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Land of the Swag, Home of the Surf: An Anthem That Matters

If “Swag Surfin” isn’t an anthem then nothing is an anthem. Nothing. Not even that one, the one everyone is so worked up about lately.

Man I got that swaaaaaaaaag…
My hat matching my baaaaaaaaag…
You know I'm popping taaaaaaaaags…
Cause man I got that swaaaaaaaaag…

When I hear those singsong lyrics fade in, the hairs on my arm stand on end. And then, when those first few bars of the chorus drop:

I'm on Hpnotiq, exotic
This Polo on my body

I want to jump out of my fucking goosebumped-skin. And essentially, I do.

What is an anthem? A quick google reveals a satisfying answer: “a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause.”


If “Swag Surfin” isn’t an anthem then nothing is an anthem. Nothing. Not even that one, the one everyone is so worked up about lately.

“Swag Surfin” was released in 2009 by Fast Life Yungstaz, a group from Stone Mountain, GA, a place perhaps currently better known as the hometown of Donald Glover. Being a couple years out of college then, I feel as if I missed out on fully experiencing the song in its own time. I have no memories of gleefully "Swag Surfin" at a homecoming game or rapping along to it at a Kappa party, but I think about “Swag Surfin" often now, as it remains popular in black spaces and has been rightfully immortalized through the power of the Internet. I mean, look at these videos.

There are very few things that can, in an instant, make me feel the pride and unbridled joy that "Swag Surfin" makes me feel and those videos are just a few examples of how widely shared that sentiment is. And while I know that this song (like any song or any thing) doesn’t resonate with everyone, I would never fault someone else for not feeling what I feel when I hear it.


— Bob Fusse (@zsazsaZavia)

August 31, 2016

And while I realize I’m talking about “just” a rap song, a song that may not even particularly rate with the gatekeepers of the genre itself, “Swag Surfin” has me thinking about the controversy currently surrounding Colin Kaepernick and what it’s like to not feel what others feel when they hear the National Anthem. I think about what it must be like to hear it 16, 82, 162 times a year. I think about how during the Anthem, it’s more than just an absence of feeling, but the act of standing in “respect” of a country that continues to view you and people like you as less than citizens, not much worthy of life let alone reciprocal respect.


HU Love to surf! RT @DMVFollowers: Only at Howard do they play “Swag Surfin” at the graduation ceremony.

— Warrior T (@thetiarafitsme)

May 9, 2015

I don’t know of many people who have more than cursory reverence for our National Anthem. How many times have you mindlessly stood and waited for its performance to be over, without so much as a thought to citizenship, to country, or *gasp*…to the troops? I’ve stood in stadiums where people absentmindedly pick at their nachos, continue conversations, and generally zone out while the National Anthem is being played or sung. So it seems, ignoring the Anthem is fine so long as it looks like you care. Doing things other than standing hand over heart during the Anthem is fine so long you’re not a professional athlete and therefore, a “role model.” But mindfully and quietly sitting in dignified protest because you want our country to be better? That is disrespect.

The reactions to Kaepernick make me never want to stand for another rendition of our National Anthem ever again. Meanwhile, every time I hear “Swag Surfin” it makes me feel pride and self-love that stands in stark opposition to all the pain and demoralization I feel due to recent events of state violence and marginalization. I feel something that shields me from what people in this country are trying to make me feel about my life’s worth. And I support anyone who loves themselves and loves us and loves justice more than the preservation of polite and ultimately meaningless ceremony, especially when the most racist among us are often the first to wrap themselves in those hollow “patriotic” niceties they hold in higher esteem than human life.


Mizzou students celebrate this initial win re: Wolfe's resignation as they continue to press the other demands.

— deray mckesson (@deray)

November 9, 2015

And before you dismiss the comparison, when was the last time you felt a swell of emotion during our Anthem as strong as those displayed in any of the videos above? There’s none of the performative solemnity of standing silently at attention. “Swag Surfin” compels a literal embrace of your fellow person, an ocean of individuals becoming one exultant wave. "Swag Surfin" has none of the baggage of our National Anthem either, partly due to recency of course, but also beacause of that pesky third verse in our National Anthem that’s “probably” too racist for us to even acknowledge. In a tale-of-the-tape of third verses, Myko McFly referencing Otto from “Rocket Power” >>> Francis Scott Key referencing “hirelings and slaves.” Also Ralph Lauren, he of “the Polo on my body” is the official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic Team. Coincidence? I think not.

In honor Black History month… #BlackExcellence The epic Howard University #HBCU #SwagSurf

— Franny D (@FrannyDiva)

February 2, 2016

We often hesitate to bestow iconic status on things because it goes so counter to the status quo, especially when it comes to bestowing that status on recent, black, art. The “test of time” is too revered and canons are powerful monuments to the old guard. And what is more old guard than a poem written by a slaveowner in 1814 that we would later adopt as our National Anthem nearly 100 years ago? But in your bones, you know what an anthem is and how it makes you feel. You can’t deny that for appearances or because it’s unconventional or because traditionalists will mock you from their safe perch of general consensus and intertia. Breaking tradition is the only true tradition. Our country was literally built on that. And as I mentioned, my blackness aside, I do feel like I come to “"Swag Surfin"” as bit of an outsider, late to its own sense of tradition given my age and even my extremely white school. But all that melts away when it comes on, when I’m slowly bobbing and swaying in anticipation of that beat dropping, and when I’m in the full throes of surfing back and forth, arms around whoever is within reach. That’s the real, unifying power of a true anthem. And "Swag Surfin" is a true anthem.

And while throughout history many have refused to stand for the National Anthem as a form of respectful protest, no one ever did anything to the National Anthem as disrespectful as this.

Yung Costanza is clean like dish detergent. Follow him on Twitter.