This piece is part of our Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Swayyvo is a Chattanooga-based artist doing everything from producing 90s-inspired hip-hop, peeling out smooth R&B on the saxophone, and working with major brands like the NBA, NFL + Nickelodeon. In other words, nobody puts Swayyvo in a corner.
We talked with Swayyvo about his new album “Sounds in My Own Words,” the Chattanooga music scene, and his history with the sax. Keep reading to find out his dream lineup for a Chatt music festival.
What do you do for fun in Chattanooga?
It’s kind of embarrassing, but I just make beats in my downtime. I’m just still making music and creating content still, you know. I’m becoming more and more of a family man. I just had a birthday, so the older I get, the more I value spending time with like, my family and my kids and stuff like that.
Have you been able to make it around the music scene here at all?
Isaiah, you know, he just dropped “The House Is Burning Deluxe.” He got Juicy J and Project Pat on one song, so I’m just like, I’m lit about it, so I’ve been bumping that super heavy.
It’s a big month for Chattanooga music.
It’s huge, bro! I love the trajectory that I’m seeing that the Chattanooga hip-hop scene is going. And, I mean, the arts in general is booming in Chatt right now. You know, this has always just been harder for hip-hop. We get denied venues and get denied certain types of press, collaborating with certain businesses, we get denied. So being in hip-hop in Chattanooga has been difficult over the years for a lot of us, but it’s just opening up right now.
So you think it’s going to be a big 2022?
Yeah, I think we’ll have a lot more artists in the mainstream, such as Isaiah has done it. I feel like over time, you know, faster and faster, we’ll start seeing more and more Chattanooga artists in the spotlight and getting our sound out there because Chattanooga does have a sound.
Could you describe that sound for me at all?
There’s a few different sounds in Chatt. Chatt doesn’t really have two artists that sound alike. We have rappers that don’t sound like anybody else in the industry, it’s like our own niche. You can tell it’s bubbling up, turning into something. But the most consistent sound out of Chattanooga that’s actually gaining the spotlight is very … It’s more musical. We have churches on every street in Chattanooga. So those musicians are starting to collaborate more with the artists in Chattanooga.
I hop on trap beats every once in a while, but for the most part, I like real musicianship in my music, so you can just kind of feel this Southern — it’s like Memphis drums, the Memphis bounce with musicianship. That’s my best representation of what the Chattanooga sound is like.
You’ve worked with some pretty serious brands, but you still identify very much as a local artist. What is it that’s kept you in Chattanooga and kept Chattanooga in your identity?
Oh, I love this question. Most people who are starting to see [national] success, they move out of Chattanooga to somewhere bigger. Me, I still believe you can still grow up and out of Chatt. (He made a blooming gesture with his hands.) Chattanooga doesn’t have enough people to blow up an artist. There’s just not enough people here. But I still believe in doing community work, being involved in your community. I could still be one of the first artists to grow up and out of the city, and I feel like I’m doing a decent job thus far.
Chattanooga has been very supportive of me. So I feel like we need to see an artist in Chattanooga really work hard and see national success off of what they’re doing.
You’ve mentioned how gospel songs are some of the first songs you learned on the saxophone. Do you see a line between the stuff you first started working on and “Sounds in My Own Words”?
Yes! My saxophone-playing style comes from church. It’s not your typical saxophone-playing style. I didn’t take a jazz approach on none of the songs. The phrasing was all gospel R&B. The notes I played, I guess, the tastefulness of the melody lines come from R&B and church. It’s very linear. I come from that, so I can’t help it. I’m not the most technical saxophone player. I’m no, you know, Kenny G. or anything like that. But I’m still a musician. I’m young, doing it, there aren’t many of us, so I felt like it was needed.
Here’s the thing, people like to put people in boxes. So I had been hearing conversations where people were saying, “Oh, Swayyvo is only doing well because he plays the saxophone.” And usually I’m able to block out what people say, but that kind of rubs me the wrong way. I’d like to believe no matter what I put my mind to, whatever area, if I put my mind to it, if I want to be successful in it, if I put the time into it, then I can do it. So I didn’t stop playing the saxophone, but I stopped promoting it for a while. I’m like, they’re finna get these bars. They finna get these raps for a while.
I started rapping, and I started getting the notoriety and the respect for it. “OK, he’s a real MC, he really has stage presence, he really is a good writer, he’s a really good songwriter. I get Swayyvo a little bit more now. Maybe it’s not just the saxophone.” Since I was able to get that respect, it’s like, OK, now I’ll give them the saxophone project, but I’ll do it my own way. I still gave them these hooks, these choruses, that singalong kind of rappy, hip-hop-ish. But then in the verses, I gave them saxophone.
So this project isn’t just a saxophone record, it’s you bringing-
Everything. This is bringing the idea of Swayyvo together. I’ve always had a problem marketing Swayyvo, like it’s so broad. I never really knew how to make it a thing that I could put on a shelf and sell. But now with “Sounds in My Own Words,” it’s like, I’m on stage, I’m able to rap and go into one of the songs in “Sounds in My Own Words,” and it still sounds like rap. And then I pull out the sax, and it just makes the vision so much more clear.
If you were to put together a music festival around here, what are your headliners? What’s your roster like?
Oh, that’s really difficult. That’s really difficult. So I would have to say Isaiah obviously would headline, me and Tut are on the bill … I would probably lump the House, give them like a 45-hour-long set so they can alternate, you know. Then I would also throw Tez D. Da Runninman on there — he’s a favorite of mine. Does it have to be hip-hop?
So Behold the Brave are so fire. I saw them live for the first time at Valley Vibes, and they blew me away. I had never seen a Chattanooga band so clean — they were just clean. Everybody hit together. It was super impressive. So Behold the Brave, BbyMutha, Swerzie, Blu Rollxn, Slatt Zy-
You’ve got quite the Rolodex.
I’m very in tune with what’s going on. I don’t think there’s anything that just gets by me, like, if somebody’s moving and shaking, I know the situation. I know them personally, professionally, ‘cause as soon as I hear about somebody, I go and get them like, “Hey, you’re dope, you’re dope, how can we work?” You know, I’m that guy for sure.
Have you reached out to Behold the Brave yet?
I plan on it. I just don’t know what to do with them yet because our styles are so different. But I definitely have a plan to get in touch with them. I just got to figure out if we’re gonna do a show together or like, a song. I’m not really sure what to do, you know?
As an aside, we can totally feel free to use this newsletter to reach out.
It’s been such a great conversation. I’d love to know where we can catch what’s coming down the pipeline.
I have this song called “Never Lose” that got put in the game [NBA 2K22.] I just think that’s the dopest thing. I have a couple songs dropping in December and a project in January, so I’m just gonna keep it moving.
What platforms are you on?
Every platform. We gotta keep it coming.