Kanye West and Jay-Z just dropped one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year with Watch The Throne, and on the first official single, “Otis”, Jigga Man claims to have “invented swag.” Now, saying he invented swag could be viewed in the same light as Trey Songz claiming he invented sex in the “yeah, you definitely didn’t invent that” category. After all, icons like James Dean, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis Jr. and James Brown had the meanest swaggers of their day, far surpassing the rappers who overuse the term today. But if we’re talking about naming one artist that popularized the term in the context of which it is used today, we must give it up to the son of Marcy.
Jay-Z is arguably the biggest icon within hip-hop culture, and with that position comes the ability to influence the culture in a way other MCs cannot. Soon after Jay branded the term, every rapper took hold of it, claiming to be the physical representation of its definition. While to “walk or present oneself arrogantly” could be considered a negative, it soon became synonymous with exuding style, confidence and charisma, and every MC would like to think of themselves in those terms–which resulted in excessive overuse. Once T.I.’s smash “Swagger Like Us” featuring Jay, Kanye and Lil Wayne dropped, people loved the record, but were pretty much done with the concept. It fell prey to the “too much of a good thing” trap, and soon became one of the corniest terms in hip-hop vernacular.
Fast forward 5 years and swag is slowly being resurrected by hip-hop’s youngest generation. Artists like Wiz Khalifa, Soulja Boy, and especially LA natives Odd Future are using the term to describe absolutely everything considered fresh, and very few people are attacking them for it. It seems to have found its footing again with a younger crowd that perhaps isn’t aware of its clichéd history. Even if they are aware, they probably don’t care at this point. It is something they own and are breathing life back in to. Its popularity is rising again and without a doubt we will be hearing veterans putting it to use once more. All trends go in cycles, and it seems the concept of swag is back on the upswing.
Jessica Bennett is a freelance music journalist who also goes by “Compton” and “Soulfullyreal.” All three of them are Hip Hop Heads with a column entitled “Welcome to Compton”. For daily musings, check her out at @soulfullyreal.