Swanky Hendrix: 'Purp Fiction' Album Overview
Swanky Hendrix is raising the bar. In an era of oversaturation, the 20 year old artist has consistently delivered projects that offer a complete listening experience. Coming off the success of his 2019 album Dream, Swanky’s latest project Purp Fiction: A Smoker’s Playlist is an eight track, cinematic-like journey. Synthesizing elements of classic film with blog-era stoner rap and vintage 90s style production, Swanky has created an immersing project full of creativity and ambition.
To Swanky, Purp Fiction is not just an album, it is an accomplishment that he once may have never conceived as possible. “It's a surreal moment really… looking back at it and being the age that I am and this is my 9th project,” he tells me. Released on his 20th birthday, the album's existence itself is a triumph against the odds. “Looking back at the years and how far i've come, it's a great feeling because like [the album’s] intro said, I could have been doing so much else. I could've been dead, in jail, that's real shit - to overcome all of that and make a real project,” he says.
The very first voice on Purp Fiction’s intro “Opening Ceramony” is a voicemail recording of a young woman expressing her admiration for Swanky, exclaiming “You coulda went down the wrong path. You coulda been out here doing everything other niggas is doing… you could've been getting shot at, could've been doing drugs.” When I asked about his decision to open the album with this voicemail, Swanky told me “It was kinda just a last minute thought that I had… It sounds like an experience that you’re walking into.” As the opening message fades, Swanky’s euphonious vocals emerge on producer Jaan’s epic string progression, ushering in the beginning of a short adventure.
Something anyone will immediately notice about Purp Fiction is the album’s title, an obvious homage to the timeless 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. “The name itself is tough how you can change just one letter and it has a whole different meaning,” Swanky says. “It’s definitely one of my favorite movies… there’s so many different ways you can interpret that one movie. I feel like it's the same way with this album. Everybody knows that Pulp Fiction is a classic movie, but everybody has their own different take on why it's a classic. If you ask five different people why they think it's a classic, you’ll get five different answers.” Indeed, from thoughtful movie references, to luscious production and Swanky’s uplifting vocal energy, there is something for everyone to enjoy on this project.
For cinephiles, the most enjoyable aspect of Purp Fiction will be the film clips that are neatly sprinkled throughout the album. For instance, the tape’s lead single “Royale” samples Pulp Fiction’s classic “Royale With Cheese” exchange between lead characters Vincent and Jules, whom the album’s fifth track is named after. “1994” (not coincidentally the year Pulp Fiction was released) ironically samples the 1936 exploitation film Reefer Madness (“Marijuana! The burning weed with its roots in Hell!”) while “Prolific” samples Nas in the 1998 hip-hop cult classic film Belly (“Just make sure you rise above all this madness out here”). Swanky even managed to give contemporary media a retro feel on “Vincent and Jules,” sampling a Desi Banks video that I initially mistook for a 90s film snippet. “It just sounds vintage so it went together with the whole thing,” Swanky said of the clip.
Pulp Fiction (1994), Reefer Madness (1936), and Belly (1998), pictured above, are among the films sampled in Purp Fiction.
While film enthusiasts will be enthralled by Purp Fiction’s movie samples, old school hip-hop lovers will be delighted by the album’s production palette. Produced entirely by emerging beat-maker Jaan, the tape features a rich golden-era sound, complete with jazzy instrumentation, soul samples and boom-bap percussion that perfectly complements Swanky’s style. “[Jaan] hit me on Instagram, said he wanted to work with me… I get a lot of dms like that but the vibe i've been going for I haven’t really been getting. He sent me about six or seven beats initially but the first one I wrote to was Royale... The feedback on that one was amazing. I didn’t really expect it to blow up like that. He just kept sending beats after that and I'm ‘alright I really like this vibe’... I was already in the making of Purp Fiction, where I wanted to make an album that sounded a certain way. I really just wanted to tap into what I feel doesn't get enough love and credit, which is the West Coast, LA vibe. Everyone close to me knows I've always loved LA, wanted to live in LA, that's the goal in my career. A bunch of other producers sent me beats but [Jaan’s] felt more genuine,” Swanky said of his beat selection.
Although Purp Fiction features consistent throwback production, Swanky’s vocal performance blends 90s age lyricism with circa 2010 “blog-era” influenced delivery. For example, on “Vincent and Jules,” Swanky skillfully interpolates Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa’s 2011 hit “Young Wild and Free.” Both Swanky and I first fell in love with hip-hop at a time when physical album sales were declining and streaming had yet to take off, where many young rappers emerged with projects free for digital download on popular mixtape-hosting websites such as DatPiff.com. “With this one I really wanted to incorporate all of my favorite mixtapes growing up, Mac Miller’s K.I.D.S, Wiz Khalifa’s Kush and Orange Juice, Currency’s Pilot Talk, Joey Bada$$ 1999, put all of those out into one project. I genuinely love listening to that music so much that it came easy and kinda sounds like I've been doing it a long time, while in reality this is my first time really rapping like this,” Swanky said of the time period’s influence.
While Swanky’s sound commands more than enough attention on its own, Purp Fiction’s carefully selected features bring an added excitement to the project. On “Vincent and Jules,” Swanky taps in with Ace $upreme, guiding the melodic trap artist out of his usual element for a lyrical exchange. “Of course me and Ace got chemistry so off rip that was the one that I really wanted on the album. When you look at the tracklist or you look at the name you think you know what you're getting into, and then when you play the song it's something totally different, but it still sounds genuine... Ace doesn't usually write so once I saw him writing I was like ‘this one gonna be something serious,’” Swanky said, describing the track’s cultivation.
On “Vincent and Jules,” Swanky Hendrix and Ace $upreme bring tenacity and chemistry resemblant of the two iconic hitmen.
With “1994,” Swanky and fellow cinephile rapper Rhakim Ali delivered a highly-anticipated collaboration that displays each artist’s lyrical prowess. “For years we’ve been tryna do a song. For years we've known each other. Every album cover I've had Rhakim made. Everyone’s been asking for this one. That's another thing that can hinder you from making a great tracklist. I feel like mainstream artists do this alot. They'll see fans and supporters ask for a song so much that they'll just rush and put out anything to say that they did it. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to rush the feature. I wanted it to be on the right project, at the right time, with the right substance. When you listen to the song, when he starts rapping after the clip, it sounds like there's no beat under there. With that I wanted to get that feel of 1994, back in the day, when they were really just having a cypher, in the halfway, no beat just rapping. I wanted to give the impression that he already had his verse and then we found a beat to put on it,” Swanky explained.
Last but certainly not least, singer Eden Janay steals the spotlight with a passionate hook on “Prolific,” Swanky’s personal favorite record on the album. “That was another early beat that I got from Jaan,” he told me. “Once I heard that I wrote the hook and then I wrote my verse. I kept playing it back before I went to the studio to record and it wasn't hitting the way I wanted it to with my own voice on the hook. It took me about three months to find the perfect female voice that I wanted on the song. My engineer Goldie London engineered the whole project. Eden is actually his girlfriend. One night I pulled up to the stu and he played me a song that she did. When I sent her the hook it didn't sound anything like the hook that's on the final project. I fuck with the way she twisted it but still made it sound tough.”
On Purp Fiction’s outro “Closing Credits,” Swanky samples a Wiz Khalifa interview, where the legendary rapper states “I see myself as a pioneer in the game... there's only certain people that come and define their generation... I see myself as a leader and somebody who changes things and doesn’t just follow.” This clip is a fitting way to end a project that establishes Swanky as an artistic leader during an era of rushed music and uncoordinated releases. With Purp Fiction, he displays the value of taking time to create a cohesive, lasting body of work. “This is the sound that I want,” he says. “When you hear Swanky Hendrix, this is what I want to be known for.”
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