There was one table in the lunchroom where food was always absent—no trays, no milk, and no two-day old mystery meat, but the table was always full of students. To sit there meant you had no intentions of eating and every intention of participating in the lunchroom cypher. Fists would bang, pencils would pop, and rhymes were rapped until the bell rang, dismissing us back to the classroom. It was a table open to anyone that wanted to rap—the jocks, the nerds, the poets, anyone could spit without being known around school as a rapper. Rap was such a big deal, almost everyone kept a notebook with a sweet sixteen or two, and that lunch table was the platform for you to be heard.
I thought about the lunch table as I watched Shia LaBeouf participate in Sway’s 5 Fingers of Death Freestyle series. I’m used to seeing Shia on the small screen, on the big screen, but rapping on Sway is the last place I expected the child actor turned movie star to appear. If I traveled back in time and told a young Yoh that in the future Louis Stevens would impress the internet by freestyling over beats by Biggie and Pac he would call me a liar. It may sound ludicrous, but it happened, and what Shia delivered on the mic has been deemed holy shit worthy. He isn’t the first actor to rap on Sway, though—it’s actually fairly common for the least expected celebrities to drop a few lyrical gems on the iconic morning show.
Two years ago, Tyler James Williams appeared on Sway. He doesn’t have a name that’s widely recognized, but most people will recall his face. Tyler is most known for playing Chris on Everybody Hates Chris and Noah on AMC’s The Walking Dead—two very popular series. What Tyler isn’t well-known for is rapping, but he doesn’t hesitate to ask Sway to throw on Drake’s “6 God.” He doesn’t start off the strongest, and his delivery isn’t the smoothest, but for a freestyle, his wordplay is knocking on the door of lyrical miracle. Once he finds the groove he really starts to soar. The kid dropped some bars. He's a great example of why voice and delivery are important to rap, but, with a bit of refining, Tyler James Williams could join the ranks of Drake and Donald as another actor turned rapper.
While plenty of the NBA’s most famous players have dabbled in rap—Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Chris Webber, Metta World Peace, etc...—some are naturally more gifted than others. Damian Lillard is the latest ballplayer to mingle with rap when he isn’t on the court. Under the moniker Dame D.O.L.L.A., Damian released his debut album, The Letter O, in October. Before the album, Damian sat with Sway in 2015 during All-Star Weekend, and while in the hot seat freestyled over Hov’s “Dead Presidents.” It’s a short freestyle, barely over a minute, but it’s enough to showcase a potent pen. With an effortless flow, it’s clear that Damian isn’t a novice; I’m almost certain if he didn’t make it to the league he would be playing for a major label and not in a major league.
Former Saturday Night Live cast member Jay Pharoah is hilarious. His spot-on impressions have made him a must-watch comedian. Sway has brought him on as a guest numerous times, and each time is funnier than the last. During one of his visits, Jay delivered a freestyle in his best Lil Wayne impression that even the most passionate Wayne fan would laugh at. Jay isn’t the only comedian that comes through Sway; Aries Sparks also sat down and delivered bars impersonating DMX, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, and LL Cool J. It’s interesting that he admits that it would take him forever to write raps as himself, but can naturally channel the voice and styles of other emcees. Jay’s freestyle is far more humorous, while Aries' is technical. They might not be rappers, but they have no problem rapping as your favorites.
DeRay Davis is a comedian that’s been around for a while. It seems like for years he has been on the cusp of breaking out big—he’s like an underground rapper who is one hit away from crossing over. During his appearance on Sway, he wasn’t asked but requested the chance to get some bars off. Viewers of Wild-N-Out know that DeRay is one of the better comedians on the series, and his freestyle on Sway proves he might be better than Nick Cannon. DeRay is a part of Kanye’s history—the voice of Bernie Mac on The College Dropout and Lil Jimmy on Late Registration. He might not get the acknowledgment he deserves, but DeRay is an entertainer who is a part of hip-hop history, and the guy can spit.
I never expected Wayne Brady of all people to do 5 Fingers of Death, but just like Shia, he stepped up to the occasion. If only Sway could’ve got Obama to spit something for the culture, then the internet would have completely imploded. It’s great that Sway has a show where entertainers outside of hip-hop are able to come and show their love for the genre and culture.
Sway’s morning show is the lunch table that always has a seat for someone passionate and influenced by rap and hip-hop, and it’s one of the many reasons why he should be cherished.
By Yoh, aka Shia YohBeouf, aka @Yoh31.