believe, and this is how I get the strength to go for what I want. I’m just going to keep running forward and have fun as I do. Right now, I’m working on releasing a full EP in 2022. Look forward to it!
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Featured Image © Courtesy of Sway D
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