Hip-hop culture is a powerful concept. Not unlike the punk rock movement that developed at almost the exact same time, hip-hop has always requested - if not demanded - authenticity and a genuine contribution to the culture, demands upheld by a long line of dedicated gatekeepers.
The role of these gatekeepers was never distinctly decided on by some secret hip-hop council; it was unspoken. These men and women, boys and girls, protected the culture at all costs because they saw the power it held far beyond just rocking a crowd with a mic and a turntable. They saw the ability to change lives. Today, the lines are all blurred and the dictating voices of the culture have diversified greatly, each with varied ideals of how the culture should be represented and continued, yet there are a few gatekeepers that have managed to maintain the original qualities of hip-hop’s core without hindering or judging its evolution.
Enter Sway Calloway.
26 years ago, Calloway was a 20-year-old aspiring emcee from Oakland, with absolutely no idea of what his name would come to mean in the realm of hip-hop some years later. His official debut album with King Tech, Concrete Jungle, helped the pair to land a gig hosting a show on San Francisco’s 106 KMEL, and the rest as they say is history.
In the two-plus decades since his introduction to hip-hop, Sway has become a legitimate protector of the culture, sternly holding onto the original elements that make hip-hop what it is while adapting to its evolving manifestations.
Through his own work, television and radio programs, Sway has represented hip-hop culture in a way that demands it be taken seriously, and has used his position as a tastemaker to introduce to us some of the most respected artists of our generation, maintaining an impressive relevance the entire way.
Since Sway rose to prominence during hip-hop’s “Golden Age," he has had every opportunity to slowly succumb to the old head curmudgeon mentality. But as he’s navigated through the increasingly diluted waters of hip-hop, currently 46 years young, Sway remains on the cutting edge of what’s popping without lowering the bar of quality he’s upheld for over two decades.
It’s 2016 and Sway Calloway is still waging war against wack rappers. His morning show is still considered by aspiring artists as a gateway to the upper echelon of lyricism. He’s responsible for an entire generation of up-and-coming young artists that want nothing more than to hop on a 5 Fingers Of Death freestyle and show the world that there are still artists taking hip-hop seriously. He’s played the media game for over 20 years without selling out his culture, and has never been described as anything less than a kind, genuine person along the way.
In short, Sway has had a damn-near flawless run in an often grimy industry, and just because he’s still doing his thing doesn’t mean we can take a moment to appreciate everything he’s already done for the culture that saved his and so many of our lives.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Art God