Ian Nsajja, stage name King Swank, is a rapper and producer from Minneapolis, Minnesota who spent a good portion of his life in Atlanta, Georgia. Early on, he recognized that music was the route he would take and took the necessary steps to see his vision through. He started with downloading software and using things he already owned, like his Guitar Hero microphone to record.
Having spent much of his childhood in Atlanta, King Swank shares insight on the extreme differences between Minnesota and the place that was once unfamiliar, but became a place that helped to shape his identity. “When I first moved to Georgia it was sort of tough because I had to get used to my life being completely different. The South is completely different from the Midwest, especially the culture. From the fashion, music, to the roads, and the way people talk.”
Tell us who you are and what you do.
I’m King Swank, Swank for short. I am both a rapper and producer originally from Minnesota and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. I like to skate, I’m into anime, and in my free time I like to be outdoors or somewhere that’s mad chill with a dope atmosphere and positive vibes bumping music. Growing up, I knew I always wanted to be involved in music or sports. I was pretty good at hooping and track, but after some time it became difficult to do both. With the music, it all started out with me putting my computer at risk by downloading torrents so I could get software, using a Guitar Hero mic to record, and asking venues for an opportunity to perform. Right now, I am currently back in Minnesota, reason being is I wanted to further my education and work on my craft as an artist.
How would you describe your individual sound as a rapper and as a producer?
If I had to describe my sound as a rapper, I’d say I have an alternative East Coast flow and style with heavy southern influence. When I produce, I wouldn’t necessarily say I have a specific sound. When it comes to beats or production, I really just make whatever I feel, or at least try to challenge myself and create a sound I’ve never tried before.
How have your life experiences impacted your work?
I’ve had a lot of things happen in my life, both positive and negative, that have impacted my work. When I first moved to Georgia it was sort of tough because I had to get used to my life being completely different. The South is completely different from the Midwest, especially the culture: from the fashion, music, to the roads, and even the way people talk. When I moved it was the middle of summer so I didn’t really get to know anyone until school started. I spent most of that time learning how to write lyrics and make beats. In most of my songs I’m talking about what has happened in my life, what is currently going on, or what I aim to have in my life. Recently, I’ve gotten more comfortable talking about the negative and whatever I am currently feeling. I believe it’s good to have a balance of both, especially when it comes to this craft so people can relate more.
Who are some of your influences?
As far as music, if I had to choose a top five it would be Joey Badass, Chronixx, Tyler The Creator, ODB, and Kanye West. I’m also into art and fashion so I’d also include Takashi Murakami and James Jebbia. The reason that these guys are my influencers is because they don’t let people put them or their talents into a box. They do what they do because they actually love doing it.
Kanye West, Takashi Murakami, and James Jebbia are big inspirations for me because I feel they have mastered the art of taking something that’s simple and turning it into something that looks and sounds amazing. Tyler and ODB have never “dumbed down for dollars” or ever watered down their art in any way, considering the negative attention they might have gotten from a lot of people. Joey’s lyrics and cadence are smooth and his word play is creative, which is what I personally aim to do with my bars. Chronixx uses his music to spread joy and firmly stands by what he believes in.
How have you grown in your craft from when you first began on your journey to now?
It’s wild, I’ve grown so much. I’ve learned how to use multiple programs or DAWS (digital audio workstation). I’ve learned how to get myself booked for shows and get connected with many different people. I went from making beats at my mom’s to having the opportunity to perform twice at First Ave to sold out crowds. As far as production, I’ve dropped two beat projects. One is an EP titled Waves and the other is an album called Summer Time Fling, Pt. 1. I still have a lot of growing to do, though. Waves is a psychedelic trap sounding project with heavy kicks and 808’s that is supposed to take its listeners on a “trip”. STF1 is an experimental project inspired by the lo-fi music genre and Los Angeles’ underground beat scene.
What has been your experience navigating the creative landscape of your city?
For me I guess it depends which city we’re talking about because I’ve lived in both Minnesota and Atlanta for a good part of my life and have been doing music in both states. In Atlanta, where I started, my experience was pretty smooth because I had eventually made friends who had been creating for a while and there’s already such a vibrant music scene there. For Minnesota it was a little difficult because I didn’t know where to go with my talent until I had gotten to know a few people and joined some random local open mics and beat showcases. After a year and some months, it became a lot easier.
I believe your tongue is a strong weapon. Every word that leaves your mouth has the power to harm or to heal.
Why do you feel that it’s important to elevate Black voices as it pertains to your current industry?
I believe your tongue is a strong weapon. Every word that leaves your mouth has the power to harm or to heal. I also believe music is a universal language that everyone can relate to. Music has also been another form of protesting, which has been channeled through music since the 60s and through the hip-hop of the 80s and 90s. With everything that has happened in the past and everything that is currently going on in our county, and in the very city I live in, Minneapolis, with the George Floyd situation — it is very important to elevate the Black voice and hear out everything that is being said because a lot of the time when we try to speak out, we aren’t heard until something drastic happens.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming creatives in your industry?
Stay focused, keep sharp-minded people around you, and believe you can do whatever the fuck it is you want to do.
Do you have any current projects coming up?
Yea, I’m currently working on releasing my first full rap project and plan to drop it in the fall.