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The Word “Swag”: An Analysis of Meanings, Concepts and Implications

Posted on June 12, 2012 by OneEightKevin

In recent times, there has been no word more cringe-worthy or overused than the omnipresent echoes of “swag.”

But what exactly does it mean? PRIMO! Magazine wanted to find out, and we did. Sort of.

Our most valued source, Urbandicitonary, defines swag as “appearance, style, or the way he or she presents themselves.” Initially, this concept seems rather easy to tackle, right?

Wrong.

In 2011, NME reported that Puff Daddy temporarily changed his name to Swag. “I was sick for a week, and I had a lot to think about when I was almost dying underneath the covers with a fever… so I decided that I’m going to change my name for a week, in honour of my comeback,” he said.

If we run by the Urbandictionary definition, there is no greater personification of swag than Puff Daddy. Back when Chris Brown and co. were building sandcastles and playing with toy cars and all that other shit, Puff Daddy was already dating Jennifer Lopez, strutting around in a full-gold tracksuit and generally being a baller. What he lacks in lyrical ability, Puffy makes up for by dancing in other rappers’ videos and frequently throwing money in the air for no reason whatsoever. So yes, it makes complete sense that Puff Daddy also ran by the name Swag.

But the word has been spread relentlessly by a new generation of rappers. Soulja Boy is a frequent offender for overusing the word, most notably on his ridiculously catchy single Turn My Swag On. On her single Gucci Gucci, Kreayshawn rapped “I got the swag and it’s pumping out my ovaries.” This increasing use has led to confusion amongst listeners. In XXL‘s thorough analysis, they state that “swag is a noun (swag), adjective (swaggerific, swagnificent, swagtastic, swagged out, swagless) and verb (swag it out) used to describe a person’s personality, walk, flow, fashion sense, etc.”

Wait a minute. So swag is a noun, an adjective and a verb, can be turned on and off like a light switch by Soulja Boy, is able to be propelled from Kreayshawn’s reproductive organs, and be used as an alias for Puff Daddy? What the hell? This is overwhelming. I need to go and lie down, because nothing in my Year 12 English course prepared me for this linguistic mindfuck. They should start teaching the word swag at high schools, because interpreting A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (R.I.P homeboy) is a walk in the park compared to this.

Furthermore, if I ever hear someone use the term “swagnificent” in real life, I will proceed to go and lay under a rock for the next 25 years and weep.

From Pimp C’s lavish fur coat to Wu-Tang’s own line of apparel, style and appearance have always been important to rappers. However, contemporary applications of swag seem to have spawned a life of their own. In my review of Supafest 3, I stated that colour co-ordinating a NBA/MLB snapback with a pair of Vans is now perceived by youths as a strong indicator of possessing swag. This is particularly true if the chosen colour is red, yellow, or basically any colour that can be found in a packet of Skittles. Combine this with a pair of high socks, a bright varsity jacket, sunglasses at night and excessive use of acronyms like “YOLO,” and we are reaching catastrophic levels of swagification.

By my observations, swag in recent times has been equated with listening to Lil Wayne, yelling pseudo-philosophical acronyms and dressing like a complete douchebag. A quick browse of the blog Swag-Notes suggests that taking selfies with emotional rap lyrics as captions is another common practice. But hold on. I listen to Lil Wayne and I also dress like a douchebag. Why haven’t I been slapped with the label? Is there some sort of exclusive society, a Stonecutters if you will, for representatives of swag? If so, then I’m pretty sure that you have to rap Teach Me How To Dougie in front of the whole swag community in order to be inducted.

One Facebook page also raises claims that swag is in fact an acronym itself, standing for “Something We Asians Got.” The page’s description reads “no one in the corner can swagger like us.” In true Asian fashion, this sentence makes no sense whatsoever, and may be single-handedly responsible for the horrendous implosion of the entire English language.

Regardless, the page raises an interesting point. If swag is inherently applicable to Asians, then it may have a genetic element pre-dating not only snapbacks and sneakers, but the entire hip-hop community itself. Asian cave men may have been wearing the freshest leaf underpants and pickin’ up fly cave women without hesitation. On the other hand, it’s more likely that Asians are simply inclined to replicate disastrous urban fashion trends and claim them as their own. I’m Asian, but I’m not sure if I have swag. My grandma, with her cashmere cardigans and tattooed eyebrows, is the original queen of swag and is probably stylin’ on all you motherfuckers anyway.

However, swag has not always been used in poor taste. PRIMO! Magazine‘s favourite fashionable rapper, A$AP Rocky, killed it with his hazy, drugged-out anthem Purple Swag. Wind back the clock a few years, and Southern king T.I. unleashed the monstrous song Swagga Like Us. When it’s not being used in generally annoying contexts, you’ll find the word in the vocabulary of everyone from Clipse to 50 Cent. Maybe there is hope for swag after all.

My excursions into the world of swag have exposed me to some of the deepest, darkest corners of the Internet, and provided a fascinating insight into the inextricable links between language, fashion and youth identity. In essence, swag is an increasingly fluid notion within the hashtag generation. Swag is completely subjective, but seemingly constrained by its own subcultural implications. Swag encapsulates everything and nothing simultaneously. Swag is life.

YOLO.

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