From “ill” to “trill,” buzz words have been a mainstay in hip hop culture since its inception, used to associate one’s self with a particular scene or movement. A few years ago, using the word “crunk” in a lyric served as an automatic association with the South while “hyphey” was code for California (specifically the Bay Area). As a rapper, buzzwords can either earn you street cred or date your work and career.
Snoop Dogg is the perfect case study on the benefits of buzz words. Like T-Pain with his Auto-Tune, “izzle” became Snoop’s brand, one which was so heavily copied and referenced that it elevated his status above and beyond his “Gin N’ Juice” days (via imitation being the highest form of flattery).*
While the term “swagger” is not technnically new to hip hop, it has only recently become a movement, turning the game on its head and defining what it means to be cool in 2009. “Swagga Like Us,” a hit collaboration between the four hottest** rappers in the game: Kanye West, TI, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne. It’s the closest thing to a “super group” rap music has seen thus far. Because of this, everything in the song becomes significant automatically.
There are a number of notable musical devices used in this song***, but what struck me most was the word swagger itself. Dope, fire, fly,… Those terms have all been more or less meaningless, merely synonyms for “cool.” But swagger calls to mind a very specific brand of cool. Swagger is classy. Sophisticated. Timeless. Those who possess swagger stay in control no matter the situation.
I’ve heard some rappers imply that people can have all different ‘types of swag,’ but this article refers to classic Swag, the real deal, of which TI is the archetype. It’s not hard to imagine that TI had Sinatra in mind when crafting his his image.
“A person with swagger is classy, stylish, confident, above the fray, perhaps a bit aloof.”
Keri Hilson desires a man who has his “swagger right.” Mike Jones isn’t afraid to go pop for a woman with “Swag Through The Roof.” But as with anything that blows up quickly, its popularity could be its downfall…
The Death of Swag?
Several weeks ago, there was an internet uproar when CNN did a segment on Obama’s “swagga” (thank you, CNN for the ‘authentic’ spelling). Ehow.com now has instructions on how to “turn [one’s] swag on” (see: “Turn My Swag On” by Soulja Boy). But swag started going down hill long before CNN caught wind of it.
I consider myself a connoisseur of pop music. Give me the dirtiest, most superficial, mindless morsels of sugary pop goodnesss and I’ll devour them in one bite. But every now and then a song comes along that is just so utterly baffling that I have to stop myself. I’m going to go against popular opinion here and put myself out there: “Swagg Surfin”? Really? Is this serious? “I SWAGG WHEN I SURF NOW WATCH ME SURF N SWAGG”? I practically had a heart attack when I heard this song for the first time. Swagg Surfin is beyond me. Maybe it’s the fake horns, maybe it’s the laughable dance, but I will not allow myself to like this song. Swagg Surfin is the new Laffy Taffy. Take a look:
The funny thing is, I’ve listened to Swagg Surfin so many times now (in an attempt to wrap my head around it) that I actually enjoy the song now. While it’s been all over Atlanta radio for a while now, a lack of a Wikipedia page leads to me to believe F.L.Y. and their Song-Dance has yet to make it out of the South.
So what does it all mean? Is swagger signaling a more mature direction for rap, a response to increasing social awareness from the 2008 presidential election? Has the younger generation decided to “turn (their collective swag) on and tune in?” Can you think of more rap buzz words? Comment with your favorites.
*Of course, today all but the dorkiest of middle-class white kids are tired and unamused by izzle references, including Snoop himself I’m sure.
**Young Jeezy is certainly up there, but his latest album didn’t do so well (though I’m a huge fan of “Put On” and “Vacation”) and he is branded as a cocaine dealer (“the snowman”), which is problematic for him because rap has turned away from gangster rap in favor of party/club music. At this time two years ago, every rap client put down Young Jeezy as a reference on our Fix Your Mix Submission Form but now it’s all Swagg Surf or TI.
***This song also struck me because it was on the iTunes Top 10 at the same time as the song its beat was sampled from, which demonstrates another trend, Sampling Stuff That Isn’t Old. Other songwriting devices used in “Swagga Like Us” include Phrygian mode and a driving kick drum pattern