The recent matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins was far from a relaxing day by the beach. The temperature at Arrowhead Stadium dropped to a bone-chilling -4F (-15.5C). However, there was a brief moment of warmth during the playoff game when the song “Swag Surfin'” by the Fast Life Yungstaz (FLY) played at Arrowhead.
The popular rap track, expected to be heavily played on Super Bowl Sunday, begins with a mellow and brass sound. However, once the beat drops, it ignites a lively and synchronized dance among the 71,492 spectators. The sports anthem includes lyrics such as “I’m swaggin’, I’m surfin'” and “I’m clean like dish detergent.”
Partying right along with the crowd (albeit from a luxury suite) was Taylor Swift, who was caught by TV cameras and quickly converted into internet fodder. “I was on social media, and the video started popping up in real time on my timeline,” says the rapper Ea$ton, who is featured on Swag Surfin’. “It’s hard not to move when the song comes on, even if you don’t know what it is.”
Swag Surfin’ is hip-hop’s plucky locomotive, a single that just picks up steam each year. It’s the pride and joy of FLY, the rap trio made up of the lifelong friends Myko McFly, Vee and Mook. Swag Surfin’ debuted on their album Jamboree in 2009 and cracked the Billboard Hot 100 on the way to achieving gold certification. It fits squarely alongside line dances like the Electric Slide and the Cupid Shuffle in the tradition of joyous Black expression.
However, it is the enduring popularity, rather than sales, that sets Swag Surfin’ apart. The song has grown from a popular club track in the southern region to a staple at weddings. It has been performed by Beyoncé at Coachella and played at events such as Barack Obama’s White House and New York fashion week. Mook reflects, “Many artists never achieve a hit at all. For us to have a hit that continues to gain momentum over time, I can only attribute it to being blessed.”
This is the story of a successful venture from a previous era of technology. It originated on the outskirts of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene in Stone Mountain, Georgia – known for its Confederate monument that rivals Mount Rushmore. The trio, who continue to create music today, formed their group during high school and often collaborated with a collective put together by Ea$ton (formerly known as Jit-Lee) called the Band Geakz. In 2008, FLY began working on Jamboree, a time when there was pressure for rap songs to have a dance that would appeal to the YouTube algorithm. However, the group deliberately tried to avoid this trend. Mook explains, “But we were actually trying to avoid that.”
Swag Surfin’ is a song that falls under the futuristic swag subgenre of hip-hop. This genre is a fusion of trap and snap music with elements of rock. However, it took some effort before this sound became unique to FLY. Myko discovered the beat for Swag Surfin’ on MySpace and then negotiated with a 19-year-old producer, KE on the Track. Myko paid $75 to lease the instrumental, which later went on to be used by other artists such as Rick Ross, Future, and Tamar Braxton. Myko recalls sending KE a Western Union payment after his friend drove him to Walmart or Publix, as that was what KE wanted at the time.
They produced Swag Surfin’ in a small two-bedroom residence owned by Mook’s relative. They gathered on the floor to compose their fun and catchy lyrics, taking turns recording in a makeshift booth located in a closet. Vee’s uncle suggested adding a groovy left-to-right sway to the song, which was already popular in Atlanta. FLY recognized the potential hit when they started performing it at local clubs in the summer of 2009. According to Vee, who goes by the moniker “Ralph Lauren mascot” on the track, they began to see people dressing like them just a few weeks after its release. This happened at the perfect time, right before everyone went back to college and spread the word.
After being included on physical mixtapes, Swag Surfin’ spread from Atlanta to historically Black colleges in the south-east. These schools incorporated the song into their performances at sporting events, and even predominantly white schools like Auburn began to use it as part of their in-game entertainment. Despite its increasing popularity, FLY remained concerned about potentially losing momentum. They distinctly recall being in the green room of a club before an early performance when they heard Swag Surfin’ playing over the speakers, but with someone else rapping on the track. This incident prompted them to realize that they needed to have complete ownership of the beat in order to continue riding the wave of success.
According to Vee, the issue with leases is that multiple people can lease a beat. As a result, they found themselves in a situation where they had to purchase the beat from one lessee and also from KE when they were ready to release it on the radio and have a professionally mixed and mastered version. Although the group did not disclose the exact cost, they do admit that it was the most valuable investment they have made.
The music video also features the dance, which quickly became popular in professional sports arenas. Mook gives a shoutout to Willie Gay, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, for persuading the events staff to play Swag Surfin’ during their last game of the regular season to boost their chances of winning the championship. At the time, Swift was spotted in a luxury suite at Arrowhead Stadium, enjoying the song with a drink in hand. “Since I’ve been here, there have been several crucial moments in the fourth quarter where our defense has stepped up,” Travis Kelce shared on his podcast, New Heights. “During those moments, they play a highlight video that includes Swag Surfin’, and it gets everyone hyped.”
In the Dolphins game, FLY’s viral moment reached its peak as Swift fully embraced the dance. During the conference championship game two weeks later, members of the Baltimore Ravens mocked Swift and the Chiefs by performing the dance after scoring a touchdown. As a result, USA Today and other media sources have rushed to explain the dance to those who were confused about why Swift wasn’t making letters with her arms like the Village People. According to Ea$ton, the group was impressed by how much fun Swift was having and how effortlessly she joined in on the trend.
“When she made that move,” Mook says, mimicking Swift’s hand sweeping over her head in rhythm, “it serves as a reminder of the trendsetting we’ve been doing for the past 15 years.”