Jay Swifa returns to the stage for 934 Fest

Inspired by some recent local rock shows, the Columbus rapper and beatmaker will take the stage again this weekend before releasing an EP next week

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Jay Swifa

Back in 2018, Jay Swifa released his solo debut, Enigma, which reintroduced the rapper and beatmaker to audiences after the end of Fly Union, the once-buzzworthy Columbus hip-hop group that featured Swifa, Iyeball, Jerreau and (in an earlier incarnation) Vada Azeem, previously known as L.E. for the Uncool.

“People love me for my production, but I can rap, too,” Swifa told Alive in 2018, just before his set at Breakaway Music Festival.

Then in August of 2020, amid the pandemic, Swifa released Timeless, an album of (mostly) instrumentals that again showcased his talent for beats.

But on Saturday, Sept. 11, during his 9:45 p.m. headlining set at 934 Fest, Swifa will be back on the mic. “I keep going back and forth,” the musician said during a recent interview at an Olde Towne East coffee shop, describing how he had been content to produce tracks at his home studio until he ventured out to Ace of Cups and caught some live sets from Ohio bands like Hydrone and Speaking Suns. “After going out and seeing that people are still performing their art, I was just like, ‘It's time to get back to it.’ … I can’t wait to do some more shows and take it worldwide.”

Other than some DJ sets, Swifa’s 934 Fest performance will be his first live show in about two years. A guitarist will also join him onstage, and Swifa will debut some songs from a new EP, 7, coming out Sept. 16 and featuring collaborations with Vada, Iyeball and others.

Even during the pandemic, as the external turmoil created internal anxieties, Swifa never stopped writing and recording at his home studio, often chipping away at tracks here and there as he found the time. “Somehow I'm always able to create. It never really stops,” he said. “No matter what the situation is, music is what I like to do. It’s therapeutic. I come up with the best art during good times and bad times.”

Swifa has continued working with other local musicians, too, including Joey Aich, Parker Louis, ConQuest Tony Phillips and a new project from MnkeyWrench, Swifa’s ongoing collab with Iyeball. “My inspiration is still Q-Tip, the Pharcyde, Slum Village, Timbaland, Wyclef Jean,” Swifa said. “My dream team would be that whole crew, all those dudes.”

7 is jam-packed with ideas, from samples of commercials and Tarantino movies to synth-only breakdowns. On “Globalwarming,” Swifa describes a “world on fire,” while “HMU” features Vada’s signature, sharp-edged tone slinging rhymes about the state of hip-hop and his recent children’s book.

There’s a manic energy to much of the release, but things slow down on closing track “Collective Consciousness,” an auto-tuned chorus of vocals with no instruments, no beats. A simple series of phrases repeats — “All the time/You got time” — and as the song progresses, time itself comes across as a gift. It’s not a track that evokes the way the pandemic reframed time during the Groundhog Day/quarantine era. It feels like an affirmation that this isn’t the end. We have time, lots of it, and there’s more to come.