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When Swagg was nine years old, the rapper’s father shot his mom and then himself. He’s grown up around gang violence. “I’ve seen people get shot in my street,” he tells me.

Born as G. Ford, Swagg says he was scammed by a record producer when he was 12. After he started to get local radio airplay this year for his CD Respect My Swagg, that station, Blazin’ 98.9, dropped its hip-hop music format for sports.

Swagg, 20, has taken all these setbacks in stride. He says it’s the ringtone rappers who are killing him.

“Ringtone rappers are slowly deteriorating hip-hop.” He says the hip-hop industry has become dominated by one-hit wonders who make silly but catchy tunes that can generate millions of lucrative ringtone downloads for their labels. “What these people are putting out is more like a jingle with three repetitive words. I mean, ‘Superman’ by Soulja Boy? Come on. It’s simple shit like that that is categorized as hip-hop, but it’s not really rap.”

Swagg says his music “will always be street.” He grew up around Oceanside’s Deep Valley gangs.

“My music is reality-based. Oceanside is still really segregated. It is still ghetto. There are bad activities going on. I knew five people who were murdered near my house [from 1995 to 1998]. But I could separate in my mind the people that are just grinding to live from people who are just doing it to fuck up society.”

Swagg says local hip-hop artists are starting to get more opportunities to perform, thanks to Escondido venues like Woodies and Anita’s and SD venues such as Brick by Brick, Belo, and Deco’s that have started to open up to live hip-hop artists. Swagg records on his own label, B.$.T. Music.

“I did the American Idol auditions last year. I made it through three rounds. I stood in front of Simon, Paula, and Randy. There is a lot of politics behind American Idol. They tell you to come and audition, but they don’t tell you that you have to be there at midnight and wait outside until the sun comes up. They already had in mind who was going to win in advance. There was a few thousand people who didn’t even get to perform who waited in line. When I was told they were gonna send me home, they had a dude in a banana suit that couldn’t sing a lick of harmony and they passed him on to the next round.”

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