If you have a tendency to lose yourself in the endless sea of information that is the blogosphere, their name may have swam across your screen on occasion. Leaving readers sitting there staring at this odd assemblage of consonants that if someone bought a vowel, they would have an endless amount of possibilities of words to spell. Are they a music label or a group? What exactly are they doing? Why do they seem content to work majority of the time in-house?
SWTBRDS is the label at the center of this controversy. A burgeoning boutique record label, located in the Bay Area, that’s home to a collection of talented young emcees and producers. Doing a quick Google search will lead you to two different pronunciations of their full name. It has been called SweetBreads and at other times SweetBreds. Either way, once you delve into their existence discography and artist list, their impressive and varied sounds will make you forget about that you were even having trouble with their name.
Birthed in 2009, the label is fairly young. However, they have been able to already acquire a stable of underground artists that have set San Francisco on fire. They have been able to garner the respect of a plethora of rap acts and have started to slowly build a buzz for themselves among listeners around the country.
We had the pleasure of speaking to one of the founders of SWTBRDS for close to an hour. Al Jieh is not a typical executive, so don’t expect him to be seen in business suit or heartlessly cutting acts. Instead, he is one of the main producers signed to the label, and he actually cares about his artists, as well as, the scene that his cohorts are continuing. His passion made him share a lot of information that will give one a keen insight into the beginnings of the record label.
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“[SWTBRDS] is really an excuse to make the music we want to hear. We weren’t trying to blow up. We’re trying to make music on our terms,” Jieh says only to repeat this anti-label-formulaic based music sentiment a number of times. It’s not because he wants to separate himself from radio or club friendly songs, rather to ensure that people don’t get thrown off by the title “label.”
“We don’t have a type, we have a philosophy,” he says
These words aren’t just for show, like a trash can in a model home—empty and deep. It really describes the whole way that Al Jieh and his partners look at music and the process of musical creation.
“We love club music, we listen to club music, we play club music, and we go to the club. We just don’t want to hear club music a hundred percent of the time. We don’t make club music. I love jazz, but I don’t make jazz music. Nothing against club music, but we are just trying to make what we like.”
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At this point, Jieh had been providing some of the factual background on how his crew actually came into being. While a lot of it sounded similar to the stories told by a lot of the O.G.s in the game, what was different was his supreme confidence in those around him and how big of fan of theirs he was. “DaVinci has always been my favorite rapper. I rather record with JD than Jay Z. And Ammbush is my favorite producer. So to have my favorite producer making a song with my favorite emcee was it.”
During his early twenties, Al was a student like most young adults that age. He had already met JD, when they were teens. Jieh was focusing on his schooling, but DaVinci was working with San Francisco legend San Quinn.
“And then I came back from school, and I was in a room with my boy Rob, and I was talking about people were getting better at their craft. We were thinking that we should pool our resources together, and then Rob brought up DaVinci because he knew he rapped. That’s how we got our start. Ammbush actually had a studio and helped us refine our skill, he was then pulled in. So we started from that.”
In 2009, the trio released their first project together, Street Media. “The Street Media got our feet wet, and we were taking seriously,” but what helped even more was a small extra on the covers.
“Really the label was an excuse to get a logo,” Jieh revealed as he began to laugh. “So we had my favorite producer making a song with my favorite rapper and a logo, I thought maybe it could be a label. Then when we released the DaVinci album, [The Day The Turf Stood Still], people just assumed we were a label.”
The simple and accidental nature of their rise was odd, and personable. “We put out music from the family.”
“If people didn’t call us a label then we wouldn’t call us a label. It’s really an excuse to make music we wanted to hear.”
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After being caught up on the creation of the label, Al warmed up and began to drop his own philosophy on the current hip hop landscape. Carefully navigating the lines between sneak dissing and wise leadership, many of his ideas showed his displayed a key understanding of his place in music.
“All the radio companies are owned by the same company, I’m not mad at it. We just want our music on there, on our terms. We don’t want us to be played because DaVinci did a song that sounded like Tyga or Gucci Mane, but because he sounds like DaVinci. We are keeping the underground alive, but we also want to be over ground.”
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“Some people are willing to wear that or do this dance. We’re not”
Powerful words, but not necessarily meant negatively. Unlike his slight dig at a current trend in hip-hop he doesn’t like. “You have people that come out and say that they are rappers. I’m like is that your job? Is that your occupation? Rap should be something you do; a part of your life. I would say that seventy-five percent of rap music now is about rap music. Who wants to hear that? You are making a song about having a meeting with a rich dude, or making a song. If you want to do that, that’s fine…That’s cool.”
As Al was prepping for the end of the interview, it was easy to see what really makes him tick and stay in the studio. It wasn’t trying to change the game; instead it was trying to stay true to himself and his friends. While you may disagree with some of his philosophies, sleeping on his ambition and talent would be a major mistake.