Sway (real name, Derek Safo) refutes every rap cliché lyrically, coolly criticising materialism and macho attitudes. Vulnerable, level-headed and sharply humorous, proud and satirical of both his British and African heritages (his mother is Ghanaian), his is a fresh, questing voice. But the acres of media attention this has drawn, as if he is already British rap's new messiah, brings problems of its own. This weekday Watford gig provides a telling picture of the hard graft that Sway will have to put in to give substance to the press's casual claims, and his own dreams.
Tacky St Valentine Day signs droop from the ceiling of this cavernous club, and desultory dancing from the teenage crowd of 100 or so precedes Sway's entrance, at past 1am. It's a world away from media-infested London, and he is visibly disappointed at the turnout. He gives it his best shot anyway. A surprisingly imposing, gruffly charismatic figure in black, with a face-shielding Union flag bandanna he soon discards, he takes a while to find his range. The lyrics of "This is My Demo" hurtle by indistinguishably, his greatest strength lost in the mix. He emphasises what he's about with "Slow Down", a put-down of club violence to a skeletal, near-jungle beat.
"Can you hear every word?" he asks, before moving on to "Flo Fashion", with its querying of bling bought on the never-never. Many of the small crowd know the words, and there's a knot of excitement at the front. But the rest seem half-bored.
So, Sway goes out on a limb to reach them, requesting subjects, from astrophysics to bus fares, that he weaves into a freestyle rap. Exploring the implications of playing a joint called Destiny, and bemoaning the lukewarm attendance, it's rough-edged, but proves his skills are real. However, this felt like an out-of-town try-out for the real show to come. Give him time.
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