It’s official: Jay-Z invented swag

Important research into the origins of the all-purpose hip hop noun, adjective and verb.

02.04.12

Words by: Charlie Jones

Browbeat, the culture blog of Slate magazine, has conducted an extensive investigation of the question on every player’s lips: just who invented ‘swag’? Prompted into the inquiry by hearing the Bieber claim he’s going to “swag, swag, swag on you” in his latest issuance of product, Boyfriend, the magazine waded through decades of hip hop lyrics looking for the first appearance of the word, which went truly viral during the past two years when everyone from Willow Smith to Cher Lloyd claimed to be all about the #swag.

On Otis, a track from last year’s ‘Watch The Throne’, Jay-Z boasts: “I invented swag”. And guess what, his claim checks out. The first usage of swag – as a separate term to swagger, which can be dated back to early ’90s hip hop – was traced to Jigga himself on ‘The Black Album’, on Public Service Announcement (“Check out my swag, yo / I walk like a ballplayer”) and December 4 (“My self-esteem went through the roof, man / I got my swag”).

Soulja Boy’s 2009 hit Turn My Swag On was the watershed moment for the term, which soon spread to Gucci Mane, Lil B, the Odd Future gang and Young Jeezy, eventually prompting The New Yorker to declare that swag had become “a noun, an adjective, a verb, and an all-purpose expression of agreement or endorsement.”

The hardy pop scientists at Pitchfork have also recently been putting swag under the microscope. An in-depth article investigating New York’s queer rap-meets-ballroom scene profiles performers Mykki Blanco and Zebra Katz and their rival claim to the invention of swag.