If you were a part of the generation who grew up during the “Golden Era” of hip hop when Common was referring to love for hip hop as a love lost, Twista was flipping lyrics in lightning speed, WuTang Clan fused the love of Kung Fu classics with music and the West Coast versus East Coast rap beef was real—then you’re probably very familiar with Sway Calloway. He’s one-half of the radio duo of The Wake Up Show with co-host, King Tech.
The Oakland b-boy took to the radio airwaves connecting with the Generation X demographic with grace, intellect and style on San Francisco’s KMEL and soon breaking into the number two market—Los Angeles on KKBT. From his days on MTV as an on-air personality, Sway has become a credible beacon of information and cultural awareness as the business model of radio, music and broadcast continue to adjust through various stages.
As a bridge between the millennials and baby boomers—his no nonsense and honest approach has secured a permanent residency on SiriusXM’s channel 45 every morning with the Sway in the Morning on Shade 45 since 2011.
So, it’s no surprise when Toyota developed a special campaign to connect with younger consumers—and chose Sway as its spokesperson to help discover unknown musical talent.
The Toyota Music Mix platform connects with music architects such as Sway to give artists a chance to spotlight their talents on his show. In addition to building this unique opportunity, the audience is able to experience this music vet’s deep range of knowledge and experience. The Chicago Defender had a candid conversation with Sway as he stopped through Chicago to promote his partnership with Toyota during the week of Lollapalooza festivities.
Why is Chicago an important stop for you to do a live remote from?
I’m in no means trying to be an expert on Chicago but it reminds me so much of Oakland, and since the 1990’s my partner of King Tech and I was syndicated on WEJM [Chicago], we’ve been coming to Chicago. You hear about the politics—city government or neighborhood politics. It’s a very complex place from an outsider looking in. It’s hard for anyone who is not raised in Chicago or at least resides in Chicago to get the full scope with the adversities that people face in Chicago.
Also, I find there’s a lot of creative, intelligent potential leaders and visionaries in Chicago—I’ve always felt that way. How people are able to really create something out of minimal resources, which is a part of artistic expression. The last time we were there, we went off the grind a little bit. We were there for the Barbershop movie. We’re here for the movie but let’s go into the city and talk to people and see what’s going on in Chicago. What’s on people’s mind? This was during the presidential campaign so politics was an obvious mainstay.
In the last five years, there’s been a resurgence of musical talent making a national impact. What attracts outsiders to our young talent?
Dreezy, Lil Bibby, Lil Durk, all of these folks—they started making a way for themselves and I thought that was fascinating. Common was the prodigal son. It’s amazing what Rashid has accomplished. Since 1991, who knew he would be an Oscar winner and big-time movie star and all of the things he’s been doing with his nonprofit organization. Chicago to me is a fascinating place. I wish there were as many headlines that reflect balance on the potential of Chicago as well. When we come out there, we try to put spotlight on stuff that people may not be aware of.
Does partnering with brands like Toyota make a difference in connecting with a younger demo?
What we’re doing with Toyota now and in the past, they’ve shown an interest in reaching out to that demographic and finding out what else are they about. What else do they like and how this music culture influences them? So, we make it commitment to rediscover new artists. This has always been my repertoire since I started back in the day with King Tech on The Wake Up Show. I played a major role in helping give exposure to Eminem and his talent.
Last time we broadcast here, before Bibby and all those guys blew up. Chance, Vic Mensa, Durk—people hadn’t heard much yet. The drill scene was bubbling. We bumped into a gold mine, what are these kids talking about?
What do you see now in radio with newcomers?
I see a lot of imitation. Imitation in this day and age means something different than when we came up. When I came into it, it was about “how do I not sound like the other guy and how do I bring something to my show the other guy or girl doesn’t have?” How do we stand out? Now, I think digital technology has made the ability to be heard easier and accessible. So, you have a saturated field of broadcast that’s taking place whether it’s in people’s bedrooms, somebody’s office building in the form of a podcast or somebody’s laptop in the form of internet radio or somebody’s YouTube channel. There’s a lot of people out there doing it with no checks and balances.
Is this good or bad for the state of radio?
The pros to that is now you have a bigger variety of people you can listen to and more people can be heard to get their voices heard.
The cons are there’s really no filter and no standard. You have to search far and wide to find the high quality in broadcast that goes on now. I don’t think that’s as important as the audience it serves as much as it did with me and King Tech. It’s the sign of the times.
I carry a bunch of basic fundamentals with me into 2017 and beyond and have the ability to adjust and adapt to the time place. What helped our longevity is that we created something great that was unique to us.