Brooklyn Bodega Interview's Sway Calloway

Sway Calloway is synonymous with Hip Hop.

Whether as an Emcee, or pioneering Radio Personality (The Wake Up Show with King Tech) or iconic MTV News reporter (and now Executive Producer) — for twenty years, Sway has cultivated the lens in which this Culture is viewed.

There’s an elite fraternity of individuals who’ve tackled Hip Hop’s most prevalent issues from in front of the camera; who’ve relayed the happenings of our movement directly into our living rooms. From Uncle Ralph to Fab Five Freddy, from Ed Lover and Dre to Toure — Sway has forever carried the torch of responsible journalism and objectivity, inspiring a generation of reporters and bloggers to come correct when representing The Culture.

Scratch that. Sway Calloway is Hip Hop. sat down with Sway following the 2010 Hip Hop Unplugged Grand Finale in Manhattan’s Crash Mansion. Read on as we discussed competition winner, Ashton Travis, his anticipated interview earlier this year with Solar, his impact on a generation of journalists and, after twenty years, what still surprises him about Hip Hop.

BB: It’s cold outside but it was blazing in here in a good way.

Sway: Hip Hop Unplugged. Remi [Williams] and her crew put this concept together a while back and I remember them first telling me about it. They stayed aggressive. They stayed persistent and each episode it just grew. It evolved. It’s a wonderful concept to kind of find, discover and give a platform to new artists who really don’t have those links yet into the business. It’s just another way to hear good music and I think our grand prize winner, Ashton Travis, he personifies what the struggle is all about, what Hip Hop is all about. That dude is talented, man. Any of the three could’ve won. But man, that dude is nice.

He reminds of — I said this too on the judging panel — when Original Flavor with Ski (Beatz) and those dudes used to travel around the country back in the early 90s. They used to take Jay-Z with them and Jay had a couple of features on a couple of songs and whenever he would come out to do his features, the crowd would go crazy from Brooklyn to Cali. Nobody really knew who he was at that time. I knew him from the Originators with Jaz-O but the majority of people didn’t know who he was, they just felt that intangible energy, that natural talent, that gift he had. He just connected with the crowd and I feel like this kid has something similar. I got a feeling reminiscent of those times. And Hip Hop Unplugged kind of set this platform up where it gives a lot of people hope. It gives us an opportunity — people who love music culture — to find and discover new artists so it went really well.

BB: It feels like there’s a million different Hip Hop showcases or talent showcases in New York City.

Sway: That’s a good ass point. Isn’t it. [Laughs]

BB: It feels like it. It kind of makes sense, right? Everybody feels like they can be a rapper. Everybody thinks they’re a photographer. Everybody thinks they’re a DJ. Everybody thinks they can put together a showcase. But the vibe and the level of professionalism that Hip Hop Unplugged presents, I think is what legitimizes it in a sense.

Sway: I worked for MTV for ten years. I worked in radio for nearly twenty years which means I’ve been a part of producing concert tours myself with the Wake Up show and helping Gorilla Union first start Rock The Bells, which was initially a concept [King] Tech and I did with the Wake Up Show. And you learn over the years that when people are passionate about this, they approach it with a sense of professionalism. Things happen on time. The entire production crew is focused and on point and artists take this seriously. You’ve got a panel of judges who’ve all in their own right carved their own path. Datwon [Thomas] over at Vibe now, but like Saigon was saying, from King Magazine, XXL, all of the different things he’s done. Tried and tested true journalism and he’s a very reputable journalist. Big Lite, you know, is somebody whose been around the business for years and got his own show, The Roundtable and they stir up a lot of stuff with their shows. And Xavier [Jernigan] is working A&R over at Epic now. He’s a guy who knows the mechanics of the business. And Lenny S, his legacy speaks for itself — all of the great Hip Hop moments he’s help create in music and his ear, his eye and his wisdom. You have to take this serious. When I’m judging I take it seriously. I’ve done all of the stuff I’ve done but I’m humble about it in a sense because I’m excited about seeing new talent and appreciative to even be a part of these sort of things. That’s why I always come down and do it. But yeah, it’s classy. It’s professional and you can tell by the end result that it works, you know what mean. It works.

BB: It works all the way around. People generally seem to have a good time when they’re here. People don’t leave early.

Sway: They’re still here! The crowds get so overly involved. Cool dudes ain’t so cool no more, they’re screaming throwing they’re hands in the air. Pretty girls ain’t worried about being pretty. [Laughs]

BB: People sweating with no towels! [Laughs]

Sway: Exactly! You know that’s a good environment. That’s Hip Hop.

BB: For me personally, but I feel confident in saying that for our generation, you and Toure are probably the two most iconic journalists that we see, that we grew up watching. We read Scoop Jackson. We read Elliot Wilson. We read Dream Hampton. We read a lot of different people before we actually saw them, but we grew up watching you. We grew up watching Toure. And the level of professionalism and the level of passion that you describe Remi and the people behind Hip Hop Unplugged is something that we always watched and learned through you and Toure.

Sway: Oh wow, man. I was wondering where you were going with that. That’s a big compliment man, and I’m flattered and humbled by that. I think Toure is somebody I watch and am inspired by him too because we both have been in the business for a long time. Toure actually did MTV before I did. He worked for MTV before I even came aboard. And he’s a traditional journalist. I’m not sure but I would imagine that he went to school for journalism. I came in from an unconventional approach. I was just into Hip Hop and kind of followed where the path took me and I ended up on MTV and just respected journalism and tried to represent.

My objective on MTV was just to show African-American men in another light to add to the ones we have — rappers, comedians, athletes. We know there are so many more things we are. That’s why I came through news, to show that we could be articulate and have deep comprehension of music and culture and politics. That’s why it was important for me to go on the campaign trails with the presidential candidates in 2008 and 2004 and covering the DNC and the RNC and talk about the Rockerfeller Drug Laws as well as sit down with 50 Cent and do an All Eyes On interview or hang out with Eminem. Or go to Houston and hang out with Bun B. Or hang out with the dudes from Cash Money. All of those things are important to me. To interview President Obama but turn around the next day and interview Lil Wayne when he gets out of jail and show the full dichotomy of what we do. If we can inspire younger journalists in a positive way, man that’s what I do it for so I appreciate that. We can inspire folks but you’ve gotta have the initiative. I like the way you conduct your interviews. You’re very confident, very comfortable so doing an interview with you is like having a conversation. I noticed that that’s why I sat down and talked with you because if a young journalist approaches me and wants to practice their craft, who am I to say no?

BB: I really appreciate that. That’s the ultimate compliment for me. I’m doing cartwheels on the inside. I’m serious.

Sway: [Laughs] You’re funny, man. But to me that’s what it’s all about, being able to make people comfortable around you. I do that now whenever I’m on MTV. I try to make folks relax and not approach this as a typical interview. Let’s just have a conversation about who you are. We can always talk about your singles and your videos, but let’s talk about you.

BB: I was going back in time recently and I re-watched your MTV News piece on the Jay-Z and Nas beef where you’re walking by the Brooklyn Bridge breaking down both sides of the argument. I just watched recently again the “Runaway” interview with Kanye West. But the interview this year that most people were waiting on was your interview with Solar. There were so many questions and you were the one we were waiting to hear ask those questions directly. To me that’s the story of the year, unfortunately it’s surrounded by Guru’s passing, but there were so many outlying questions that Hip Hop Nation needed to know the answer to. Do you ever find yourself uncomfortable approaching certain topics?


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