b. Derek Andrew Safo, London, England. UK rapper Sway was already well known and respected on the underground scene by the time he registered on the mainstream radar in summer 2006, when his self-released debut album This Is My Demo was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize.
Raised in Hornsey, in the London borough of Haringey, Safo began working in the underground club scene after leaving school. He made his name as a producer, working with a number of aspiring UK rappers and establishing a reputation for his inventive beats. He began writing his own rhymes as a sideline, but before long had started performing on the club scene in MC battles under the pseudonyms Sway or Sway DaSafo. His next move was to set up his own Dcypha Productions label to distribute his home-produced mixtapes, This Is My Promo Vol. 1 and This Is My Promo Vol. 2. The tapes sold strongly on the underground scene and prompted Sway to complete the recording of a debut album proper.
Further encouragement came in September 2005 in the shape of a MOBO award for Best Hip Hop Act, with Sway defeating a number of internationally successful rappers in the process. This Is My Demo, so named because the rapper remained independent and unsigned, was released at the end of the year. The album received praise for its smooth fusion of US-styled rap and urban music with the home grown grime and two-step genres, with lyrics that both celebrated and satirised his homeland in a deft and humorous fashion. The album was also celebrated as the perfect antidote to the deadening influence of US bling rap on the UK scene. Shortly after completing a UK tour with the Streets, it was announced that Sway’s debut album had been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.