Sway’s very much your typical rags-to-riches hip-hop success story. North London born and bred, MOBO award winning Derek Andrew Safo sits alongside grime contemporaries Dizzee Rascal and Kano as one of the shining lights of the section in Virgin Megastore that’s horribly labelled "urban". This debut album sounds anything but typical though.
Take the lyrics, for one. This Is My Demo’s self-titled opener is a biting statement of intent, part manifesto, part Lord’s Prayer for the disciples of grime. For all the talk of how "real" Mike Skinner’s tales of kebab shop scuffles are, he’s just a stereotype of a Reebok Classic-wearing wideboy. Sway’s stories are real though. From ‘Pretty Ugly Husband’s condemnation of domestic abuse to the self-deprecating skits taking aim at his African heritage, this is life as it’s actually lived by many. Even the album’s most light-hearted track, ‘Download’, is an anti-MP3 argument more eloquent than anything the RIAA has been able to come up with.
But he’s not just a comedian-cum-philosopher. Sway’s DIY production work rivals any of the American big names. The chilled harpsichord vibe of ‘Little Derek’, for example, would perfectly suit a Snoop Dogg poolside-gin-and-juice video. Most of the album’s the complete opposite of that though, with vicious 100MPH spitting and busy hi-hats. ‘Flo Fashion’ has some of the most powerful sub-bass you’ll ever hear – an especially amazing production feat given that This Is My Demo is completely self-financed and released. There’s none of the needless genre cross-pollination that Kano’s Home Sweet Home suffered from. For the most part this is the pure sound of London.
Not completely though. The last four of the fourteen tracks here are in a similar mould to ‘Little Derek’, but rather than being sat by the pool, they’re more stuck on the bottom. But despite these elements of wishy-washy R ‘n’ B, it looks like we’ve finally found a UK rapper who can hold his own across the pond.