"I don't go to work, I'm living in my passion."
Sway Calloway has been known to wear many hats throughout his iconic media career. Whether he's at the helm of his SiriusXM Shade 45 radio show or behind-the-scenes at MTV, the 47-year-old is always looking for new ways to push the limits of his creative prowess. Sway's latest challenge, now includes taking on the daunting task of doubling as executive producer and host of the freshly revamped TRLAM (Total Request AM ) morning show.
"I think what we're creating is something where people from all fields of entertainment are able to come and feel comfortable and know that they'll be able to be forthcoming at one central hub," Sway tells Billboard regarding the 30-minute morning show's objective.
Since TRLAM's launch on April 23, the once-blockbuster franchise has already called on a diverse group of entertainers for guest appearances, including Bronx-born legends such as Cardi B and Jennifer Lopez, to rising stars such as Rae Sremmurd, Desiigner, Jacquees, and Anderson .Paak and the cast of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why. Sway takes pride in possessing the ability to conduct a meaningful conversation with a range of talented guests from varying art forms.
"I thought it was an excellent opportunity to really bring music culture, pop-culture, and political undercurrents to the show and have a real substantive conversation with artists, actors, activists, comedians, magicians, and whoever has something great to bring to the screen," the hip-hop media savant adds.
Check out the rest of our conversation with Sway as the Oakland native touches on his expanded role in media, Kanye West name-dropping him on ye, Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B's earlier appearances on TRLAM, and what we can expect from the show going forward.
Tune into TRLAM weekdays at 8 A.M. on MTV.
Billboard: How did you get involved with the newly revamped TRLAM on MTV?
Sway: I've always been with MTV and have had this partnership ongoing. I've done select things that were dealing with more educational initiatives and, sometimes, I'll come in and do special event type of projects. I was approached by MTV President] Chris McCarthy and a lot of the folks at the top of the totem pole and I was told there was an idea about me coming on board to do something in the morning which is now what we know as TRLAM. We started discussing what did that mean.
They asked for my opinion and I thought it was an excellent opportunity to really bring music culture, pop-culture, and political undercurrents to the show and have a real substantive conversation with artists, actors, activists, comedians, magicians, and whoever has something great to bring to the screen. Even performances from any genre of music because we live in a playlist society today.
It's now not so much about a countdown as it is a playlist. To be able to intertwine all of those things into one launching ground known as TRLAM has been going according to plan thus far. We've been going strong for over a month and we're making more and more people aware of it. It's in the morning time and it offers an alternative for folks when they get up. You can add this to that routine and see an artist like Ne-Yo talking about his writing process or a Harry Hudson speaking about hanging out with Jaden Smith or even see the cast of 13 Reasons Why to find out what's going on behind that.
I saw you had Jennifer Lopez on the show as well a couple weeks ago when she premiered the video to "Dinero."
She was so excited. When we saw each other, we just started laughing. It was like, "Here we are again." It just felt really good to have an artist of that magnitude on and basically come home to TRL. We live in some interesting times where you have these generation gaps where you feel like they can't swim in the same pool and I think that has a lot to do with creating an atmosphere where everyone is comfortable.
Now, you have TRLAM where everyone is comfortable and know what they're going to get. There's going to be conversation, performances and videos. Anytime you have the gamut of a Rich The Kid to a Jennifer Lopez to a Cardi B, and the Backstreet Boys, it's the hub where anyone in entertainment can hang out.
What did you think about Cardi B's dynamic with her sister Hennessy on the show and Cardi's overall rise in hip-hop?
There have been a few moments in music where you've seen that kind of trajectory happen in such a short period of time. I remember when 50 Cent just came out, we deemed that 50 Cent Mania at the time and got out in front of it and had interviews with 50 before he blew up on MTV. It just took off. People gravitated towards it because there was such an authenticity to it that transcended everything. Cardi B has had that same impact and interestingly enough, like 50 Cent, she had a track record prior to blowing up.
When you get catapulted at that rate, a lot of people don't know how to function. I thought she functioned well when we saw her hit the Grammy Awards stage with Bruno Mars. She remained herself and keeps her integrity in all these different situations. Even becoming pregnant and now bringing that part of who she is into the fray at this time is great because now ] it's become a different kind of discussion about women who get pregnant in the industry. In the past, people thought it was a red flag and would question it.
But why would you do that? Jennifer Lopez has kids and functions well. Different people have had kids and it shouldn't have mattered at whatever point of their career. Lauryn Hill experienced the same thing, so why can't Cardi have a kid and be a successful rapper? For her to kick off the new era of TRL was great and for me, that was the first TRL show I'd done in a long time.
I had fun out there having Hennessy sitting next to me. The fun part is behind the scenes, I was even giving Hennessy a lot of advice and direction by showing her the ropes of the industry. I thought the energy was great and we learned a lot more layers to Cardi B. Whenever there's family around, the guard is kind of down. I'm happy for Cardi.
You had J. Prince on the show as well, who has made some headlines regarding the Pusha-T and Drake feud. What did you think about the beef and was it smart to bring it to an end by having Drake not respond?
I thought it was. I didn't even think it was a possibility because that's not typically the way we see things play out in hip-hop. Having J. Prince on was phenomenal in itself because he's responsible for the rise of the South when it comes to hip-hop culture. Prior to Rap-A-Lot Records, it was tough for artists from there to get national recognition. His label launching in 1986 put the fuel in a Master P to do No Limit Records and for Birdman and Slim to start Cash Money Records.
It was interesting to ask him if he regrets the decision because Drake is getting a lot of backlash from the hip-hop purists. He said, "Nah, I don't regret it." Initially, I thought, "Come on he's not going to respond?" The way he put it, the response would have brought pain and misery for the families involved and I think that was pretty mature and at the same time he's a businessman and Drake's a part of that.
Roy Wood had a great story about attempting to prank J. Prince over the phone in Houston and he had the opportunity to call in and actually apologize to J. Prince years later on TRL.
How did you feel about Kanye West shouting you out on "Wouldn't Leave" from his latest album?
I haven't sat down with the whole album yet, but I definitely heard that he name-checked me in one of the songs. I got a lot of text messages that day. That's Kanye West, so at the end of the day when anytime like a Kanye West or Rick Ross or Eminem name-check you that's a great thing. It kind of immortalizes you in a sense. As long as that music lives on, your name will live with it. When someone is in their writing process and you're in their mindset it speaks volumes. You're kind of like, "Oh wow, Ye checked me on the album." I think it's cool.
What can we expect from TRLAM the rest of the season?
One of the things that we're doing is calling a lot of those staples in the industry that are doing it big like Christina Aguilera. Everybody from the established groups like the Backstreet Boys to those that are on the rise like an Anderson .Paak. We had Steve Aoki and Afrojack who live in that EDM world alongside some of the largest streaming shows you may see in the digital space like a Younger.
I think what we're creating is something where people from all fields of entertainment are able to come and feel comfortable and know that they'll be able to be forthcoming at one central hub. That's what TRLAM is all about. There are not many places people could go with that kind of understanding platform. One of the things I pride myself on is being able to sit down with anybody and find a common thread that's interesting to the audience.
Do you remember your first appearance or experiences with TRL back in 1997 when Carson Daly was the original host?
I remember the first time doing TRL being next to Carson and I was talking to JAY-Z about how he had just dropped The Blueprint. I couldn't get over that I was standing next to Carson. If you had cable you knew what MTV was. Even prior to the digital revolution, you still sort of knew how popular it was.
I had a lot of great moments beyond that and now this new experience has been the best for me because it's free-forming. There aren't really any feelings. We're running with some very talented folks who have done this for years. The energy is good and you're having fun too. I was dancing with Ashley Park from Mean Girls on Broadway and we were doing some dances together.
With you being involved in so many different projects, do you ever believe you're spreading yourself too thin?
Being an executive producer on TRL allows me the creative freedom and prowess at the same time to make sure what I am doing is something that I'm passionate about and something I believe in. I don't look at the things I do as work anymore and that's somewhere you want to be at some point in your career. I don't go to work, I'm living in my passion. This is something I've done for years. TRL is an extension of that.
I haven't gotten the feeling that I'm spreading myself too thin but if I did, I would definitely adjust to that and make it so I don't feel that at all. I'm having fun and bringing light to a lot of great talent. I'm a conduit and I feel that's my purpose in this game now. I want to see how much I can push things forward and these platforms allow me to do that.