In Conversation With: Swift

A dozen years of on-stage experience as the master of ceremony as one of The Netherlands highest profile and in-demand MCs, and whole body of collaborative work with major international D&B names, few acts within the Dutch scene have as many consistent stripes as MC Swift. But it’s time for change… He’s dropping the MC part of his name and will now be known simply as Swift.

It’s a leap beyond the traditional support-role that the Rotterdam-based Arshad Bisessar grew so familiar with. Don’t be mistaken, the mic is still firmly in hand. In fact it’s even more so, due to a focus on broader and deeper creative expression with more breathing space for storytelling, and involvement with the presentation.

Swift’s shift has been in the making for a while. The short, teasing videoclips from Swift might have inspired this interview – tracks such as Sacrifice (produced by Posij) Face Reality (with Amoss & Fre4knc) and Follow Me (with Kidsonic) – but there’s plenty more ahead to underline his intent… Such as a grime/hip-hop album with partner-in-crime Hebbe and more solo releases in the coming months. But what really inspired this change? And how does this ultimately change his approach to lyricism? Read on below to find out!

How are you doing during these odd times?

Yes, definitely odd times. I keep myself busy a lot by doing music and painting as an artist. But it’s mainly music.

How do you look back ono this year so far?

Actually, I am an ‘insider’. I stay inside and make music. The fact that everyone had to stay inside made me feel less guilty! I’ve been really exploring my creativity and workflow – been doing a lot of videos as well. I’m trying to get my profile out there – not only drum & bass features, but also through grime and rap music.

Did these months of solitude help you to get more perspective on your identity as an artist?

It did help. It helped me to profile myself more and think carefully about what I do, also visually. Because before COVID-19, I was on stage and people knew my face from the party. Now there are no parties and I still want to reach my people. The way to go right now is visuals. It helped me to figure out what I think is nice for people to see about me, which tracks (represent that).

I started off making videos of tunes that I already released or were about to be released. I didn’t have that much budget, so I decided to give them a visual of how I spit bars – a performance.

How much are you involved in the editing of these video’s?

Well, I don’t edit, but co-produce. Obviously I have a producer – the guy who shoots the video and does all technical stuff. I help him with the artistic stuff, but he’s an artist as well, and we do it together. These were short videos, teasers for what’s coming.

Being without gigs also results in some distance between the performer (persona) and the person behind him or her, which might lead to perspective too. It’s like taking a vacation from playing the part. Does this resonate with your changing process?

Nope, far from. I never really done visual performances before. About two years ago, I decided to take a more active role – orchestrating the bars. Instead of simply doing another feature, I started to define something as a Swift tune.

Drum & bass and dubstep are mainly instrumental genres, while rap is more about being able to tell my story way better. Instead of narrating a beat in the mentioned genres, I could tell a story about myself and about how I feel right now and what I experience today.

What more made you decide to take on this active role?

Actually I started off rapping, like hip-hop. I did write lyrics all the time. So that didn’t really change for me. My parents passed away a couple of years ago, with just a half year in between their funerals. I really took a hit. It made me want to tell stories instead of narrating a sound. I figured: ‘I need to get something out of my system’.

Around that time, me and Hebbe started talking and made a track together. I made my first rap-tune with him. Before he went on tour, he told me: ‘Bro, this tune is so sick. It really tells so much about you, who you are and your unique style’. We both told that to each other and decided to do a fucking album.

So how does it feel to embark on this journey?

Freedom. But it’s hard work. First I didn’t know how to approach this. A good friend and an amazing rapper who’s been long in the game (Pavan from Foreign Beggars) helped me out. I went to his place and saw how he approached his music and the work ethic involved. Really inspiring. When I came home, I bought a studio, a mic, and started to record my own stuff. Right now I try to process my own vocals and mix them into tracks for demo’s – to show artists what I like. It’s basically producing.

It’s a different part. It’s like hosting a party, but doing it as a rap show. It’s more intimate for me. At the party I am the hype-man, not the front guy. It is all about the DJ and music, with me as the middleman who tries to get the crowd going and is the voice of the DJ – the connection between the crowd. It’s funny like that, because in the early days an MC was often the DJ too.

Writing more stories for the album required more material. How did you get around it?

Me and Hebbe have a good synergy. It’s crazy how I give him samples and he turns it into something that I really dig. We both sit in the studio and write the whole tune, basically nothing is being done without us being there together. That’s one of the things we really love to do. He helps me to write a concept. Most times he comes up with a beat, because he’s the producer and I come up with a lyric or a concept. Then I start to write something, he adds more to it; vice versa.

The album is also a tribute to my roots: to my mom and dad. My dad left me these records and I’m sampling these Hindi ‘60’s Bollywood-samples. My parents come from Surinam and I was born here. I visited there, but never the motherland known as India. I do love to study and listen the music, because it reminds me of my parents. Most of it I do understand, but it’s more of an interpretation from my own experience and identity.  

The album has been in the works for two years. Help us to get some perspective, for some people it might seem long, but then again…?

It’s hard to say. It’s a moving process. Lots has happened, switching studios for instance. We both have our own careers too, so we really had to adjust our schedules. But it’s not a big problem, because we’re both highly motivated. We want every track that will be released on this album to be amazing.

We really look for a sound, rather than bringing two separate sounds together. It comes down to technology in that sense. We have the same universal audio plugins, so when I do a sketch, I can instantly process my chain and have a vision on what it’s going to be like. When I send it to him, we already have a baseline.

Do these studio sessions start with a ritual to get into the right state?

Not really. We sit down. Sometimes I bring a sample or he does… It usually starts with a vibe. We get into the zone from there.

Surely cups of tea in between?

Yeah, cups of tea. I don’t drink alcohol for some time now, Hebbe doesn’t either. It’s funny, because when we started on the album, we used to drink a lot of nice whisky. It progressed it in a way that: when we’re in the studio, we’re just focused on the music and see it more like work. We could do it the same way, but we don’t need that to make music. Sober and focused is the approach now.

Let’s do a quick 101 in terms of your craft as a lyrical performer. Can you name three often overlooked things by aspiring artists?

Yes, I would say… first of all: work hard. You’ve got to work hard an keep at it. Don’t deviate from your goal. Don’t let things like Corona get you down, really use everything bad that’s happening to you instead. Stay true to yourself. Make what you want to wanna make. Don’t confine to a BPM or what other people’s opinions are about, let’s say: ‘this rapper is so commercial’, I don’t give a fuck if it’s good music. If you like the music that you make, just keep at it. Maybe you like cheesy music? Then do it.

I don’t try to profile myself as MC Swift anymore. I do so much more than hosting a party. A master of ceremony isn’t often seen as an individual recording artist. That’s one of the reasons why I left ‘MC’ out of any future releases, especially the five 2020 releases.

So where do you get your inspiration from?

I draw my inspiration from everything man. Also poetry, I read a lot of books that give me perspective on what poetry is. When it comes down to rappers: I listen to guys from the United States or United Kingdom, but also Holland. U-Niq for instance, the way he’s uncompromised and hard as ever. I also draw inspiration from the big UK guys: Novelist, Wiley, Giggs… Shit, there are so many grime rappers out there that I draw inspiration from.

The rap-scene is so healthy now in the States, I can’t believe it. There’s so much ill shit coming out, like the last albums that the producer Alchemist dropped. Dude, shit. Same goes for the new stuff from Freddie Gibbs. The new album by NAS – King’s disease, or stuff from Pusha-T. 

How does this relate to you as an artist?

It’s like all these rappers have a grime-ness to them. It’s raw. Because my music – all of the time – isn’t happy. It’s protest music. Sometimes reality is hard and not funny. I do tend to write more about the shit that makes me sad or angry, than shit that makes me happy.

I think that a lot of people can relate, because when you look at social media, everyone is happy. It’s sad to see someone crying on social media, but it’s also an emotion and people don’t show it that often. I released the first video ‘Sacrifice’ not so long ago. It was exactly about that: how we should open up our eyes and see what’s really happening.

What can we expect from Swift in the near future?

I hope to drop my debut-EP this year. It will be featured on the Dutch / Belgian label by Hebbe and Duploc called Basskruit and produced by Chronicle.

I also collaborated together with Bredren for my next release. The single ‘Energy’ will be released on the 27th of November by Demand Recordings. I can officially announce that It comes out with a music video and there will be 200x limited edition golden vinyl records on sale too. Fun fact: the pictures used in this interview, taken by Jelle Mollema, are snapshots from the videoclip that we shot in Brussels!

Without giving too much away, there’s a lot more material coming with established and upcoming producers. Do stay tuned!

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