How ‘Swag Surfin’ became the unofficial anthem of the Washington Mystics
The WNBA Finals favorites have been guided through the playoffs by an obscure hip-hop song from over a decade ago
WASHINGTON — Natasha Cloud was sitting on the bench during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the Washington Mystics’ regular-season finale against the visiting Chicago Sky on Sept. 8. With just under six minutes left in the game, and the Mystics leading 87-67, Cloud heard those synth horns and iconic opening lyrics.
Man I got that swaggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg.
My hat matchin my bagggggggggggggggggggggggggg.
As if by instinct, the Mystics guard hooked arms with her teammates on the bench and began to fluently motion left to right to the rhythm of the beat. And then the bass hit.
I’m on Hypnotic, exotic, this Polo on my body/Got a bad girl beside me, and her friend right behind me.
What were once slow, simmering waves morph into a tsunami of shoulders and limbs moving from side to side as if attempting to shake the Mystics’ arena, the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast Washington, from its foundation.
“I’m always Swag Surfing with them,” Cloud told The Undefeated last week.
YOOO FANS ARE SWAG SURFIN AT THE MYSTICS GAME. Mystics winning it all. pic.twitter.com/Vd8Sx2BYrv
— Greydy (@GreydyDiaz) September 8, 2019
As the Mystics have roared to their second trip to the WNBA Finals in as many years, defeating the Connecticut Sun 95-86 in Game 1 on Sunday, they have been guided through the playoffs by an obscure hip-hop song from over a decade ago: “Swag Surfin’.”
From Atlanta hip-hop trio F.L.Y. (Fast Life Yungstaz), “Swag Surfin’ ” was a minor hit from 2009 that in recent years has become a cultural staple among some African Americans. The song peaked at just No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the time and was arguably overshadowed by Lil Wayne’s remix of the song on his 2009 mixtape No Ceilings soon thereafter. But at the halfway point of this decade, the song (and dance) had a resurgence on social media, in part, some believe, because of a group of students at Howard University, a historically black institution located in the district, Swag Surfing in unison at a school sporting event in 2015, which was subsequently uploaded to Twitter.
Since then, there’s been Swag Surfing at protests, college football games, Beyoncé concerts and perhaps most notably the White House — pre-2016, of course. This newfound popularity of “Swag Surfin’ ” led to the song finally being certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in June, more than 10 years after it debuted.
Kyle L. Jones, the Mystics’ arena host who goes by Kyle on the Mic, was the mastermind behind the idea of playing “Swag Surfin’ ” at the arena.
During Mystics games, there are numerous breaks in play, called hype breaks, when the arena hosts, using music, games and trivia, seek to get the fans’ energy up. During one such hype break against the Sky, Jones’ co-host, Britt Waters, was doing an on-camera hit in another section of the arena and Jones had to quickly — he estimates 10 to 15 seconds — come up with an idea to help guide the team through the fourth quarter, especially after the Sky had mounted a comeback from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter.
Jones wanted something that was both fun and energetic, hype and unifying. He quickly leaned on his historically black college and university (HBCU) roots — Jones graduated from Maryland’s Bowie State University in 2018 — and figured “Swag Surfin’ ” would get the entire crowd rocking in unison to push the Mystics to victory.
There’s a pantheon of all-time arena music. Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2,” to name a few. Why did Jones settle on “Swag Surfin’ ”? “It’s a song that you know when you hear it, even if you didn’t go to an HBCU, you know that song means energy, unity, everybody cheering and having fun together,” he said.
He thought to himself, how can I incorporate that HBCU experience and something we did into a Mystics game.
He huddled with the Energy Squad — who, like Jones, is responsible for hyping up the crowd during breaks in play — and described his plan to Swag Surf in his section of the arena for the next on-camera hit. “Either the whole arena will understand what’s going on and do it or they’re not,” he remembers telling the Energy Squad. “It’s either going to be good or bad.”
He then relayed his request to Chris Murray, the Mystics’ director of game presentation, who in turn made the request to the team’s resident disc jockey, DJ Heat, whose real name is Nicole Mosley.
At the next break, DJ Heat pressed play and the entire arena, including Cloud and some of her teammates, began swaying left and right. The video went viral on social media.
But there was just one problem: “They were doing more like a Swag Wave,” DJ Heat said.
The majority-white crowd at the arena, likely hearing the hip-hop track for the first time, struggled with the basic movements of Swag Surfing. Instead of bobbing and swaying, the crowd mostly just moved their arms from side to side as if reciting in their heads, “Heyyyyyyy, hooooo.” It was the opposite of “swag.”
“What kind of gentrified swag surf is that?” one Twitter user asked. “Eh need a little more seasoning,” another posited. Jones and others saw the comments.
“The thing is, the Swag and Surf is a cultural thing where if you attended an HBCU, you know how it’s supposed to be,” Jones said. “And when people on Twitter saw how it wasn’t exactly how we do it at HBCUs, it was some backlash.”
DJ Heat, barely able to get the sentence out without bursting into laughter, blamed the unseasoned Surfing on “a different age range that’s there.” Nevertheless, she doesn’t care that the audience doesn’t know how to properly Swag Surf. “They could take their shirt off and wave it like a helicopter, as far as I care.”
(She’s asked if the Mystics crowd would get that reference. “I think a few,” she said.)
On the other hand, Jones can help those who may have a Swag Surfing deficiency: “You look to your left, you look to your right. Even if you’re in front of your neighbor, what you’re going to do is put your arm around their shoulders, and you’re just going to sway to the left and sway to the right, slowly. And then when the beat picks up, you sway to the left and right in a faster motion with your arms around each other’s shoulders like you’re together as a family.
“If they didn’t know how to do it then, let me tell you something, they know how to do it now,” he said.
DJ Heat has played “Swag Surfin’ ” at every home game since the one against the Sky. She now plays it almost exclusively before tipoff, though during Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces she played it in the fourth quarter as well.
“I’m sure F.L.Y. appreciates [the song reemerging],” DJ Heat said.
F.L.Y. is made up of members Myko McFly, Vee and Mook. Easton, another Georgia rapper, is also featured on “Swag Surfin’.” The group has been blown away by the reemergence of their song so many years later. They knew they had a hit on their hands back in 2009 (Vee called it the “new era Electric Slide”), but they never would have imagined a large group of people Swag Surfing at the White House.
Like Jones, F.L.Y. said the song is about having people coming together to have a good time. From Beyoncé to Shaquille O’Neal to HBCUs, they’ve witnessed what their song means to a lot of people, not to mention Mystics fans.
“I think it’s pretty cool for them to use our song and at the same time have the whole crowd crumping them up before the game,” Vee told The Undefeated last week.
And as far as the fans struggling to properly Swag Surf, Easton has some breaking news.
“People don’t know that originally Swag Surfing was something that you did individually,” he said. “I think on the second resurgence of it was when people started locking arms and putting their arms around their friends, because we all used to just do it solo.”