Orlando hip-hop legend Swamburger redefines his sound and keeps 'em guessing

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Orlando hip-hop legend Swamburger is poised to release a new solo album, Tenfold, released on his own AGDEPPA label through Dutchie Music in Miami. Originally slated to drop this month, the album was pushed to a Feb. 28 release and will be available on all streaming platforms. This will be the artist's first solo album since 2002's The Roots of Kin.

Orlando Weekly readers first got to know Swamburger (Swam to his friends) 21 years ago when he was featured in a 1991 cover story. The breakthrough artist had brought his talents from Chicago to Orlando and was quickly becoming a fixture in our local hip-hop scene.

Swam was a key igniter at Dante's Jazz Garage, Firestone and Sapphire Supper Club's crucial Phat-N-Jazzy nights. He went on to tour as an MC/producer in the hip-hop supergroup Solillaquists of Sound, along with MC Alexandrah, poet Tonya Combs and producer/composer DiVinci. To this day, the four are inextricably linked.

What Tenfold shares in common with the Solillaquists of Sound albums are socially conscious lyrics and sophisticated musical compositions. And, like all of Solillaquists of Sound's work, the Tenfold listening journey is complex and demanding. You'd best not choose this as background music.

"Life Commits," the first track on Tenfold, is a worthy introduction to the album in that it accurately sets the tone: It is serious in making key points about lives lived under the heavy cloud of racial injustice, it is repetitive to drive those points home, and it is sonically glamorous, deftly weaving together a wide range of instruments and sounds to overwhelming effect.

Coming with grown-up Aries energy, the opening lines of the first verse charge hard:
I been around some years to demonstrate the benefits of
Kicking it with jazz-governed personage
Respect due to learning with an arsenal of permanent pillars
Piercing through the surface of artificial services

The next two tracks, "Heartless" and "Talk Is Cheap When Time Is Money," are very much in the same vein as the first, giving the listener the impression that the album will steamroll ahead without much variety.

This is false, as the opening notes of "All Hail Open Doors" amply demonstrate. Released as a single in September of last year (and duly spotlit by Bao Le-Huu here in OW), the song conjures up the sounds of Chicago-born dance music while lyrically acknowledging the artist's Orlando home.

If seen as a vehicle for encouraging Black thought and communicating truths about the Black experience, the song operates in stealth mode, wrapped in club-friendly sounds. The influencer in Swam must be secretly delighted at the through of a club full of sweaty, dancing people moving to his thought-provoking words:

Yo, how you don't remember this?
Banging ass beats with an African twist
Don't forget who you be!
Not to the fans
The person you can stand to see

Now let's talk about track six, "Innocent." It's exciting, passionate, hopeful, real. It starts with a sample from a viral speech given by Star Wars actor John Boyega at a Black Lives Matter rally in London on June 3, 2020: "We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless. And now is the time. I ain't waiting."

Swam is similarly bold.

Did you make mention of the bigger picture?
They declared war on your norms
If you don't want trouble, you can claim that you're guilty
Seize the threat to please your debt
Selling yourself short tames the vision
How you're depicted can change the sentence
But I'm ... I'm innocent

Most of the album's beats were produced by Swam himself, a reminder that he continues to actively produce beats for rapper E-Turn and a select few artists hand-picked for their vision, talent and alignment with Swam's energy.

Still demonstrating the leadership first seen two decades ago, Swam mentors young artists, offering advice liberally, if not beats:

"If you're a hip-hop artist, don't just go to the hip-hop clubs. Go listen to jazz and rock. Go out and make a lot of new friends. Be everywhere and listen to everything. You go to a rock show and be like, 'Oh, wow, that's crazy.' You're in the scene, happy with these cats and know a lot of people. You connect and stay in touch with these people. People don't need to know that you're an artist at that point. It's not about you, it's about the music. And when you do release something, people are like, 'I didn't know James does that.' And they're excited."

Swam's thoughts on self-assessment indicate how ruthless he is with himself: "Behind closed doors, compare and contrast what you're hearing with your own music," he says. "Work on your shit. I'm saying, don't be afraid to re-record. Create the greatest version of your music."

For devotees of the underground hip-hop scene waiting with bated breath for Tenfold to drop, there will likely be widespread agreement that this new album is the greatest version of Swam's music — while for the uninitiated, it's an opportunity to meet your unassuming Baldwin Park neighbor and hear him in a new light. Bet they don't know that a king of conscious rap walks among them.

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