Rappers Art Klazz and Chef Sway find hope in ‘Hump Day’

The duo’s new album, recorded amid the pandemic, is out on streaming services now

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Chef Sway (left) and Art Klazz

Rappers Art Klazz and Chef Sway have been friends for almost 15 years, but never got around to working with one another until the pandemic opened up the door to collaboration.

In the early months of the coronavirus, Art Klazz, who works as a barber, started cutting hair in his home, and Sway would swing by once or twice a week to visit and idle away the time. Gradually, these weekly visits turned into regular Wednesday recording sessions, resulting in the duo album Hump Day, named for those mid-week get-togethers; it's out on all streaming services today (Wednesday, Dec. 8).

“This project, and us really taking the time to work together, really spawned out of the pandemic,” said Sway, who joined Art Klazz for an early December phone interview. “With everything closed down, neither of us was really doing much. … We had all this time we never had before, so we finally sat down and really started to work something out.”

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The two began by landing on a “vibe,” selecting a series of lush, soulful beats that served as a bedrock for the production. From there, the rappers started to freestyle, write and exchange ideas, building songs that shifted in subtle ways to reflect the seismic changes the two encountered from the project’s inception, including but not limited to: a deepening pandemic, the resurgent Black lives matter movement, the promise of a vaccine and the subsequent rise of COVID variants.

“I think you’ll hear those [shifting] tones, if you listen to it, but I don’t believe it was conscious,” Sway said. “We never had a conversation like, ‘Hey, we need to tackle these issues.’ It was just purely organic, but I think it did shift as our days shifted, as those moments shifted. … Us sitting together in a room, the tension was different, the energy was different.”

Though global events impacted the record’s mood, the two rappers keep their focus throughout almost exclusively on life’s small moments, whether they’re delivering mantras designed to help maintain focus amid the chaos (“Stay productive, don’t waste time”) or unpacking a damned romantic relationship on the lush “Beautiful,” rapping, “I hate that I love you.” 

In the rare moment the two aren't focused on these more intimate details, they're brushing them aside, embracing “Small Stuff” as an opportunity to dismiss the various armchair critics, backstabbers and petty haters who serve as energy vampires. “When people burn bridges, I don’t see it as a loss,” Art Klazz raps. “I’m cutting people off like a CEO boss.” Sway follows with a verse delivered in a comparatively sing-song cadence, rapping about how he never clears his email inbox or call log, revealing himself as a clear Type B personality in the process.

Both said their familiarity with one another’s styles aided the collaboration, as well as the established trust that comes from being longtime friends. “It wasn’t nothing. We were already comfortable with each other's styles and flows and music,” Art Klazz said. “He already knew what I was going through, and I knew what  was going through.”

Each rapper has long written and recorded solo, with Art Klazz tracing his interest in the form back to the age of 4 or 5, when he discovered artists like Biz Markie and Heavy D. At age 12, he performed at his first school talent show, delivering a rap written by his older brother, who served as both a source of inspiration and an early musical mentor. 

Sway said he grew up similarly immersed in hip-hop, raised by a mother who from an early age introduced him to artists such as Tupac, whose death hit her nearly as hard as losing a family member. “When Tupac died, my mom cried like her husband had passed,” said Sway, whose mom used to tell him that he could rap before he could even speak. “So, yeah, hip-hop was the background for everything in my life; it’s all I knew."

Understandably, then, both rappers said that the music has long been an essential part of how they process the world, making it inevitable that they would turn to the form at a time when everything outside of Art Klazz’s home barbershop seemed to be spiraling out of control. 

“A big thing I want is for people to find the hope in this [music], because we found hope in doing it,” Sway said. “We found the hope in meeting up, in establishing that new routine, because so many people’s routines had been destroyed by the pandemic. So, getting together, getting this done, was a big part of giving us hope. And not just for ourselves, because we didn’t know what was going to happen to this country. That’s the biggest takeaway for me from it, man, that hope.”