It’s not always easy to stand out in the world of music production.The sphere is competitive, and requires a huge amount of creativity, innovation and deviation away from repetitive trends that often dominate radios and other commercial outlets. But even more than having a distinguishing factor about the art itself and catering to different personalities, it’s staying business-minded, and understanding your role within the industry and the huge power that producers have that all make for a well-rounded musical artist.
Enter Swish 8-8
“As much as we respect the art, as the indie world, we should also respect the business side of it. You need to perfect both, so that artists aren’t looking for labels to sign them or put them on radio, ‘niggas’ should be able to do that for themselves.”
Swish 8-8 is an independent music producer, currently based in Johannesburg. He began playing around with creating music during grade 6 and grade 7, meaning that he’s spent a solid amount of time cultivating the smooth sound that he’s now well-known and appreciated for – a sound that he has become very comfortable with.
Swish 8-8‘s beats are emotional, and just as they allow for rappers to aggressively rap over them, they are equally as soothing and allow for calming vocals from singers or, in many cases, for no other accompaniment. With influences traced from kwaito to country music to the burst in vibrant sounds that emerged within the Pretoria house music scene in the early 2000’s, its no surprise that Swish 8-8 is as diverse as he is.
In this interview with Swish 8-8, he touches on a number of things that fall under the music umberella, mainly focusing on how his sound has developed into what it is today, and as well as the relationship between rappers, the public and the music producers in South Africa that play such a prominent role within the music industry….
How did you get into producing music?
SWISH I guess what made me want to start was FOMO. As a kid, seeing people dance to songs that came from speakers was weird. My fascination was with how these songs came about in the first place and how these songs were able to make people react in a certain way. I was obsessed with trying to find out how music was made, without even know what music is. I was fascinated by how the frequencies were manipulated to provoke a certain reaction out of people and make them either dance, cry, laugh etc. I wanted to gain that ability so that I could use it for good, obviously. Another thing was that, at that time, I used to jot down things, trying to be a rapper. My problem was that I didn’t have beats.
I didn’t only have lyrical ideas, but I had ideas as to what the whole song is going to sound like, already in my head.
From that, because I had already started writing lyrics, I wanted to complete the song. That’s what dragged me into starting the beat making process. From there on I figured that I like making beats more than writing lyrics. So, I just decided to pour more energy and focus into the composing and producing side of things.
What influences did you have growing up that contributed to your sound today?
SWISH What influenced me, growing up, was the streets. At home, my parents only really listened to music when I was young. They listened to a lot of country music, especially my father because he had the tapes. From that, I got some sort of melody structures in my head without even realizing it. There was a point in my life when my parents stopped listening to music. The only music they would listen to was when the radio was on, so, when I went out into the streets, that’s when I would hear music the most by means of cats playing songs in their houses just loud as fudge for everyone to hear, by means of birthday parties and by means of seeing certain music videos on TV. But, I got influenced mostly by the music that was coming out of Pretoria – cats in Pretoria were doing this genre of house called “bass and drums”, well at-least that’s what I termed it based on an album by Dj Cee and Mujava called Bass and Drums Masters, where it was house music but just purely drums and bass and a few other elements. Hip-Hop is literally not in my beginning stages. I started listening to Hip-Hop when one of my friends’ brother got Skwatta Kamp, 50 Cent and Eminem CD’s and my friend played them for us. Because I listened to a lot of kwaito at that time, when he played the Skwatta Kamp stuff I thought it was kwaito because I hadn’t heard the boom-bap stuff they made before the Mkhukhu Funkshen album. I thought it was very intricate kwaito because they said more stuff and the music had more interesting patterns.
Growing up I was very multi-genred, I didn’t understand the concept of making just one genre.
So, I guess I grew up on mostly the urban genres that you would hear on the streets.
So right now, would you consider yourself a hip-hop producer?
SWISH Now I consider myself a Hip-Hop producer because that is the primary genre which I make beats for. But, I think I just make music. I don’t classify something under a genre until it is done. I could make a beat and decide later if rap lyrics will fit on it or sung lyrics.
When going into a making a song or a project, what’s your creative process like? A lot of your music, like Crush, has concepts behind it.
SWISH My creative process, growing up, was by means of getting inspiration from an unknown source – I literally used to come up with songs in my head before I could make music. So, I guess when it comes to creating a song, the process would just be rhythms coming spontaneously out of silence, and then, making something out of those sporadic rhythms. After that, I’d then go on the computer and lay some ideas down. Sometimes I go into it with a certain mood or feel and draw from that. Most of the time I make music out of emotion and I stick with the frequency that oscillates with how I am feeling. Another process is to use other people’s ideas and sample. For me that is the easiest way to create a beat because all I would be doing is taking somebody’s musical idea, chopping it and messing around with it until a new song comes out of it. So for me, when it comes to ultimately putting it out, I listen to whatever I made and create a concept from what is already there. If I make an EP like Micropenis, where the creation process was weird and the result was songs with weird patterns and structures, the concept behind it will be weird as well.
I haven’t made a song or an EP from a concept that was already in existence. I always draw ideas from what I’m hearing.
Not long ago producers came out with the Producers Must Rise campaign from Tweezy who felt that producers aren’t getting recognized enough. Do you feel that that’s true?
SWISH Well, within the industry, not among the masses. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the general public these days put the music before the lyrics. But, I don’t know if it’s a these days situation. I wouldn’t really say that the masses aren’t showing producers love, but the industry isn’t really respecting what we do because you’ll find that certain artists approach producers with enormous ego’s.
Some rappers think that because they’re the face of the music, they’re the most important part of the song. But, they forget that radio can play a beat but will close to never play an acapella.
I think that’s where the whole producers Rise comes in, because we are trying to be recognized by the industry and pleading with vocalists and rappers to take us as seriously as they would tale Timbaland or whoever. They forget that when they’re done making a song, they’re going to get booked for shows, they’re going to be on TV, they’re going to get endorsements – they’re going to get money from so many avenues which the person who made the beat won’t be getting money from. They get all that money while we’re trying to get the scraps of the royalties here and there. An artist can, literally, perform all over South Africa without their music being on radio, so the beat maker isn’t even getting performance royalties from radio stations. The beat-maker probably wouldn’t even be getting performance royalties from the shows due to artists not even taking care of their performance royalty submissions and venues/promoters not paying their license as well. But, the artists got their performance fee and smiling all the way to the bank. So I think it is just frustration from beat-makers. I guess, as a rapper you have to be very confident to even want to rhyme in-front of people, but when the confidence is not managed it turns into arrogance. Another thing for me that I can couple with the Producers must Rise movement is a Free Must Fall movement. You’re not going to go to an architect, say “make me a plan” and not pay for it. You’re going to go to a doctor and get a free consultation. I think we just need to respect each other as people. Some cats paid a lot of money to gain and improve their skills in making beats you know. Some cats put enormous amounts of hours in perfecting their craft. I believe that beat-makers should be taken as seriously as architects, doctors, lawyers etc. It all boils down to respect.
What are your thoughts on the Joburg hip hop scene?
SWISH There is the scene that is bubbling under and the scene that has taken over and that has been around for years. The “bubbling under” scene is the scene where many of the artists have a lot of respect for the art first before they will have respect for marketing or the business side of things.
In SA, the independent side is growing and it’s really lovely because we’ve been exposed to so much through the internet. If it blows up and becomes commercial, then we’re going to have a very beautiful industry where the music is just nice.
The only positive thing I can say about the [current] commercial scene is that they have also elevated their sound quality. But, we always end up taking too much tips from the foreign industries that we forget to maintain a sound which is unique to us. Quite soon, the playing field is going be leveled as cats can now strongly market themselves on the internet. But, in my view there will always be the two sides of hip-hop which is the commercial and the independent (underground). There’s a lot to look out for in the “bubbling under” scene and I urge people to start looking for more South African artists on the internet, you will be blown away.
What kind of impact do you want to leave of the music industry?
SWISH I don’t have aspirations of changing the world or anything like that. Personally, what I want to leave behind is a culture of cats in the industry exchanging their talents with finances involved. Even cats in the independent industry. A culture of artists knowing the industry in and out so that they can take better care of their business. A culture of respecting art in terms of making sure that your primary focus is in making the best music and not just being obsessed with getting played on radio or getting hundreds of girls. Just respect what you do, whatever it is. I have a lot of beats on my computer that I will never release because I don’t think it is at the level that I want people to see me on or see the industry on. Right now, the industry is being saturated with so much non-sense and the negative side of being an artist that people forget that music is a respectable art and lucrative way of making a living. So, I would like to spark or bring back a culture of positivity, respect and unity. There’s such a lack of unity because people are cliquey. If we have some sort of unity and structure as an industry, where we respect each other and what we do, we will be able to get so much more money into the music industry…