Sway Calloway has returned to radio this week. As one-half of the legendary Wake Up Show with partner King Tech (and later DJ Revolution), Sway held down a weekly syndicated show that has a tremendous affect on the careers of artists ranging from Notorious B.I.G. and Kool G. Rap to well-be stars like Tech N9ne and Eminem.
The last name, Eminem, gained recognition through early freestyle appearances on the show. A dozen or so years later, Eminem has his own station – Shade 45 on Sirius XM satellite radio – which is where “Sway In The Morning” will air every weekday from eight-to-noon, EST. Late last week, HipHopDX spoke with Sway, who will continue duties at the head of MTV News, about his return to radio, creative control, and executive producing the long-awaited Saigon album, The Greatest Story Never Told.
Sway Speaks About His Morning Show At Eminem’s Shade 45
DX: What do you miss most about radio and what do you look forward to most coming back to that medium?
Sway Calloway: I miss the freedom to be able to express yourself in long-form without being edited into a one-minute package, the ability to really push an artist that is unknown because you like them – not necessarily because of who they’re down with or because they made a hit record, but because they’re dope and to give that artist some exposure. [I miss] being surrounded by music at all times. [That is] important to me, it’s why I got in it. I’ve been a fan of the culture. Hip Hop culture is how I got into it: the music culture as a whole, and so with Eminem, [Sway & King Tech] being a part of his growth at the beginning of his career to watch how MTV catapulted his career and how MTV also catapulted my brand and then for us to come together and work on this [Shade 45] radio station for the greater good of not just Hip Hop, but the music culture [it is only natural].
Also, there’s a certain political consciousness I want to bring to [radio] as well, and the ability to do that along with the ignorant shit too. I mean, there will be some crazy moments. There’s going to be some things that are going to happen on the show that [will] push culture forward and tie in the world, from Shade 45 to MTV, we’ve got a lot of resources that I’ve gained over the years that I can make applicable to what I’m doing on Shade 45. It’s okay that Katy Perry is a guest on my show because she’s working with Kanye [West], and we can find that tie. [The same with] Cameron Diaz or Don Cheadle or whoever. Some of the people are people that I’ve met through this MTV platform. If I do a town hall meeting with President Obama, being able to take the audio from that, [even] if we can’t get him live on the air, we can take the audio from that and give the audience that much more information. I’ve got some segments that’ll be fun. I’m going to incorporate friends from an industry and peers onto the show that help contribute and just kind of create something that everybody can feel like it’s their own show and can walk away from it and learn something, laugh, cry, be informed, whatever the case may be, that’s what we’re going to build to.
DX: It’s important to have someone in the morning giving you the music aspect of the culture, but also the news. Historically with the Wake Up Show, you’ve had an opportunity to do that but how does it feel, as someone who has always been socially-conscious, to have that vehicle to give people the news in the morning?
Sway Calloway: That’s a priority, to be honest. I just feel like I have a responsibility to have that kind of power, not to abuse it, but to utilize it correctly. Like I said, there will be moments where there’ll be craziness on that show but it needs to be balanced and so to be able to talk about what’s in the [newspaper], just to let people know, “Hey did you hear about this? What do you think?” To me, we are all vessels in all of this. You’re a vessel with HipHopDX and whatever you write, you’re informing people. You’re giving them food, so if you want to give them rotten food, that’s your decision. If you want to give them something that’s healthy for them, that’s your choice too. I choose to feed them something healthy and continue something that I have started back when Tech and I started The Wake Up Show. I don’t want to bore folks though. I mean I don’t want people to get the impression that it’s all about that, but that would definitely be a staple in our show and to challenge people to think but we want to make people laugh, make people cry, we want people to feel the full gamut of emotion and to expose people to new artists and to laugh at some craziness that might happen – some new [leaked] pictures may come out, we could talk about that.
Sway Cosigns Artists Like Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean And Mike Jaggerr
DX: Along the artists’ side, you started contributing to The Source recently. You and Tech taught me so much about Hip Hop and anytime you say anything on a subjective level, I tune in. How much of a hand will you have in determining what kind of music gets played on the new show?
Sway Calloway: I will have my own category of music that I will be able to integrate into the program. Right now Reggie Hawkins, Reef [Tewlow] and Paul Rosenberg do a lot of the programming, and they don’t have any objection to me adding to the programming that they do, so anytime I’m feeling strong about an artist, I’ma bang that artist. I need to have that liberty, that freedom even if that artist don’t blow up because of it, I’m still going to bang that artist. Like Big Sean is someone who I would have played early on, or Kendrick Lamar is someone who I would have played early on. Big K.R.I.T. is someone I would have played early on, or Mike Jaggerr is someone I would have played early on, of course I would have pushed the Saigon [The Greatest Story Never Told] project, but there are certain artists out there – Meek Mill. I like Meek Mill; it’s just a lot of dudes out there that I want to push and need to be able to push and will be able to push on Shade 45. It’s really an open playground right now and we are going to form it into a well-oiled machine and in the first month or so it’s going to be a lot of discovery, a lot of trial and error. I want to manage the expectations to some degree, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to walk away from that show everyday and be happy and hope that people tell me that they took something away from it. And it’s not something I have to do, it’s something that I’m choosing to do because I want to fill my plate with the opportunity to be this vessel and give off this information and talk to the audience.
DX: I think it’s great what you’re doing with MTV.com’s RapFix Live because I’m from the generation that used to rush home to catch Rap City: Tha Basement or tune into Yo! MTV Raps, and I think that that art is lost. Obviously radio does interviews with artists and the Internet aggregates that, but today’s Hip Hop fan doesn’t have a lot of outlets that they know to tune into. Tell us about the void you are trying to fill in creating that platform and also and how quickly it picked up.
Sway Calloway: You’re saying it, man. Everything you’re saying is why we chose to do RapFix. I wanted to be able to create that benchmark, like when you went home to see Tha Basement or Yo! MTV Raps or whatever the show was, that was a part of your routine. In this quick-fix era that we’re in with the Internet now and the blogosphere, people don’t really get a chance a lot of times to get the meat and potatoes or behind the artist and get them to talk about something other than their controversies. With RapFix, my objective was, well we used to do this show called “All Eyes On” where we would sit down and find out, like 50 Cent did it with us, we did some great ones with him, Jay-Z, Kanye [West], Eminem, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, and so on an so-fourth and you get the layer behind the person and that’s what RapFix is but I also want to bring a certain level of quality to it where you get an entire show and you get other information of what’s happening around the game today so almost like a variety show.
Most of these shows conceptually is something evolved from what Tech and I been doing on The Wake Up Show to be honest with you, and they have a lot of similarities from the way I interview folks and talk to them. I might ask you some funny questions, I might ask you the question-behind-the-question, I might ask you about your cousin who just got out of jail, who’s insane, but I want people to walk away and feel like they got a better sense of who you are as an artist, and RapFix facilitates that. We’re celebrating our year anniversary on August 23rd, believe it or not, and we’re going to do a special and we want people to know about it because I love how RapFix grew. It grew strictly organically; we had no major push behind it. People eventually started finding it, discovering it because if they like it they come to it every Wednesday at 4 p.m. like you said, people know now. When I go on my Twitter people hit me now like, “What you got coming up this Wednesday?” You know we always wait until the last minute to let people know, but I hope the ultimate goal for RapFix is first, to make it into a weekly live stream show on MTV News and I want to make it the first one to grow into a TV show as well for MTV 2 possibly.
Sway Explains Convincing Saigon To Squash His Beef With Joe Budden
DX: Tell me what it means for you to do all these different ventures and still be putting out art for consideration. Can you speak a little bit about your hand in Saigon’s The Greatest Story Never Told album finally come to the surface, as an executive producer?
Sway Calloway: I came to New York in 2000, [King Tech and I had] an artist signed to our production company that was going through J Records at the time with Clive Davis by the name of Sly Boogie. Sly is from the west coast, tremendous rapper, we had a lot of great goals for him and aspirations for him as an artist and putting together his project. I wanted to team him up with some east coast rappers at the time, to see if we could make some songs and put out some mixtape songs. Saigon was one of the first to respond to me. At that time he was up and coming with the mixtapes, I like what he had done, and he had a lot of buzz on him when he came in the studio and did two songs with us just straight up off the bat. Him and I hung out and he told me about Abandoned Nation and I was like, “Whatever help you need, I got you,” and then we just started hanging out – we took girls out on dates and that sort of stuff, we were the homies; that was like my little brother. We always stayed like brothers and as he went through his trials and tribulations, his beefs, his run-ins with artists, getting shot, all sorts of different things. And when we saw each other, I never judged him for it, we always kept the same energy. And then when he signed with Just [Blaze], it was like, “Okay, you’re on your way, you’ll be cool.”
A couple years passed by and nothing happening, and so I started hearing about problems with [Atlantic Records], but he had so many problems with artists that it was like, “I’m with you. I’ll back you, but some of the people you beef with I don’t have problems with you know.” So I wouldn’t necessarily get involved with the project so he came to me and he played me some music and he sat down and told me what his goals were and he asked, “Would [you] be willing to get involved?” Because right then and there he was stagnant and I was like, “If I get involved, there’s a few things that I am going to have to change: you’re going to have to squash these beefs. I can’t be running around [in danger]; I’m too old for that. You have to squash these beefs, you’re too old for that.” So he started squashing the beefs. We squashed the beef with Joe Budden on RapFix. Joe Budden was like, “It’s all good, Sway, I’ll do a record with him.” That night he went and jumped on a remix of “Bring Me Down”. I was like, “Joe, come out here don’t worry about it I got you.” He came by himself and that got squashed. There were a couple other people, he put out some positive words about Prodigy. I don’t know what happened with that, but Prodigy, I consider an acquaintance, he’s a friend too. I don’t have no problems with P. I knew him and Havoc since [Juvenile Hell]. They used to come to the west coast and we used to play a lot of their music.
So I was like man you got to fix these things so his mentality changed, that worked. We sat down and talked with Just. I saw that Just needed a little assistance in terms of his workload with Saigon. So I called [producer and A&R] Rich Nice and said, “Hey Rich, I got this project I’m on; I’ll put you on it,” because Rich is really good in the studio [in terms of] getting everything wrapped up. We [introduced] Suburban Noize [Records] and Saigon signed a deal with them. I brought on Kelly Jackson who also works with my team, and does marketing and we started getting him with you guys started getting him with all the blogs, getting his buzz back up that he lost, started dropping music, started dropping music videos, got him on a few music channels, got him on radio, got some people like Sam Crespo to get on board and help him get on the radio mix-show. We got him on Jimmy Fallon’s [Late Night] – Jimmy’s a friend of mine, I got him on The Mo’Nique Show, I had to do the interview in order to get him on, but we got him on. We got him on a few tours [with] Team Tech. I used to manage Tech N9ne, so that was a natural to get Saigon added to a Strange Music tour that we were doing and we finally got that album out and I told him, “If nothing else, I’m going to get this album out for you and that’s my goal,” because people had been waiting for five years. And we got that out, and it was a great album but image if it had have come out then though.
So he’s working on his next project now and he’s happier. He just came back from overseas; he’s getting money from different directions, so he’s doing good, man.
Sway Calloway’s “Sway In The Morning” show on Sirius XM Satellite’s Shade 45 station began airing this week 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on weekdays. RapFix Live on MTV.com airs every Wednesday afternoon.