“I’m just Trying to Build My Own Name”: An Interview with AZSwaye

Will Hagle sits down with AZSwaye and friends to discuss family, growing up in LA, and his new tape, 'SwayeMadden.'
By    February 13, 2018

Additional questions by Jake Slesinski and Mike Seiler.

AZSwaye told me he was bringing “a few people” along with him in the Uber from Downey to Silver Lake to record an interview at the Red Lion. He showed up with a group of eight or nine friends, including rapper AZBenz and producer LD Tha Monsta, who insists that people need to spell his name like that and stop writing “LD The Monster.” AZSwaye also brought a camera man who never spoke one word, and a guy who introduced himself as Baccwoods M, and Baccwoods L, that sat in the corner with sunglasses and a hoodie on, downed two pretzels and a lot of beer, and at one point loudly interrupted the interview by answering the phone and saying “What you doing? You in the bathroom?” What was supposed to be a simple interview turned loud and chaotic at points, with various members of the group chiming in with their own answers to questions directed at AZSwaye.

The loose, fun group dynamic of AZSwaye and his friends is reminiscent of Drakeo and the Stinc Team, a group with which AZ Cult has been associated since they were in high school. AZSwaye makes a similar type of music, too: the natural evolution of Los Angeles rappers who grew up jerkin’ and hearing hyphy hits played at parties.

AZSwaye, who recently released both a mixtape entitled SwayeMadden and a four-song EP called Cultboy, brings a sharp lyrical focus to a genre and generation that often favors sounds and vibes over words. Though he still favors the former, his appreciation for lyricism is evident in his influences. He cites 50 Cent, Kanye, Future, and “the old Lil’ Wayne” as his favorite rappers. He claims the only artists he listens to these days are Dave East, Sade, and Joey Bada$$. Just before this interview took place, he dropped a freestyle called “Free Meek.”

AZSwaye learned at least something about lyricism from rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, who he spent time around growing up. Even though he doesn’t like to use his family ties to help himself out, AZSwaye’s uncle is Anthony Top Dawg Tiffith, and his father spent time around Death Row records in its heyday. He claims that that’s just LA, though: a small town at the end of the day where no one’s too distant from celebrity. He even found out recently that he’s somehow related to both Joog and 03 Greedo.

Despite his connections, AZSwaye’s buzz has been built naturally. “Ride With My Glock,” from 2016’s Throw Awayz 3, became a local hit largely through word of mouth. SwayeMadden is a focused project with beats from RonRon and other of-the-moment producers that shows AZSwaye is developing beyond just another artist with a hit SoundCloud single. He claims to have a clear head now that he’s quit lean, and his next goal is to release a full-length project.

AZSwaye has had a better education in music and business than most young rappers in LA. It helps that he has the talent to back that knowledge up. If he stays on track, he could follow his uncle’s example and succeed on his own. —Will Hagle


So you live in Downey?


AZSwaye: No, that’s AZBenz’s house. We were just there coolin’ doing a lot of gang stuff. I stayed on 112th and Broadway in South Central but I moved out of there now. I stay in the Valley. Antelope Valley. Can’t be in the streets no more. I don’t want to risk my life and my career.


Is that where you’re recording too?


AZSwaye: Hell no, hell no, hell no. They have no studios out there. I feel like they don’t even have people out there. It’s like the Walking Dead. I be walking outside like, “Where the people at?” Nowhere. But I record at AZChike’s house. I record in his room. In his bedroom. I did “Ride With My Glock” there. I did every mixtape there. The Cultboy EP, I just did that in an hour at his house. Four songs. I did that in an hour just to challenge myself.


Did you have the songs written?


AZSwaye: Yeah, I had the songs written. But it was the thought of me just being able to record them all without having to keep doing double takes and all that. And I told everyone I was gonna do it in an hour. And I came from my house to Chike’s house and they was doubting me. Like him and Benz and them were like, “You not gonna do it tonight.” I did it that night. But I didn’t drop it that night.

It gets tricky, because I don’t know how to mix and do the extra stuff. So I had to send it off to two different people. The other dude—I’m on his head—SG Cracks, he don’t got a work ethic. So I sent it to my boy Jacks of All Trades. Shout out my boy Jacks of All Trades. He did that in an hour, like I did mine in an hour. We just did it, knocked it out. I told him now and forever, you’re gonna mix all my songs.


What’s your usual turn around on songs?


AZSwaye: When I want to record I feel like I have to do at least two, three-plus songs. If I don’t I’ll probably end up feeling bad about myself. But if I end up doing one song, that song’s gotta be like I’m putting my all into it. That would be a hit. I gotta have a hit if I’m gonna take my time on one song. But I haven’t had the chance to take my time on one song. I don’t know. It’s just natural. It just be coming. I just do it.


What is AZ Cult?


AZSwaye: That’s a deep question. Who are we, as in people? Who are we as a group? What does it mean? AZ Cult, we’re just brothers. Just three talented dudes (AZSwaye, AZBenz, and AZChike). Honestly we didn’t even think about really rapping at first or doing this music stuff. We were really just homies and always chillin’ at Chike’s house and inviting girls over or whatever the case may be, just chilling, and it just happened. I can’t even really tell you, bro. Really we’re just like a family. I don’t want to say we’re a group, a posse, a clique, none of that. We’re really like family. I’d die behind these niggas. I don’t know what else to tell you. We’re just brothers. Talented dudes.


Are you putting out a project together?


AZSwaye: Oh yeah. That’s coming this year. It might happen tonight. We got music stacked up. It’s gonna get ugly. We just some brothers who are really just talented and stick to our own camp and we just show love to people who show love to us. I really don’t know how to explain that, bro. I can’t. It’s just natural, honestly.


Do you usually have beats before you come in to record?


AZSwaye: Unless I go to the studio with a producer or something, I have beats. If I already have a beat…It’s just crazy. My whole work process be crazy. I can hit up LD (tha Monsta) or RonRon or somebody and be like, “Bro just send me a beat, bro,” and I be in the mood or something and be writing and I’ll be like, “I’m gonna send it back to ya’ll tonight,” and that’s how it goes. I don’t know. But now I’m coming with more of a schedule in my music, though. I’m trying to space projects out and be smart and strategic.


Because sometimes people put out too much and people get sick of it?


AZSwaye: Facts. I think I did that in the beginning. I dropped “Ride With My Glock” and I dropped like four other songs with it. I feel like I should’ve just dropped that. You can for sure flood too much.


So are you working on a full length album too?


AZSwaye: Yeah. That’s my next thing. A real project, with real producers. SwayeMadden finally came out this year. I’ve been saying Swayemadden since 2015. I’ve been wanting to do that since 2015.


So it’s kind of been like a long passion project in the works?


AZSwaye: Facts. I’ve been wanting to do that project since 2015, but I didn’t feel like I should put a project out at that moment or anything. I wanted to go through more situations in my life to have a full-bodied project that had different, like one, two, three. The beginning is stuff that was going on in my life. The middle part is like struggles that I had going on in 2017. Then the end is like me telling ya’ll about all the stuff I was going through in 2017. So it’s like a story, if you really listen. It’s like me being in the field for real for real. It’s like plays. Teaching people how to survive.


Even though it’s been a long process in the making, it couldn’t have come about had the time not taken place.


AZSwaye: Yeah, facts, facts, facts. You got that right, for real. Dang. That was right.


I just saw today that you’re Top Dawg’s nephew. Is that true?


AZSwaye: Yeah, I am. That’s crazy that ya’ll even found that out. Shout out unc, man. Top Dawg, he’s doing his thing. That’s fam.


What was it like growing up around him?


AZSwaye: He’s real secretive. You never know what he’s doing. Obviously, ya’ll can see that in the music world. You never know what they ’bout to do, because that’s how he is. It was kinda crazy growing up with him and all that. He always told me to never ask for a handout. Never feel like you worked too much. You always gotta work, period. Even if you’re successful, you still gotta work.

So he always just showed me the right things. But we never had, like, deep deep talks. Because he never was a talkative dude. You’d barely see him, too. He’d always be in his room upstairs if someone came over, and Kendrick and them would be downstairs in the studio. He never really talked, though. You never really knew too much about him. It was cool, but…


Did you get to hang around Kendrick and those guys while they were recording?


AZSwaye: Yeah, I got an interview where I talked about how Kendrick gave me his t-shirt to wrap around my arm when I was about to bleed to death, but I don’t know. That’s just nothing. That’s regular. I don’t be liking to talk about them because it sounds fake. Like, it sounds weird. Like, “You know Kendrick? Then why you ain’t with him?”


Yeah, but did you learn anything about music from watching them?


AZSwaye: Yeah, I learned a lot from them. That’s all it is. I can hit them up. I go to all the little Rolling Loud events and all that, artist badges, because of them. Shout out to them. They make sure I do all of that, all the music stuff. It’s never a problem with them. I got certain stuff that’s gonna happen with them, too. I just ain’t announced it yet, because that ain’t—

LD Tha Monsta: He don’t like to eat off fame.

AZSwaye: Yeah, you gotta build your own name. That’s cool, that’s family, but I’m just trying to build my own name.


Do you think there’s a difference between those guys and the younger people out of LA right now?


AZSwaye: Very. I understand the difference between what people are doing right now and what they did. So I don’t really be worried too much about what everybody be doing right now because I understand how the rap game goes. I’ve seen a lot of stuff that they done did, how they got there, the steps they had to take. So a lot of stuff people doing, it’s cool, but I know how to play the game the smart way.

Like, I’ve had meetings to do deals and all that, but that’s not how you want to do it. I saw how my uncle did it, so I want to do it like that. Self-made. But then say for instance I make five hundred thousand, six hundred thousand of my own money. I’d go to a label with me and my homies and we’d try to come up with a partnership and they can just be my distributors or whatever the case may be. I don’t need them for anything else. I just want them to distribute and do the other stuff that I can’t do.


Did you guys grow up listening to Bay Area music at all?


AZSwaye: Not me.

LD Tha Monsta: Keak Da Sneak was hard as fuck.

AZSwaye: Don’t let LD Tha Monsta lie to ya’ll. I’ma keep it G with ya’ll. I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t listen to Bay music. But you got no choice but to listen to that. Parties play that, period.


The reason I ask is because—


AZSwaye: We got a Bay sound?


Yeah, but also they have the whole do it yourself, independent record labels approach.


AZSwaye: Yeah, we go to the Bay though. AZChike is in the Bay right now. I don’t know, maybe the Bay just rubbed off on us. I didn’t listen to the Bay at all. I listen to stuff like Sade and Dave East. I don’t really listen to a lot of shit.

[people talking]

I’m deadass. They just said I’m bullshitting. My girl in here, my girl can tell you I listen to Sade and Dave East.

[holds up his phone]

Who is this right here in my recent SoundCloud plays? That’s Dave East right? Gunna too, though. Ya’ll gotta listen to Gunna. Go listen to Gunna. I just had to prove that to ya’ll ‘cuz the homies be lying.


So where do you think that new LA sound came from then?


AZSwaye: Honestly, bro, it’s just some feel music. It’s like some lean, in the field, cool music. It’s like a fashion now. It’s like everybody wants to look cool, dress good, and act like they’re in the field. A lot of people might not be in the field, but it’s the thing these days. Fake pimping, stuff like that. The fans gonna live through it through the music.

LD Tha Monsta: They gonna feel like they really out there doing that shit ‘cuz they listening to the lyrics. The beats, that shit’s always going behind it, that shit’s always gonna thump. It’s just everyday life shit. People are gonna see rappers, like he doing that? I want to be like him! So of course they’re gonna try to tag along.


Everyone picks up on what everyone else is doing.


LD Tha Monsta: Pretty much.

AZSwaye: Facts.


Were you friends with the Stinc Team guys growing up?


LD Tha Monsta: I’ve known Drakeo and Ralfy since I was 15.

AZSwaye: Yeah, that’s just the East Side. It was a movement back then. East Side legendary. It was the jerk movement, honestly, that made everybody know everybody. Even if you wasn’t a jerker, it was just this thing. Everyone would go to Del Amo Mall, Foxhills, all kind of stuff, just to meet up. Everybody would get on AIM or your Sidekick, meet up here. Or people would have dinner parties or something.

LD Tha Monsta: Club Heat!

AZSwaye: Oh, Club Heat!

LD Tha Monsta: Crenshaw and Jefferson. It was going down. That’s where all the parties were. That’s where everyone knows each other from.

AZSwaye: That’s how everyone started being cool. Action Figures. What were the names back then? Fantastic Four, Rugratz, Pushaz. YG did jerk music. Everybody linked. Shout out to Pink Dollaz. They were hard.

AZBenz: Why you talking about jerking?

AZSwaye: Cuz I’m telling the real story about LA, homie. They asked us how we linked up with the homies! See, look. I met Benz through Chike. That’s just how that happened. I knew Chike since middle school. That’s just East Side stuff. I went to Gompers Middle School. Right down the street from my house on 112th and Broadway. The school where they break bars. I went to Locke High, too.


Going back to your family’s musical history, your dad was around Death Row?


AZSwaye: How ya’ll do that? Ya’ll on some Narduwar. That’s deep. That’s crazy. Yeah, my pops used to be with Death Row. I used to have the records in my room. I never knew what they were at the time. I thought they were just decorations or something. He used to be with Mike Concepcion and dudes like that. My dad was with them when Mike Concepcion got shot at the BET Awards. He’s my step dad but he’s my real dad ‘cuz he took care of me my whole life. He’s not into music or nothing he was just with Top Dawg, his right hand man. They family. He’s a truck driver these days. I don’t even talk to him much these days. He’s a rolling stone. Papa was a rolling stone. Where he laid his hat, was his home.


So you have the musical blood in your family.


AZSwaye: Facts. For real. I got a lot of family. I just found out that Joog is my cousin. One time when I went to the studio to rap for my uncle when I was real thirsty to be from TDE, after school I went to his house in the rain. I had caught the bus, actually. K Dot was there. I thought my uncle was there but he wasn’t. K Dot came out the studio, I talked to him, that was like the realest convo I ever had with him because he told me some real stuff but I ain’t really gonna put that out there because I’d rather him put that out there. ‘Cuz it’d sound like a cliché. Certain stuff be crazy.


What do you have coming out next?


AZSwaye: I got a whole record with Joog coming out called Swaye For the Record. I just dropped “Free Meek” tonight. Everybody go listen to that. ‘Cuz I was really spitting bars. Go listen to “Ride With My Glock.” I never had a gimmick. Never had a major blog post. I never paid for views, and I’m about to reach a million views. Please, go listen to that. It’s 10,000 away from a million views. I just posted it on SoundCloud. Organic. I did the video, too. That’s at 200,000. I’m really not like an internet dude so I don’t know how to promote myself. And I don’t got a manager. I do everything on my own. With my gang. With my team.