Sway (musician)

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Birth name Derek Andrew Safo
Born (1982-09-05) 5 September 1982 (age 35)
Origin Hornsey, North London, England
Genres Hip hop, grime
Years active 2004–present
Labels Dcypha / Island, New Reign Productions, 3Beat / AATW
Website sway.uk.com

Derek Andrew Safo (born 5 September 1982), better known by his stage name Sway or Sway DaSafo, is an English musician of Ghanaian descent. He is also a producer, having established Dcypha Productions, signed to Island/Universal (label founder).[1] Safo's 2008 track "Black Stars"[2] gave kudos to popular Ghanaians across the diaspora. Sway's first big track, "On My Own" was released under the name Sway DaSafo.[3]


Early life[edit]

Derek Andrews Safo born September 5, 1982 known professionally as Sway (Dasafo) was born and raised in Hornsey,[4] North London by Ghanaian parents Beatrice & Alhaji. He attended Campsbourne Junior School and then Highgate Wood Secondary School,[5] where he would sacrifice many of his lunchtime breaks learning how to produce music in the schools 'backroom' music facility.

His witty punch lines, storytelling ability and fast flow influenced by his favorite rap group Bone Thugs N Harmony[6] and local drum and bass MCs such as Skibadee and Shabba D had him constantly stand out as a unique hybrid.

2000 – Phynix Crew[edit]

At age 14, Sway joined up with two sixth form students Ace and Mirage GG (Now known as Archer) to form the Phynix Crew. The group would record countless demo's and entered Choice FM's Rapology competition in 1998.[7]

2001 – One[edit]

Between ages 16 & 19 Sway played an instrumental role in the merging of rappers from three different schools to form the eleven member local super group called "One". Despite being one of the youngest members of the crew he was appointed as the Rza or Megaman of the collective with Wu-Tang & So Solid being their key Influences. The collective who mainly resided in Tottenham, Wood Green & Hornsey would independently release a hand to hand sold album entitled "Onederful World" which landed them a finalist position in a MOBO unsung competition[8] that would be televised and judged by the likes of Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood.

2002 – "On My Own"[edit]

Sway continued to enter open mic competitions and landed a solo record on the first ever BBC 1Xtra playlist upon its launch in 2002.[9]

He then attended Westminster College to study sound engineering and then City & Islington College to study Music technology. In this time he had also become an honorary member of 5th Element, a hip hop/drum & bass collective put together by his cousin DJ Ink. Sway would take payment for his verses in exchange for the group manufacturing his own vinyl which he would then sell and distribute. In order to gain more contacts in the world of music he was introduced to the Sony Street Team by former fellow One member turned actor Alex Lanipekun, where he had met DJ Semtex and Tumai "Turkish" Salih.

Sway would hand out flyers, hang up posters but was keen on personally delivering promotional CDs to record shops and DJs, as this way he could build relationships with all the key DJs with a view of knowing who to go to when he had completed his own music. Not wanting to be recognized as a 'the rapper' Sway would cover his face in pictures with a Union Jack bandana, this later became an iconic image in the world of UK urban Music. It was at this point that Sway decided that he wanted to start his own record label. He wanted a name that sounded like his own (Dasafo) but meant something more over a period of time. Dcypha Productions was born out of this thought.

2003/2004 – Dcypha Productions, This Is My Promo[edit]

Shortly after founding Dcypha,[10] Sway partnered up with his older cousin Junior Appiah to create Dcypha Studios based in Hornsey where Sway would begin the making of his first official solo releases, This Is My Promo Volume 1 & Volume 2.[11]

The This Is My Promo mixtape releases sold faster than any of the Dcypha Productions team could've predicted and the demand for more copies through the stores and on the streets became overwhelming.[12]

Sway would often take to the streets with Pyrelli to sell the CDs with some people having no clue that they were buying from the artist himself. His previous road trips to UK cities such as Manchester, Newcastle & Bristol as a member of the Defjam street team would inspire him to write a track entitled "Up Your Speed". He would also give CD's to his younger siblings to sell in their schools which included a then unknown UK rapper Chipmunk who was a close friend to Sway's younger brother Bubz.[13]

Throughout the years Sway has continued to perform across Europe, North & South America, the Middle East and Africa alongside the likes of Dizzee Rascal,[14] Example,[15] The Streets [16] and legendary Hip Hop group Public Enemy [17] Sway was also the first UK rap act to perform at Austin Texas's world-famous SXSW festival in 2006 [18]

2005 – This Is My Promo success[edit]

Sway was now gaining attention from many major record companies, but having worked so closely with one as a street team member he felt deterred to lose the freedom he was experiencing as an independent artist. He became the first unsigned rapper to win a MOBO Award beating US heavyweights 50 Cent and The Game[19]

The This Is My Promo series collectively sold close to 20,000 copies. Sway decided he would prefer to release his first album This Is My Demo independently, giving his demos directly to the people. Tracks such as "Flo Fashion", "Up Your Speed" and the Al Shux produced UK Top 40 hit "Little Derek"[20] became genre-defining moments of this era. Despite being known as a UK hip hop artist, Sway's versatile flow allowed him to be embraced by the newly born grime scene collaborating with producers such as Terror Danjah and DJ Wonder.[21]

2006 – This Is My Demo[edit]

Turkish would leave his job as a head of promotions manager at Def Jam UK to assist Sway in the making of his debut album, This Is My Demo. Dcypha teamed up with local entrepreneurs Tayo aka "Puffy", Olu and Former XFM Radio DJ Dan Greenpeace to form Dcypha Alliance. 2006 saw the release of Sway's highly anticipated album This Is My Demo via Dcypha Alliance / All City Records, one of the most critically acclaimed UK rap albums of all time.

"'This Is My Demo' is not just the best British rap album in years, but simply the best rap album in years, full stop." - 5 out of 5, The Independent[22]

"Sway is a satirist with soul and 'This Is My Demo' feels like springtime for British Rap" - The Guardian[23]

"Sway's acute lyrics are peppered with confident verbal flourishes and self-deprecating smirks." - Telegraph[24]

"'This Is My Demo' punctures the gangster image of rappers elevated by their own immoralities, but it accomplishes this with self-effacing cunning and dynamic technical dexterity." - Pitchfork [25]

"Having come this far under his own steam, there's no reason why This Is My Demo shouldn't take him all the way." - 4 out of 5, The Times[26]

"A tour de force of hip-hop, grime and modern day music-hall, it looks at urban life both humorously and unflinchingly." - The Sunday Times[27]

Despite a lack of mainstream radio support, This Is My Demo managed to sell over 50,000 copies within its first year of release and Sway went on to receive even more accolades including the Mercury Music Prize shortlist[28] and being the first UK rapper to win a BET hip hop award hosted in Atlanta, USA.[29]

2007 – Konvict Music[edit]

Amongst his supporters were international superstars Akon, Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell Williams[30] who had all displayed an interest in signing the UK rapper to their own label imprints.

After introducing the acts such as Mr Hudson to DJ Semtex, which resulted in Hudson's major record deal at Mercury Records, Sway was often reminded of his initial passion to become a producer and curator of talent but felt the need to gain more experience as an artist, particularly on an international scale, before pursuing his ambition. After months of consideration, Sway decided that he would take Akon up on his offer and become part of the Konvict Music family. Also embodying the fusion of a West African meets Western approach to music whilst building an empire, Akon was a perfect example for Sway to study. Although Sway never officially signed to Konvict Muzik he was often invited to accompany Akon around the world where he networked and built strong relationships with people such as Dutch producer Giorgio Tuinfort who went on to become an international hit machine and remains one of Sway's greatest influences and mentors to date.

2008 – The Signature LP[edit]

During the production of the album, Sway was affected by the deaths of close friends and family, to whom he dedicated the album to and mentioned in several tracks including "Pray 4 Kaya" which is dedicated Kaya Bousquet who died in early 2008.[31] The Signature LP[32] was released in 2008 through Dcypha Productions and, though it had well recognized features a higher production value as well club anthems such as "F UR X" and "Silver & Gold", it always represented a darker chapter in Sway's life.

On the upside being so closely affiliated to one of Africa's biggest musical exports meant Sway would frequently visit his homeland of Ghana, and embark on collaborations with then relatively unknown local artists such as Sarkodie who Sway quickly endorsed and introduced to the Konvict Music Movement.[33]

2009/2010 – The Delivery Mixtapes[edit]

In 2009, Sway released another two critically acclaimed mixtapes, The Delivery 1 and The Delivery 2 with a view to releasing his third studio album entitled Signed, Sealed & Delivered; but during the making of this album, Sway's then minor health issues took a turn for the worst when he was diagnosed with early stages of Hodgkin's lymphoma.[34]

Sway then took some time away from the music scene to privately heal and recover from prompt treatment of the condition. After 6 months of treatment, he came into remission and decided to continue on with his music career.

2011/2012 – "Still Speedin’"/"Level Up"[edit]

After seeing his early production partner Al Shux win a Grammy for co-producing Jay-Z's hit song "Empire State of Mind",[35] Sway was reminded of his ability to attract some of the world's greatest talents. He went out to talent competitions where he first came across a unique ginger haired singer-songwriter who he would then invite to his home and record songs with; they became friends and shortly after this period that person became known as the world renowned Ed Sheeran.[36] He also reached out to producers online, one being a University student in his final year. Sway visited his student accommodation and worked on a few songs with him; he went on to become Flux Pavilion.

After his experience with ill health, Sway decided to change the title of his next album to Deliverance.

He had always been reluctant to sign to a record label but while rebuilding his own Dcypha Productions label he realized he had never experienced what it was like to be a signed artist. He signed a publishing deal with Bucks Music/ co-signed by his mentor Giorgio Tuinfort via Piano Music/Talpa.[37] He also discovered and joined forces with a new production partner, Andrew Mutambira aka D-Phantom.

His then manager Dan Greenpeace brokered a singles deal with 3 beat productions via AATW/Universal which saw Sway's first release "Still Speedin'" on the label climb up the National UK charts a land Sway his first top 20 hit.[38] Many people were unaware of the reason Sway had taken his previous hiatus from the music scene and didn't realize that "Still Speedin'" was actually a song about regaining momentum after his previous traumatic events. The song was well received and even received social media support from the likes of racing Legends Nigel Mansell and Lewis Hamilton.[39]

His vast array of collaborations went from acts such as Kaiser Chiefs, Nicky Romero and Madness, to award-winning verses with Ghanaian superstar Edem as well as being the only other rap feature on Lupe Fiasco's US Billboard number 1 album Lasers.[40][41]

Sway's next single "Level Up", written with Flux Pavilion during his University student days, became Sway's highest charting single to date landing at number 8 on the UK Singles Chart.[42]

2013 – Wake Up EP[edit]

With this new found momentum, Sway decided he wanted to return to his original plan of building a label and curating new talent. Through his search he came across south London rapper/ singer Tigger Da Author, who he took under his wing and signed to his revived Dcypha Productions label. With the assistance of his original team, he also signed YouTube star KSI. He featured both new artists as well as production by Dcypha's They Call Me Raptor on what was to be his final release on 3beat Records.[43] The title track of the EP was produced by former Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe and the track "Back Someday" featured vocals from Ed Sheeran.

2014 – Dcypha Productions, Tiggs Da Author & KSI[edit]

Sway, Turkish, Junior & Muriel spent over a year and a half developing both acts and in late 2014, the team oversaw the signing of Tigger (now Tiggs Da Author) to Sony RCA, a deal in which Dcypha is represented and Sway remains executive producer of his album, due in 2017.

Despite initial skepticism of YouTube sensation KSI transitioning into music, Dcpyha decided to independently release his first single, "Lamborghini" produced by DJ Turkish, co-written by Sway and featuring P-Money.[44]

Strategically deviating from KSI's YouTube gaming fanbase (where he has amassed over 14 million subscribers, making him the 2nd most popular Youtuber in Europe, behind PewDiePie, who as of the end of 2016 has gained 50+ million subscribers),[45] the single was released without a video and still managed to shoot up the iTunes charts racking up impressive Spotify numbers as well as peaking at #30 in the UK official charts. After its official release and chart entry, Dcypha released the video, which sits on 50 million views to date. This sent shock waves through the music industry and it wasn't long before the labels came calling.

2015 – Deliverance & Island Records/Universal Music Group[edit]

Subsequently, in July 2015, Dcypha Productions became an imprint of Island Records/Universal Music Group [46] and KSI became the first artist to be up streamed. In the same year, Sway decided himself to release the long-awaited album Deliverance, which he describes as an "affirmation of my intentions". The album was released with no lead singles or videos as Sway wanted it to serve as its true purpose as "a project to be discovered over time".

"For me this album is about telling a story, about introducing new people, going from tragedies to triumphs and allowing myself to learn from mistakes and utilize my experiences to empower others, it's a project I hope will connect with the right people eventually..." - Sway[47]

The album would mark the first time that Sway discusses his musical journey and previous health issues publicly in the hope that it will encourage and inspire people who face similar adversities. He also talks about becoming a father to his newly born first child Jalil.

In the same year, Sway curated a 4-member production team known as New Reign. The group consisted of Sway, Zagor, Charlie Cook and Black Butter/Sony signee D-Phantom.

Dcypha 10 & New Reign[edit]

2016 saw the Dcypha roster grow and also celebrate 10 years since the release of Sway's This Is My Demo album. Sway went on to sign Sam Garrett, who he had discovered years prior and featured on Deliverance, battle rap champion Lunar C, who he had collaborated with in 2013 on his "Supercharge" remix and Arjun who he had worked with a year prior on an Arjun release entitled "Frozen". New Reign continues to produce for the likes of Fuse ODG, Arjun, KSI, Lunar C and are also set to release their debut album Immaculate Conception in 2017. Whilst overseeing the development of Dcypha, Sway is also set to release a solo album in the near future entitled Preface.


Studio albums


Year Show Role Notes Film/Television
2011 Top Boy Ross Rosten 2 Episodes (Season 1, Episode 1 and 2) Television
2012 Illegal Activity Julian (short film) Film
2012 The Grind "Thug" Minor role Film
2013 The Chase Himself Cameo appearance Film

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Prize Result
MOBO Awards 2005 Best Hip Hop Won
Urban Music Awards Best Rap Won
Urban Music Awards Best Rap Won
Ghana Music Awards Best UK Act Won
Blackstars Award Best UK Act Won
Screen Nation Award Best Music Act Won
Official Mixtape Awards Mixtape Of The Decade Won
BET Hip Hop Awards Best UK Hip Hop Act Won
Mercury Music Prize Album Of The Year Shortlisted
MOBO Award Best Hip Hop Nominated
BET Awards Best International Artist Nominated


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External links[edit]