And now for a flashback. Today, we look into the annals of time to remember one of the greatest live performances in hip-hop history. I’m talking the 2009 51st Grammy Award performance of the hit single “Swagga Like Us”. T.I. Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and the jiggaman himself, Jay Z, took the stage like a modern-day rat pack (or as Queen Latifah introduced them, a “rap pack”) and showed the world why they were the kings of hip-hop.
Swagga Like Us – Grammy Performance
Never before had the Grammys seen so much tuxed-out testosterone on one stage. And who was the first rapper out the gate? Ima let you finish but –
Kanye West is the best rapper of all time! Well, maybe not in this elite bunch, but he sure did kick things off pretty fierce, rapping, “You know I got it first, I’m Christopher Columbus, y’all just the pilgrims!” Yep, Mr. West is in the building, making his pioneer status known. His verse was definitely the most dramatic. (Oh yeah, Kanye produced the song too.) Passing the baton to his mentor and bestie-
Jay Z, who was a cool glass of water next to Kanye’s chest-beating braggadocio. Jay Z, in a bowtie and shades, had the nerve to have all the other performers dust the dirt off his pimp shoulders, further cementing his status as The King. I have to say, Jay’s verse was the most clever: “But I can’t teach you my swag, you can pay for school but you can’t buy class.” In that moment, his life-long quest to become the black Frank Sinatra was cemented. It’s HOOOVA! Which leads us to-
Lil Wayne, decked out in a bowler hat and checkered scarf. This was a rare performance where Lil Wayne just looked… classy. That said, whereas Jay Z’s verse was all about how Midas rich he was, Lil Wayne dominated in sexual prowess and violence brags. “My jewels, blue and yellow, type of thing that make ‘em call you Carmelo / Rules as follows: stay true to the ghetto, write your name on the bullet make you feel special.” He even dipped into different languages, French and Spanish, “Mami, scream, papi no mas!” With that trademark weezy voice, the best part about Wayne was the self-awareness when he asked the audience, “Hey! What the f—k you boys talkin’ bout? I know it’s us ’cause we the only thing to talk about!” And for the victory lap-
T.I., the King of the South. The social activist of the bunch. His verse rounded everyone up in a nutshell, and displayed his passionate revolutionary stance: “Living Revolutionary, nothin’ less than legendary, gangster sh-t hereditary I got it from my dad / Flow colder than February with extraordinary swag.” And then, the coat toss. By now, everyone was on their feet. T.I. is the mastermind behind this epic gathering – and probably the reason he’s the anchor of the race as “Swagga Like Us” is a top-charting single from his fifth album Paper Trail. But wait! There’s more. Let’s not forget-
M.I.A.,themost swagged-out performer of them all. Controversial British / Sri Lankan-Tamil rapper and singer M.I.A. more than held her own with the Big Boys – all while being nine months pregnant on her due date! (Damn, girl, damn!) I mean the lady’s water was about to break on stage, yet she rocked that mini polka-dotted number while singing the chorus, “No on the corner has swagga like us”. No one indeed. This entire concept song originated from a line M.I.A. dropped on her hit, “Paper Planes”. Who knew that one dope line would bring four kings together and spawn an entire new urban lexicon – “swag”. Yep, M.I.A. eclipsed all the testosterone on stage by being her incredibly zany estrogen-self.
And boy did they all love each other on stage! The audience must have felt the power statement being made by the group chemistry: Four black men, all rich, all successful, all confident, who made it through the warzone of being black in America – standing as one. The comradery exemplified black manhood and power at its purest – the power it takes to get out the hood without getting locked up, cracked out, or shot up by gangs and police. Hip-hop has always been a place where black manhood got to be expressed raw and unvarnished. “Swagga Like Us” restored the image of black manhood for the world that night by allowing these four men to express it in their own words. Now that’s swag.
And let’s not forget, “Swagga Like Us” went on to win the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or a Group at the ceremony.