Written by Shane George
“I invented swag/poppin’ bottles, putting supermodels in a cab/proof, I guess I got my swagger back/truth.” – Jay-Z in ‘Otis’
The music industry has a history of coining some incredulous phrases that seem to catch wildfire in the dry forests of the youthful minds. The latest addition to this collection: swag. The word was appropriated as a fun and bubbly term that rappers had added to their seemingly endless repertoire of words to further describe their gargantuan egos. The word has now morphed, however, and is now used by almost everybody. From brain dead teeny bopper rappers to west 49 white boys, swag is most likely here to stay for at least the interim. As much as the word makes you want to take a hatchet to the head, have you ever thought of some of the positive implications of the ever-growing popularity of the word?
DISCLAIMER: The word swag is used numerous times in the remainder of this article, so if you really dislike it, grab half a bottle of Advil and a jug of orange juice.
“Gangsta sh*t hereditary, I got it from my Dad/Flow Colder than February with extraordinary swag.” – T.I. in ‘Swagger Like Us’
Before I get into some of the points on how swag could potentially act as any sort of positive force in our society, let’s first get into what swag actually is in hip hop and how the evolution of this word came to be. Swag is simply the manner in which one presents him or herself. It may or may not comprise of one’s personality, personal style, interests and noteworthy actions. The moniker was first utilized as a pretentious and glamorous way of glorifying the lives of rappers living the life of rock stars. Although the actual origin of the word in hip hop is highly disputed, it is hard to deny that the emergence of the song ‘Swagger Like Us’ by rap powerhouses: Jay-Z, Kanye West, T.I. and Lil Wayne really commercialized the term. After the Grammy stage-worthy smash hit, the term swag became nothing short of a household phrase. The word blew up and was used by all rappers similar to the all star cast from ‘Swagger Like Us’ as well as unconventional rappers.
“I’m swagged out/God damn I’m swagged out/Couldn’t see me bitch I feel like a Mac truck.” – Lil B in ‘Everything Based’
This is when things changed for the worst as the term had entered the dark ages. The cause of the decline of the credibility of swag had two main culprits: Soulja Boy and Lil B. These two unconventional rappers took the word to another level by obnoxiously utilizing the word at every moment they could. Whether whispering swag adlibs during their verses or just screaming the word at the top of their lungs on corny and empty hooks, Soulja Boy and Lil B successfully killed the word while spreading it to an audience the term was never meant to reach. With releases like ‘Turn my Swag on’ and ‘Look Like Jesus’ the credibility of these two rappers as well as the word swag reached an all time low. Soon after the death of swag, Odd Future, led by Tyler the Creator, continued the butchering of the term as they utilized the word swag in numerous of their songs. Odd Future had introduced swag to the suburbs of North America. Even Justin Bieber now uses the term regularly which now had the nation of obsessive pre-pubescent girls utilizing swag as well.
“And I keep the illest, trillest, bitches while I’m swaggin’ it/Crush a bit, little bit/that’s my pursuit of happiness.” – A$AP Rocky in ‘Hands on the Wheel’
Where is the word swag today? To put it simply, it’s still inflicting an intense amount of pain for suburban parents all over the world but the path of swag is starting to brighten along the horizon. Rappers with a better reputation as well as a unique style are starting to utilize and endorse the term more in their music. The prolific group known as Black Hippy, led by Kendrick Lamar, occasionally partake in ‘swag raps’ as well as the diverse A$AP Rocky with his large repertoire of flows and styles.
“Thinking how these rap niggas got to be faking/Whole Style obviously copied, pasted-plagiarized swag/May arrive last but when it’s all said and done I’ma be ahead of them.” – J. Cole in ‘Back to the Topic’
There is much doubt that the term will ever gain any sort of meaningful credibility after its journey through the commercial machine of the music industry, however, that does not mean it does not contribute positively to society in certain ways. It’s really difficult to imagine the positive implications of a word that can pose as such an annoyance but consider the following conversation:
Justin: “Hey Tyler! Why are you sticking that marker up your nose?!”
Tyler: “Why does your haircut make you look like a lesbian?”
Justin: “That’s my swag!”
Swag is often just a rationalization for one to be them self. It promotes youth to be unique and comfortable in whom they are no matter how strange or different they may be. Before swag, it would be very difficult for anyone to justify an obscure or otherwise out of the norm trait that one possesses. Other terms that have a root from the rap industry often have a negative influence on the masses because they are often linked to superficial beliefs towards women or glorifying drug abuse. Swag, however, promotes self confidence, originality and self awareness in a manner that is difficult to challenge. For the most part, the allocation of swag to an obscure trait can instantly place it in a more respectable light because the term denotes being proud of the particular trait.
So next time you hear the word swag and start to feel your head split open from the pain, take a second listen to make sure it’s not someone trying to defend who they are.
If that’s not the case, just tell them to shut the fuck up.