Sway and Tech’s legacy will always be cemented in the annuals of hip-hop for what their legendary radio show, The Wake Up Show, did for hip-hop in the nineties. Through their radio show the bay area duo helped provide a platform for hip-hop artists from both coasts, but also gave credibility to some east coast artist who might not have received love from the west if not for Sway & Tech’s co-sign. The show would also lead to the duo releasing compilation mixtapes and freestyle mixes taken from their show. It’s safe to say that Sway & Tech were to the west coast what Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito were to the east coast. Sway will also be remembered for being the dread-headed hat wearing host of MTV News in the early 2000’s (back when MTV still played videos). He recently took on the role as the host for MTV’s revamped version of TRL, and you can hear him every weekday morning hosting his SiriusXM radio show Sway In The Morning on Shade 45, which I listen to religiously. Yet with all Sway and Tech have accomplished in hip-hop, its safe to say that none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the subject of today’s post, Concrete Jungle.
Sway who was an inspiring emcee, and King Tech who was a b-boy with a curiosity for deejaying, met as teenagers back in Oakland. They along with some other fellas linked up and formed a group called the Flynamic Force. Time would eventually weed out the others, leaving only Tech and Sway who would put in the work and record their own music. Tech would continue to hone his skills on the turntables and behind the boards, while Sway would work on his pen game, and the duo would eventually win a contest that allowed them to play their music on a local radio station, creating a local buzz that would lead to them getting Giant Records attention, where they would sign a deal and release their debut album, Concrete Jungle in the summer of 1991.
Sway would handle the rhyming with Tech holding down the production on Concrete Jungle. The album would ultimately flop, becoming a footnote on their resume, but it would also become the foundation Sway & Tech would build their hip-hop legacy upon.
Intro – Concrete Jungle opens with a skit that has Sway getting on a bus where he runs into a homeboy he hasn’t seen in a while. The two chop it up (at one point Sway asks about his homie’s brother, and his homie lets Sway know he was shot. Sway then comes off like an insensitive bastard, as he breezes over it and goes into the next question without even asking if his brother’s okay or still alive for that matter) before a third homeboy gets on the bus, then melee breaks out, followed by gun shots, setting up the first song of the evening. This skit is way too long. They could have cut this in half and still accomplished what they were shooting for (no pun intended).
Concrete Jungle – Sway and Tech get the title track out the way right away. Tech provides a smooth mid-tempo groove that Sway uses to give a street report on the drama that goes on everyday in the hood, aka the concrete jungle. Sway sounds like a respectable emcee and Tech’s instrumental is pretty dope. Nice start to the evening.
Devastating – Tech brings hard drums, tribal drums, a whistle and chops up a dope female vocal soundbite, that all cumulate into a favorable instrumental. Sway spits forgettable rhymes over it, but he doesn’t take away from the dopeness of Tech’s backdrop.
Baddest Mutha On 2 Turntables (Remix) – This is basically Sway’s ode to his deejay. The song opens with Tech doing some corny deejay cuts at a live show, and then Sway spends the rest of the song paying homage to his deejay via rhyme. I don’t know why I find it funny hearing Sway say “muthafucka”, but for some reason it makes me chuckle. I appreciate the sentiment, but the song isn’t all that impressive.
Rock Steady – Sway’s rhymes and delivery sound every bit like 1991 on this one, and that’s not a compliment. Tech’s drum beat sounds like the basic drum pattern you would beat out on the table during your school lunch cipher back in the day. He adds some cheesy sounding keyboard elements to it, and amazingly, it sounds pretty dope.
Let Me See You Move – House music was king in the early nineties, and even hip-hop artists were jumping on the wave, mixing hip-hop with house. That is exactly what Sway and Tech do with this one. Unfortunately, like many of the songs that have tried to mix the two genres before it, this one also fails. Tech’s instrumental is corn, Sway sounds like a poor man’s Freedom Williams and the uncredited nasally male vocalist on the hook begins to grate on the ears after a while. This was trash.
New Dimension – More hip-hop/house fusion. This probably sounded amazing playing in the clubs back in the nineties, but as a record on its own merit, it sounds corny and very dated.
Future Sound – Tech provides a smooth groove with a deep bass line, while Sway’s in battle mode and gets pretty lyrical “xing off the fonies” and “fuckin’ up the rips offs”. Well done, gentlemen.
In Control – Tech’s drum pattern on this one is pretty basic, but the guitar loop that comes in on the break and the slick horn loop laced throughout the song brings this instrumental to life. Sway sounds cool on the mic, but the true star of this one is Tech’s instrumental.
Bum Rush The Sound – Again, Sway’s rhymes sound a little dated, but Tech’s production work on this one is phenomenal. From his cuts on the breaks, to the nasty sax loop laced throughout the song, I was very impressed.
Time 4 Peace – It’s been awhile since any song on the album has even remotely been related to the Concrete Jungle theme (like, since the first song), but Sway and Tech get things back on track with this one. Tech loops up some Isaac Hayes for the backbone of his funky smooth groove, while Sway discusses more neighborhood dramas and calls for peace in the hood. This was adequate.
Follow 4 Now (Remix) – I never heard the original, but I’m not sure how I feel about this remix. Sway sounds decent enough on the mic, but Tech’s instrumental seems like it’s all over the place and never finds an identity.
It’s Not Over – Another party track from the duo. Over an instrumental that has remnants of house spilled all over it, Sway drops cliché lines about making your body move to Tech’s beat. The song is pretty corny, but the female vocal sample on the hook gives it a nice soulful touch, that saves the song from being a complete lost.
Same Old Thang – For the last song of the evening, Tech sets the mood with a laid back piano loop and turns it into a dope instrumental with a very serious feel. Sway uses it to call out the biters and copycats in this here game (yep, they even existed back in 1991), but he sounds sleepy and stiff reciting his rhymes. No worries, Tech’s instrumental is nasty enough to keep you entertained by itself.
I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling optimistic going into listening to Concrete Jungle for the first time. I respect what both Sway and Tech have contributed to the culture, collectively and individually, but I just wasn’t sure what to expect from them musically. Even though it’s clumsily titled (being only two songs touch on the subject), Concrete Jungle is a pretty decent album. Some of Sway’s rhymes sound dated and stiff, but he still comes across as a serviceable emcee. Without question, it’s Tech’s production that truly carriers Concrete Jungle. There are a few missteps (i.e. his house/hip-hop fusion experiments) but sonically, Tech provides quality backdrops throughout Concrete Jungle, which makes me wonder why he wasn’t tapped to produce more artist’s songs after this project. It may be a footnote on their resume’s, but it not a bad debut. I would have been interested to hear what a follow-up project from the duo would have sounded like.