Local musician hopes to create a buzz for Chattanooga in hip-hop circles
He's a musical triple threat who can rap, produce beats and play saxophone, and he considers it kind of a holy mission to spend every available minute fine-tuning his diverse talents.
Refusing to take on a typical 9-to-5 job, which he says would cut into pursuing his music, Swayyvo spends the overwhelming majority of his time busking on city sidewalks, playing for churches or squirreled away at home, hammering out one song after another. "People don't like to be lazy around me," he laughs. His base of operations is a two-story brick home in East Ridge which he shares with a handful of other Chattanooga artists, including Johnny Balik and Johnny Smathers. They all chose to live together several months ago in an effort to build a critical mass of focused, creative energy.
The group works together, bouncing ideas from one musician to another and contributing individually wherever help is needed. For Swayyvo, whose real name is Jerod Morton, that could mean polishing a beat or playing saxophone on a friend's track. "The ideas kind of form out of nothing," the 24-year-old says. "There's not really a mechanical operation."
In addition to his own music, he had a hand in the album "Preacher's Son" released by Tut, another Chattanooga rapper, in January 2015. Swayyvo played sax on two tracks and the project was well-received by audiences and several national and international critics, who lauded it as a soulful, cohesive debut. Now Swayyvo is aiming to release more of his own music over the next several months, along with the other artists in his house. That rollout is as much a joint effort as the creation of the music itself, according to the guys who live there.
Eric Cromartie, Swayyvo's manager, housemate and one of the first people to suggest that the group of artists live together, says he and the others have been fine-tuning their marketing efforts. "There's a lot that goes into making it a full release that the public can understand on a mass level," Cromartie says.
He doesn't know exactly which one of the projects will find a wide commercial appeal and become a success or when that might happen — or if — but he has high hopes for the futures of everyone involved and what their success could mean for Chattanooga, their hometown.
"We're starting to get a good grip on how to reach the mass markets. The industry is really small once you get connected," he says. "I think we're going to do a lot for Chattanooga before we leave."
Physical place and the cultural conversations that Swayyvo finds himself in as a Chattanoogan are essential to his own music and the direction he hopes to help push local rap and hip-hop.
A graduate of Tyner Academy who was born and raised in Chattanooga, Swayyvo thinks the American Southeast in general and his hometown in particular have a great deal to offer when it comes to content and style that could propel the art form in new ways.
"Chattanooga is actually talking about something. We're trying to get people through something," he says. Swayyvo believes that, as Chattanooga hip-hop artists find their own voices and sound, the city could become a touchstone for the music on a national level, one as recognizable as the genre's most formidable bastions.
"You can hear Atlanta and know it's Atlanta. You can hear New York and know it's New York. You'll be able to hear Chattanooga and know that's exactly where it came from," he says. In his mind, one of the things that separates Southern rappers from their counterparts in the Northeast or on the West Coast is the influence of gospel music, which undergirds most of what he would characterize as truly "Southern" hip-hop.
"Young black kids who grow up in Chattanooga know about church. On every street of this city there's a church," he says. "If it's an original artist coming out of Chattanooga, you can hear it in the background. You can feel it in the music and the speech." Through their own sweat and sheer force of will, Swayyvo and the local musicians in his circle are determined to usher in Chattanooga's golden age of hip-hop. If they succeed, the conversations Swayyvo prompts in his music could be consequential additions to the genre. In a song called "Cold Outside" that he released on Dec. 20, he raps over a jumble of synths and percussion which have been augmented to sound as if they're being heard through water.
And he takes a realistic eye at what's going on in some Chattanooga neighborhoods. He raps:
"We gonna have to start all over, then build for us,
Take some time, spread love let it heal for us
'Cause it seem like ain't nobody getting killed but us.
Had to tell my lil' girl, 'Don't go outside,
'Cause it's getting just a little too cold out there.'
Be careful who you choose to call your friends, alright
'Cause them people that will tell you that, they care don't care."