- Words Rahel Aklilu
- Photography Cosmo Webber
From semi-professional footballer to afroswing aficionado, Swarmz proves he can kick whatever he puts his mind to, whether you “Lyca” it or not!
Bleary-eyed but polite after pulling an all-nighter in his home the studio until nine in the morning, South-East Londoner Brandon ‘Swarmz’ Scott is just days away from embarking on his first headline tour across the United Kingdom. “If I start working on something I want to finish it,” he says, justifying the all nighter. “I don’t like to leave anything unfinished. If I come back at it the next day, I might not have the same energy as before.”
As part of the new-gen afroswing artists, Swarmz seamlessly blends his Jamaican and Bajan roots, taken the fusion of rap, bashment and afrobeats from the university raves to the charts via collabs with the likes of Deno and Tion Wayne. In meshing together migration, movement and music, afroswing (or afrobashment as it’s also referred to) has become celebrated by the masses as well as the musical establishment, with genre pioneer J Hus being nominated for a BRIT for his acclaimed debut album Common Sense. Following this initial success, the power of popular social media pages, paired with vibrant music videos, pushed the movement and the music to the forefront.
Distinctly black and distinctly British, one reason that afroswing has become so universally popular, is because of how fun it is. Always melodic, often romantic and sometimes poetic, afroswing comes without the genre based clashes or egos that often plague the grime or rap games. It’s recipe combining lyrical content and sweet melodies for movement, banished the days of rotating between bashment and UK rap at cramped house parties, becoming the soundtrack of choice — afroswing has something for everyone. As Swarmz puts it: “It’s a thing that brings different countries, different cultures together, all into one.”
These mostly London-based artists, from all corners of the city, are pushing the sound of home, of “Caribbean parents and Nigerian neighbours” as Swarmz says of his influence. Peppering his lyrics with Patois, as well as mirroring West African accents (that are the signature sound of artists like Burna Boy) to fit melodies. Swarmz is without a doubt a product of his environment, something that’s most obvious in his call-out to Greenwich with the now-infamous catchphrase: “This is the nine side!” (AKA Middle Park Avenue, SE9 — the “ninth side” in the South London borough).
Growing up with a Bajan mother and Jamaican father, who he calls “his biggest fans”, there was no shortage of melody in the Swarmz house. “There was always high-tempo, high-energy soca playing on one side, then, sort of, mellow reggae on the other,” he says of his dual heritage. Legends like Bob Marley and Alison Hinds were in rotation, alongside contemporary favourites Vybz Kartel and Popcaan. Two artists Swarmz credits as major influences are dancehall pioneer Super Cat, and the legendary Sean Paul. “I like my music jumpy,” Swarmz says, as exemplified by the Da Beatfreakz-produced “Pumpy”, with Swarmz singing the catchy chorus for the song that features the late Cadet, alongside teen sensations AJ and Deno.
Now at twenty-three years old, Swarmz has grown up in tandem with the genre that he now reps. “I remember when Sneakbo’s ‘Touch Ah Button’ came out, it was the biggest song, it used to go off — it was the starting point for the dancehall and melodic element coming into the scene” he reminisces. “To this day, whenever I see Sneakbo perform it, the crowd knows it word-for-word. The streaming numbers would have been crazy if platforms were around in those times,” he notes, ever the shrewd businessman. With over a million monthly listeners on Spotify and almost two hundred thousand followers on Instagram, Swarmz and his team, consisting mainly of friends he’s grown up with, have maximised the potential of social media.
Breaking out on the scene with the darker “Murda” featuring Birmingham rapper Caps, Swarmz defined and built the sound we know him for today with an emphasis on melody and drum patterns in traditional afroswing style. His own viral hit, the energetic anthem “Lyca”, refers to the infamous mobile network operator. The career defining track materialised when, in a local booth, Swarmz nonchalantly dropped the melody for the song that would change his life. Posting a teaser online “as a joke”, it was picked up by co-founder of music label We Are BLK (Breeding London Kulture), AbdiTV, and SBTV Founder Jamal Edwards, who insisted he release the track properly.
Until the success of “Lyca”, Swarmz had dedicated his entire life to his first love, football, since the age of five (he’s a Gunners fan FYI). He began to attempt a careful balancing act, juggling music and football in his late teens before the music won out.
“Music weren’t in the plan,” he says, “I started playing football at the age of nine, initially to get my energy out because I was such a hyperactive kid, then I ended up getting signed for then-Premier League side Charlton until the age of sixteen before a scholarship and eventually, professional contract with Southend United ” he says of his journey. The ups and downs of a fiercely competitive profession, with constant critique and pressure to perform are nothing new to somebody who has dedicated 12 years of his life to honing a skill, even breaking a nose in the process.
Even though he’d wanted football to work out, Swarmz says his mum and dad probably wanted it for him even more, and at some point it became about doing it for the people around him to make them proud. As people he knew like Joe Gomez who plays for Liverpool and Casey palmer who plays for Chelsea saw their careers take off, Swarmz says it was hard to let that dream go for himself: “it hurt me, but it hurt my mum and dad more”.
Things changed the day Swarmz and his dad were in the car and one of his tracks came on the radio. “He was driving his car and Capital Extra was on and he’s heard one of my songs and he’s looked at me and said, ‘I swear that’s your tune’. So he saw the progress. At his workplace now he’s started getting people playing the songs and he’s started to realise this is a good path for me as well, the same as the football path… I was gassed because I always use to tell him it could be good, it could be recognised and he always used to be like ‘no it won’t, go kick the ball in the net’, and was just naggy. When I seen him smile, I swear that he was happy that I was on the right path.”
The work ethic needed to play professional football has been carried over into his approach to music, and Swarmz is careful not to fall into the trap of complacency. “I’m not a one-hit wonder and leaving football at the stage that I was at to pursue music full time, shows how dedicated I am,” he says. “You have to have good concentration, just like in football. You can’t take your mind off the game, just like music you have to concentrate and make sure you deliver.”
He points out the difficulty many budding players face in breaking into semi-professional football, and that his decision to leave the familiar and comforting was not easy. Unwavering and uncompromising, with role models such as Giggs and Thierry Henry as examples of the timeless talent that he aspires towards. Would he ever write a football anthem of his own? “I would! Not any time soon, but I might do something funny on the grime scene, you never know.”
Swarmz promises that an EP is in the works, showing a different side, with some slower tunes as well as the familiar sound that people know him for. Tight-lipped, he wryly confirms that frequent collaborators Da Beatfreakz will be doing some work on it. After travelling the world and recently performing in Copenhagen for the first time and linking with Danish Afroswing star Icekiid, Swarmz has set his sights internationally and doesn’t rule out a collaboration with any European artists. Pointing to the success of Dappy’s remix of his hit single “Pantha” with Greek rapper Light, Swarmz is determined to make sure that the whole world knows about the nine side. “Gonna surprise a lot of people,” he buzzes. “Big things are coming up!