Pulling Strings Part 3 – Jay Swing [Interview/Audio]
Vancouver, B.C. – The Pulling Strings series is meant to give readers an idea of where Vancouver’s hip-hop community is grounded, so Jay Swing was a great choice for Part 3. Jay’s been doing it for a while – on the radio, as a talent buyer, and as a fan – so he has some valuable insight into how the scene here has evolved. Even better, he has 16-year-old battle archives to back it: the battle between Flipout and Prevail is seen as a turning point for the music scene in Vancity. So, like any good story, this one offers several authors, turning this piece from an interview into a dialogue.
“1995 was a different time. We all didn’t get along… in our mind we were just doper than everybody else.”
HipHopCanada: As you know, these “Pulling Strings” interviews are happening via recommendation. Flipout was the lastest feature and he recommended you…why do you think that is?
Jay Swing: Probably because we’ve been doing the radio thing and Elements magazine and NationOfMillions, and all these different projects together forever. Since ’94. We have a long history of making shit happen.
HipHopCanada: You’ve been at this for a while; are there any parties stick out in your mind more than others?
Jay Swing: For sure. There have been so many memorable nights and parties and shows but I’d say the night – or the time I guess – that sticks out for me the most is when Prev called out Flipout on the radio to battle. 1995 was a different time. We all didn’t get along. I mean dudes were cool with each other but there was definitely a feeling of rivalry between crews. Prev had just hooked up with Mad Child to form Swollen Members and along with Moka also repped the whole QC crew. Prev is the illest battle MC and freestyler I’ve heard and his rep was no different back then. Then there was our side so to speak. Flip had Rascalz, Checkmate, Contants Under Pressure, AA Crew and you know, in our mind we were just doper than everybody else. I’m sure Prev felt the same. Plus Flip and Mad Child had a group together called What The Hell before Swollen, so there was that whole rivalry as well. Anyway, when Prev called out Flip it was a big deal. The battle was set for Honey Dips, a party that GMAN & Rizk threw at the old Red Lounge where we did El Famoso. GMAN being the promoter he is went hard spreading the word but even still it was probably the easiest party he ever had to promote. Leading up to the battle there wasn’t really much else that mattered. All the talk was about Prev vs Flip at Honey Dips. It was serious. I think people were expecting Prev to destroy Flip, but Flip took that shit real serious. He’s a student of hip-hop. They underestimated him. The battle itself was a real heated affair. I thought dudes were going to fight that night. Not Flip or Prev, but dudes in the crowd. Actually, at one point it seemed like Flip wanted to fight. He was mad. When the battle started I remember Flip stepping up on the speaker and kinda rapping down to Prev with his Mary J. Blige singalong shit a la KRS. They went back and forth for a bit and I remember Prev got him good one verse but in the end Flip took that shit. It’s funny to look back on it because like I said, there really wasn’t much as important to alot of people at that time.
HipHopCanada: Prevail, what are you memories of that battle?
Prevail: When Swollen Members first formed, it was a shock to most heads in the Vancouver scene. Myself and Moka Only had a group of 5 years called Split Sphere and Mad Child and Flipout had a group know as What The Hell. Of course both those entities would be instantly transformed as Swollen started to record our first album.
“At the time I lived for battling and wanted to cement the arrival of Swollen Members in everyone’s minds.”
I challenged Flipout to a battle to make it known once and for all who Vancouver’s premiere rap group was. Crammed onto the small stage at The Red Lounge, the energy level was unforgettable as Flipout and I exchanged verses. I was nervous and had come with a written rhyme to open my debate. I should have trusted in myself and freestyled from the beginning. Although the crowd response was overwhelming for both of us, at the battles end, I felt in my heart that I had been bested. As the months and years went on, the friendship between Flipout and I grew and I knew I had been influenced for the better because of it. To this day I still remember the excitement and fervour of that legendary night and it’s lessons have always been close to my heart and mind. For anyone in the building that night, I know they won’t soon forget the epic proportions and energy in the room, and thankfully, neither will I.
LISTEN TO THE BATTLE BELOW
Download MP3 (PC Users: Right-click and select “Save Target As…”)
HipHopCanada: Anything stick out in your mind from that night, Flipout?
Flipout: Worst. Singing. Ever. Sorry about that. I took this battle quite serious. I was already known by friends by the nickname “Freestyle Crazee” because I would go off for 30 minutes straight sometimes, mostly when we were all really stoned. The way the battle was set up was Prev actually phoned me at my parents’ house and said “You know we gotta battle right?” to which I responded, “Yeah.” I’m not sure how it was all put together as an “event” but I prepared myself, thoroughly. I didn’t really do much “research” because I kinda knew Prev already and we had been sort of rivals since me and Mad Child were in a group together (What The Hell, get the album on iTunes!). Anyway… as you can hear in the recording I got pretty heated and yeah, I was wearing hair gel. I was also wearing an ill dark green PVC Columbia jacket and a black BALANCE tee (word to Dedos and GMAN).
“Prev came at me with some personal jabs about how I cried in San Fran when me and Mad were living there doing shows… I missed my family! I was 18 years old!”
But I remember Prev using this as ammo and that’s when I knew I had him beat because that shit didn’t mean anything to me and I could see the crowd didn’t even catch it. So in my head I was like, “okay, I think he just threw his most aggressive disses at me and they didn’t work so I’m gonna go extra hard to make sure I shut him down.” That was the mentality, kill mode, beast mode, whatever you call it. If Prev had gotten those disses out more effectively it would’ve made it a whole different ballgame but I smelled blood and pounced. I played to the crowd too. A lot. I thought about KRS ONE’s tactics in the MC SHAN wars. Also, I honestly felt like the underdog so I wanted to make sure I came correct! Like I said, I took it really seriously. It was literally war to me. I have since grown up (a bit) and I have a life. And me and Prev squashed everything right after the battle.
LISTEN TO THE BATTLE BELOW
Download MP3 (PC Users: Right-click and select “Save Target As…”)
HipHopCanada: Jay, it’s really cool to hear about the beginnings of the hip-hop scene here. How did you personally start out in the music industry?
Jay Swing: Being a rap fan, being a fan of hip-hop. I grew up out in Langley. I bought turntables, taught mysef, it wasn’t like I grew up with a bunch of people who were actually wanting ta career in music, or wanted to pursue MCing or DJing or B-Boying. And then through a friend of a friend I met Checkmate, and we started hanging out, going to parties. Checkmate and this other dude had a group that became All About Us, they were rhyming and I started DJing for them. We’d make beats in Roger Swan’s basement, and Roger also worked with the Ragamuffin Rascals – The Rascalz – and he worked with a group called Show N Tell, who later became What The Hell which was Mad Child and Flipout. So I met all those guys in Roger’s basement, started hanging out with Flipout and Kemo a lot, those are my dudes. That’s how I got into this whole Vancouver music scene.
HipHopCanada: What brought you into radio?
Jay Swing: The radio thing happened cause I was going out with this chick who went to UBC. I was working for the Burnaby school board at the time, I’d work spring, summer, fall and be off for winter. And I’d just go and live the college life in the dorm, just hang out all day. She went to school and to kill time I went to CITR and just kinda started being there. I remember reading a quote from Leaders of the New School – Busta Rhymes – and he said Chuck D told him one day that if you wanna get into the music industry, go get involved in college radio. And I always wanted a radio show so I just went and did that, spent all my time there really, and eventually got a show. That led to a spot in the music department that my friend Justin Love – who was the drummer for the band Pluto – gave me, dealing with all the record labels for hip-hop. It was around the time Bad Boy started and Loud Records were huge. That was my in to getting serviced music from the labels. I remember the first record that a record label actually sent to my home for me and not the station was Artifact’s Wrong Side Of The Tracks. That kind of opened the flood gates regarding getting records for free. It was literally like a light bulb went off over my head. Free records!
HipHopCanada: Why have you been so successful in your endeavors as a DJ?
Jay Swing: I think because we played lots of new music, I was fortunate enough to have the avenues to get a lot of the new music really quickly. Flipout and Checkmate were my hosts in the CITR days and they were pretty hilarious. We’d just go there and basically party for two hours, have some drinks, smoke a little, play some good music and crack jokes. Then as we got to the Worldbeat station, then CFOX and eventually on the Beat with Straight Goods we just kept that formula. New music mixed with some classics…and Flipout’s a funny guy.
HipHopCanada: Flipout wanted me to ask you whether or not DJs still have the power to break artists: what do you think?
Jay Swing: I think DJs have the power to break artists in the club and on mixtapes, and really it sounds corny but a lot of DJs have blogs and websites and that is where they can influence others. Not so much on the radio, I know Flip has a tough time playing new music on the Beat not because he doesn’t want to, but because they won’t let him – you know that Top 40 Radio format. I think a lot of DJs just play it safe and and go into hit mode.
HipHopCanada: Is is a DJ’s responsibility to break records?
Jay Swing: Of course they should break records. If you have an artist that you’re really feeling and he’s not super known, ya, it’s a DJ’s responsibility to expose that music – thats what the fuck we do – or at least supposed to do. Fit the song in where you can. You can play a new record at the club, follow it up with something people know, it’s simple. Up until The Beat took all our creativity away – or at least mine, I won’t speak for Flip – I think we did that all the time.
HipHopCanada: Do you have specific examples of artists you’ve helped break?
Jay Swing: The thing is, a lot of those groups that we broke would have been successful regardless. I think I was among the first people to start playing some artists in the nineties. All the Duck Down stuff, we’d get the white labels of Smif n Wessun and Black Moon, that kind of stuff. More recently, LMFAO, that “Miami Bitch” song we were playing on The Beat for a year before it finally got added to rotation and they blew up. I’m not trying to take credit for them being popular in Vancouver, it would have happened regardless. Same with Black Moon of course. I just get off on exposing people to new music. Its one of the reasons that I love what I do.
HipHopCanada: You work for DHM: what exactly is DHM and what’s your role with them?
Jay Swing: Donelly Hospitality Management, the Donnelly Group. They own a ton of pubs like The Lamplighter and Library Square as well as Republic, Bar None and Post Modern. I’m their Talent Buyer, I book the DJ shows and concerts we bring to the clubs and pubs.
HipHopCanada: Is it tempting to just bring all your favorite artists to town?
Jay Swing: That’s what Rakim was all about. You can’t just bring all your favorites, it would be nothing but late 80s early 90s hip-hop groups and you can’t do that. But being able to bring somebody like Rakim who had never been here to perform before is one of the perks of the job. Getting a phone call from Rakim at 3 in the morning – “Peace Jay, this is Rakim, sorry to wake you bro” – it’s like no problem, dude. I literally was sitting up in bed rubbing my eyes… “did Rakim just call me?!” I had to wake my wife up just to tell her Rakim just called. I was geeked out. Craziest wake up call ever.
HipHopCanada: What’s the actual process of getting artists to come through this city?
Jay Swing: It’s hit and miss sometimes, but the balance is bringing DJs and artists who people want to see, can put on a good show, and make sense budget wise. Collie Buddz was all of those, Funkmaster Flex was none of those. Like I said, it’s hit and miss sometimes.
HipHopCanada: So Jay, to end this interview, who’s next on my agenda?
Jay Swing: Roger Swan.
Interviews conducted by Amalia Judith and Jay Swing for HipHopCanada.
Photography [of Jay Swing] by Scott Alexander for HipHopCanada.