Balancing optimism and realism: a Swing interview

Pictures by Daniil Zozulya

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Some might recognize Swing as one-third of the rap formation L’Or Du Commun, but most heads already know this man has his own story to tell.

Ever since his 2018 solo debut album Marabout, the Brussels-based rapper has made a name for himself with a leftfield selection of beats and – more importantly – an almost poetic approach to rap, perfectly balancing optimism and realism in his lyrics. Now that his brand new ‘ALT F4 EP’ (which includes a collab with Angèle) is out, we had a few words with this underrated performer.

The title implies you’re starting over fresh. Is that the case?

I usually have an idea in mind before I start working on a new adventure. That was the case with this EP as well, which I got during working on L’Or Du Commun’s next project. ALT F4 isn't just about closing a window; it's about opening a new one too. The music and the message on the EP sounded quite sombre, but clear at the same time, just like closing a window on your screen. It's an interesting comparison, hence the title.

What’s the relation between the material you make solo or the stuff you make as a member of L’Or Du Commun?

There's a place for every idea. With the group, we arrived at a point where we go into a lot of different directions, but some are better explored on your own. For me, there must be some coherence throughout each release. An EP needs to have a clear message to make it work. That's currently the case for my EP now, but obviously I have a lot more to say, both alone and with the group.

The public debate is taken hostage by confrontation: the good versus the bad. In reality, it's never black or white; it's always grey.

In your second single, Gris, you say, “nothing is black and white in my head”. Is that how you view the world?

It perfectly represents the world around me. Sometimes you can find a cold realism in my lyrics, but things are never as simple as 'yes' or 'no', 'black' or 'white'. We all start and end in the same place, so it's up to us to make our lives the way we want them to. In general, that's the message I wanted to bring. 'Gris' implies the nuance we need to deal with the daily things in our lives, which is often nowhere to be found. The public debate is taken hostage by confrontation: the good versus the bad. I want to say that it's never as simple as that. It's never black or white; it's always grey. 'Grey' does a good job of representing the incredibly complex nature of humanity.

There are a lot of great producers on your EP, like De La Fuentes (aka Krisy), Crayon and Sam Tiba. What do you look for in a beat?

Over the years, it has become more apparent to me what I want exactly. First and foremost, me and the producer need to be able to click musically. As of late, I’ve especially become inspired by colder creations in that James Blake-kind of vibe. Crayon, one of the producers on my EP, makes a lot of stuff up the same alley. He proposed a lot of things to me you wouldn't necessarily think of as rap beats. The Angèle collaboration, which he produced, isn't your typical rap instrumental; but that's precisely what made me interested, especially because it's in line with the message of this EP. That said, different projects require different sounds. We'll see how my tastes evolve.

Tell us a little more about the Angèle featuring on the EP. Most people will probably only hear this track of your EP. Do you mind? Or is that part of a strategy to expand your listener base?

As you know, Angèle is the little sister of one of my mates Roméo’s (Elvis, ed.). Well before both of them became more known, me and Angèle’s paths had crossed many times already. When I recorded the track in the studio, I made the chorus in my head, but I felt like it was perfect for a more delicate, female vocalist. She was the first person who came to mind. I texted her, et voila. It didn't go through the record label or anything like that. It was a fairly spontaneous thing. That said, the song isn't typically what you would expect from her. If I ever want to make a real hit, I'm not going to make a track like that. I wanted to do something different here. If I would have given her a more accessible pop-friendly instrumental, I'm sure she wouldn't have been interested. The exciting thing about this song is hearing Angèle on a different vibe. She still did an excellent job, of course. I’m grateful she wanted to join me on this one.

If I would have given Angèle a more accessible pop-friendly instrumental, I'm sure she would not have been interested.

You have a short tour coming up to support the EP release. Most of the dates are in France, only one of them, Ancienne Belgique, takes place on home soil. What’s your take on that?

Well, most of those seven dates are in France because we’re working with a team that has an established network there. Would I like to see more Belgian dates in there? Sure, but I don’t mind the way it is now. Doing a solo show at Ancienne Belgique is impressive regardless, so that still covers the load for me. I prefer doing festival gigs anyways, so I’m sure there will be a lot more local dates this summer. Maybe the Angèle track will get me some attention in Flanders, who knows? Even though the lyrics are French, the song has this kind of Ozark Henry thing going on, which you don’t often hear in Wallonia.

What can we expect from you, once you're done touring?

You’ll see me at the festivals, or you’ll see me in the studio with L’Or Du Commun. I might be working on a bigger solo project after that, but I can’t tell you too much about that just yet. I’m always in the studio, no holidays (laughs).