As one of the rap world's most respected interviewers, Sway Calloway has held court with Barack Obama, become a meme with Kanye West ("How Sway?!"), and hosted popular programs on 106.1 KMEL, MTV and Sirius XM.
On Friday, Oct. 18, he returns to his hometown of Oakland for the first edition of Sway Fest, a live talk show and block party outside of Pandora headquarters, with performances from '80s R&B icon (and Prince's former drummer) Sheila E.; Oakland rap stars G-Eazy and Kamaiyah; the Town's busiest MC, activist and entrepreneur, Mistah F.A.B.; up-and-coming Berkeley lyricist Rexx Life Raj and 17-year-old rapper and poet Jwalt. Admission is open to the public and free.
Highlighting the Bay Area's homegrown hip-hop scene has been an ongoing theme in Sway's storied career in music media. Now based in New York, he regularly makes room for Northern California talent on his SiriusXM show Sway in the Morning among a roster of superstars.
"The mission was to always help the underdog, the artists who didn't have the affiliation or resources to be on a mainstream platform," Sway tells KQED.
A Crucial Voice on '90s Rap Radio
Sway's first gig in radio was The Wake Up Show on KMEL, in 1990s San Francisco. After he won a local rap contest, and his music partner King Tech won a DJ contest, they were invited to guest-host a mix show on the station. When listeners called in praising Sway and King Tech's music selection, the duo was offered a regular show. Known as keen tastemakers, Sway and King Tech used The Wake Up Show to introduce their Northern California audience to seminal rap artists like The Fugees and Outkast, Sway recalls, and featured an ongoing segment of freestyle rap performances from then-rising stars like Jay-Z, Nas and Eminem.