Looking Back On: T.I. – Swagga Like Us (Feat. Kanye West, Jay Z & Lil’ Wayne)

In 2008, this was a big deal. Jay Z, Kanye, T.I., and Wayne all on the same track?! The internet was going nuts.

T.I. was gearing up the release of his album Paper Trail before he went back to prison (the second time, for the gun charges. Not the probation violations). Kanye West was coming off a love affair with M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”. He took her lyric, “No one on the corner has swagger like us” and created a new instrumental from it. He sent it to T.I. who graciously accepted the track and planned for it to just be the two of them ultimately.

Kanye had other plans. He invited Jay and Wayne to collaborate as well. Said it would be an event, not just a record. When T.I. got back the record with all three verses, he had to choose between 4 different verses he had composed before settling on the one you hear in its completed state.

It was 2008 so naturally, the track got leaked to the blogs and as Atlantic Records was prone to do back then, cease and desist letters were being emailed and the song was being removed from the internet faster than most could hear it. The song had leaked a full month ahead of Paper Trail‘s release date.

Leave it to Kanye to post the song on his now removed blog. The hip-hop world was sated. Paper Trail was hailed as one of T.I.’s best albums. “Swagga Like Us” was Grammy nominated (and ultimately lost to Wayne’s “Lollipop”).

“Swagga Like Us” was huge not only because of the names involved but because of its lasting impact. Wayne had just went platinum in a week thanks to Tha Carter III. Hov was in the middle (or in-between) of crafting what would become The Blueprint 3. T.I. was facing a year and a day prison sentence. And “Swagga…” was the first song Kanye had produced since his mother Donda passed. The only time you got super records like this was on soundtracks or on benefit records (or with less talented rappers). For these four MCs to come together for this when they did, on a song made from a sample that wasn’t even a year old yet, was special.

It certainly opened the door for an upcoming Toronto rapper named Drake to rework his record “This Life Forever” into simply “Forever” in 2009 featuring West, Wayne, and Eminem. It certainly made it easier for Rick Ross to go out and sign Wale, Meek Mill, and Pill in 2011 to Maybach Music and drop a compilation a few months later. It certainly made Kanye’s own Good Friday series in 2010 easier as he featured up to 7 people on a track each week.

Posse cuts weren’t new to hip-hop by any means and “Swagga…” didn’t reinvent the wheel either. But it was just as Kanye envisioned it; a moment. Four of the hottest rappers in the game all on the same record. Could a Drake x ‘Ye x Hov x Ross record be done today to the same fanfare? Doubtful. But you never know with Kanye involved.

The lyrics don’t matter here. Neither does who had the best verse honestly. The record is audio magic.

And finally, have you ever known a song to ruin a word’s credibility? The word swagger went public with this song’s release. Swag this, swag that. It helps that hip-hop started swag surfing among other things but still: “Swagga Like Us” started this. A friend of mine asked on Facebook recently if her 9 year old son was too young for a t-shirt that used the word “swag”. I of course told her no, but it should tell you enough that people think swag has a bad connotation to it thanks to its mainstream exposure. Exposure that started with a lyric that was turned into a monster collaboration.

There’s rumors of a “Swagga Like Us Pt. 2″ out there featuring Jeezy, Nas, and Andre 3000 that’s never seen the light of day. It’s probably somewhere with Young Guru with the rest of Jay’s catalog. And if it does exist, “SLU Pt. 2″ probably missed it’s chance. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to hear it. Answer my tweet Guru!

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