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'Swag Surfin' producer: 'It's very weird... they're still playing the song' eight years later

Originally from Dade City, music producer Kevin Erondu, 31, rose to prominence after creating the beat to Swag Surfin’, a 2009 club hit that still inspires viral videos today.
Originally from Dade City, music producer Kevin Erondu, 31, rose to prominence after creating the beat to Swag Surfin’, a 2009 club hit that still inspires viral videos today.
Published Aug. 23, 2017

TAMPA — Kevin Erondu doesn't often go to night clubs. Yet, across America, he drives people to the dance floor. He's 31 years old, but he still has the ear of college students, and while he's no pro athlete, they leap to their feet when he joins them in the gym.

Erondu produced Swag Surfin', one of the decade's more persistent dance songs.

He got his start banging drums 26 years ago at a Dade City church. Now, he's a music producer who has composed tracks for names as big as Jay Z and Nicki Minaj.

Swag Surfin' came out in 2009. Since then, instead of fading from DJs' rotations, it found its way to pep rallies and political protests. It became a phenomenon, as did a requisite dance: rows of friends and strangers linking arms and swaying from side to side.

Videos of swag-surfing students at historically black colleges go viral, football teams set recruiting videos to the song and Twitter users joke it's become the new black national anthem.

He's as shocked as anyone.

"It's very weird, because we're at eight years now, fast forwarding, and they're still playing the song," he said.

Erondu gave the bouncy club beat a suspenseful opening, four long synth horn notes, inspired by movie scores, all of it so slow that the word "swag" stretches across three beats.

The rhythm kicks in, the rappers shout and the crowd moves.

"When the beat finally drops, people lose their minds," said Chancey Harris of Tampa, who sometimes DJs at Club Skye, an Ybor City hip-hop club.

It all would have been unthinkable when Erondu was a child, playing drums for the Church of God in Christ in Dade City, just off U.S. 301. He kept playing in churches after his family moved to Valdosta, Ga., but he also learned keyboard and organ. Eventually, churches paid him to play on Sundays, the first money he ever made off music.

As a teenager, he noticed a neighbor rapping and inviting people over to record at his house.

"I was always telling him, 'Man, I bet I could kill that. I bet I could do it better than the people that come over,' even though I didn't know how to make a beat." His first try was good enough for the neighbor to hand him $150.

"I was flipping burgers at McDonald's," Erondu said, "and that was almost my two weeks pay."

Bouncing between day jobs and spending nights producing, he built up a local following in Valdosta. Collaborators circled in and out of the house he shared with his ex-girlfriend, listening to songs, sometimes buying them. One day, someone broke in and stole all of his recording gear.

So at 22, with $300 to his name, he spent $200 on a Casio keyboard from RadioShack and jury-rigged it to his ex's laptop.

"I did it incorrectly," he said. "I think it was a microphone or audio (jack) you're literally supposed to use just for chat or for your microphone vocals."

Still, he recorded some synth horns, created the instrumental that would launch his career, and posted it on his MySpace page, where it sat for months until the Stone Mountain, Ga., hip-hop group Fast Life Yungstaz (F.L.Y) bought it for $500.

They released Swag Surfin' in March 2009. Within two months, they told him it was a hit, a claim he had heard plenty of times before.

"I thought they were lying," he said.

But YouTube views piled up, his phone rang and rang, and, finally, he drove to Atlanta to see for himself.

"I didn't know how big it was," he said. He thought it was just F.L.Y. friends and family who liked Swag Surfin'. "I didn't think it was the whole city."

Then the group brought him to an East Atlanta club.

"The intro came on. ... Everybody was just going low, as I saw on YouTube."

All of a sudden, everyone was dancing.

"What I saw, I mean I believed it, but I couldn't believe it," he said.

It was his big break. He turned it into a career, now running his own label of producers. Erondu, known professionally as K.E. on the Track, has amassed some 99,000 followers on Twitter and 111,000 on Instagram. He works on movies and video games.

He estimates that Swag Surfin' sales and radio play have made him at least "a few hundred grand."

"Now we're at another generation," he said. "And this generation is getting into it as if it's new to them, as if there's a new song out."

Swag Surfin' spent eight weeks on Billboard's Top 100 chart in 2009, peaking at No. 71, but its popularity on YouTube — where it has netted 4 million views — has gradually rebounded since 2014.

Dan Sheppard, 25, an Africana studies major at USF, said he hears it at every party he goes to.

His fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, stages swag-surfing videos at annual gatherings. He remembers an international student coming outside and immediately joining in the dance.

"That's how it is, it's just an incredible unity song," he said.

DJs say it's a sure-fire way to build a party's energy.

"It's a real easy-to-get-the-crowd-hyped song," said Bobby Walker, Hot 101.5's DJ Ekin, who often plays at 260 First in St. Petersburg.

Harris, the other DJ, said the reaction to Swag Surfin' can vary by the type of audience. Some mostly white crowds may not recognize it, he said. College towns go crazy.

"Just to see hundreds of people all huddled up and swinging from side to side, under the disco lights and everything like that, it's amazing, for real," he said.

When Walker plays it, he'll chant "left, right, left," getting everyone swaying in unison. He loves the feeling.

Above all, he said, the song is fun and friendly, in a genre that isn't always. "Even the most aggressive dude" will let his guard down when he hears those horns.

While DJs like Harris and Walker feed off of interacting with the crowd, Erondu doesn't feel the need to.

"You don't have to go to the club in order to make a club beat," he explains. He's not the one jumping around on stage, directing the party. He's the background guy. And compared to the famous rappers and singers he works with, it's meeting other producers that leaves an impression.

When he does go out — rarely, he stressed — it's often in Tampa because his relatives force him.

"I still go to Ybor City," he conceded. "I still love my cigars that come from Florida."

Erondu said he returns to Dade City "all the time," visiting his family, neighborhood and childhood church.

"It keeps me grounded because it reminds me of where I came from," he said. It's that background, combined with how he got his big break, that reminds him to keep working.

"My biggest hit was made when everything was stolen and taken away from me. But I figured it out. I spent $200 on a keyboard, and the $200 changed my life. So where there's a will, there's a way."

Contact Langston Taylor at ltaylor@tampabay.com. Follow @langstonitaylor.