The Swerve God
Michael Uko’s newfound focus after mastering Twitter
Manuevering from one lane to the other, Michael Derrick Swerve Uko finds his way at UB with a new focus on the now that'll end up shaping his future. Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum
It's the beginning of the semester and there's a line of people anxiously awaiting entrance into an already-flooded house party.
Though it's midnight and pitch black in the driveway, the easily noticeable 6-foot-4 Derrick Swerve still manages to distract partygoers from the speakers pumping high decibels of music. A girl in the middle of the line constantly peeks behind her shoulder before she finally decides to turn around and ask the question that has become a familiarity for Swerve as of late:
"Do you have a Twitter?"
Swerve has shaken up the Twitter world with over 130,000 tweets and raised an army of approximately 95,000 followers.
When Swerve confirms that he does, in fact, have a Twitter, the girl's face lights up. She knows she is in the presence of one of the many forms of a celebrity.
Born Michael Uko, now attending UB with a major in business and concentration in finance, he's maneuvered through interesting chapters of life's book and now has a new approach. Some things never change with Uko. He resorts to his alias when meeting someone for the first time.
"I don't tell girls that my name is Mike. I tell 'em my name is Derrick Swerve," Uko boasted. "If you meet Trey Songz today, you're going to be like 'Trey Songz.' You call me by my stage name, the name I want to be called. I feel like 30 percent of the people that know me,know me by my real name and the other 70 percent know me as Derrick Swerve. I like how it sounds when these h**s say my name. It flows beautifully."
The "swerve" movement originated during Uko's high school years and continued throughout his first year at Syracuse University.
In 2007-08,Uko attended SU with a major in civil engineering. Because he possessed a keen interest in the construction of bridges and other types of buildings, Uko figured it was a good place to start. But the joy for building couldn't overcome his lack of interest in the science and physics that came along with it.
Socially, Uko was considered "the man" at Syracuse. Isaiah Johnson, SU alumnus and friend of Uko, holds him in the highest regard and describes Uko as the key figure of excitement and activity during his freshman year in '07-08.
"[Uko] was actually one of the first people I met. He was cool;he was really into meeting the entire campus," Johnson said. "He was really into being a somebody. He knew everybody; he was always with it. He always had the latest on what was going on on-campus. If there was a party going on Friday, he knew who it was, he knew who was throwing it, he knew where it was, he knew the time it started, he knew who was going to be there; he was always up on everything."
Being Mr. Popular on campus served as a double-edged sword. Uko was well liked, but he became swallowed by what was considered "cool," which eventually led to his departure from the university after a semester and a half.
"I got caught up in just being the cool guy and getting love everywhere," Uko said. "Everywhere I go, I know people, having fun, just traveling places [and] doing nothing. It was fun, but it was like, why have fun now and be f***ed up later? Just put in work now [and] get money later. I'm not going to be one of them n***as ... that's washed up."
After leaving Syracuse, Uko returned back to his home in Brooklyn, N.Y. - a move that ended up opening more doors and options by trying new things.
Music was the first new hobby that became a part of life. Uko met Duane "Holly Starks" Wallace through mutual friend DJ Renwick while shopping on Black Friday in 2008. The two eventually became friends and while Renwick had to return to school, Wallace and Uko would hang out and remix other artists' songs. The songs were then posted on Facebook.
After receiving some attention, Uko then introduced Wallace to high school friends Andreius "Hoffa Billz" Coleman and Keith "KayFly" Sanders, who were both already familiar with recording. With the four pieces together, the crew hit the studio with the beat that eventually grew to become a YouTube hit song with 15,000 hits titled "Get Busy."
Immediately after they each recorded their verses,the crew thought about shooting a video. But before filming started, they became aware they had no identity and no actual name as a group.
That's when Team Swerve came into play.
"Swerve" was a term created by Coleman back in 2006-07.
"I came up with the idea ... when you didn't hear one rap song without the word 'swag' in it," Coleman said. "Everybody started saying 'swag' and I was just sick of it, man.I was like: 'Yo, f*** swag, swerve, n***a.'"
The whole crew took the new term and ran with it, creating a movement and Uko looked to be the natural ringleader.
In 2009, Uko became Derrick Swerveand took the world by storm. Already buzzing with Team Swerve, he studied for two semesters at New York City College of Technology, established himself as a photographer, created "swervanomics" (a guide of blatant observations and tips on surviving everyday life)and joined Twitter, which was becoming the alternative to Facebook while simultaneously burying MySpace.
According to Uko, photography was something he enjoyed because of its pure art. Snapping pictures for fun led to a constant barrage of compliments that further led to a realization: he possessed a talented eye for capturing moments in time. But being "young and stupid," as he put it, ended up cutting that hobby short.
"I started posting pictures for fun and people were like: 'Oh, your pictures are mad nice,' [so] I stopped going to school [thinking] maybe I should pick up photography," Uko said. "But I really liked it because of the art, not because of the money. We're going through the age of social networks and people wanting to be seen so much ... so I started taking pictures at parties ... and started doing internships. What I wanted to do with it, I would've needed a lot of equipment ... but I didn't want to put the money towards it."
July 24, 2009 was the day of birth for the Twitteraccount @DerrickSwerve, but before then, Uko was anti-Twitter. Coleman first tried to convince his friend to join the new wave, but Uko continued broadcasting his distaste for the social network,dismissing everything related to Twitter until that particular day when boredom struck. This bored day forced Uko's hand to navigate to the website, then move through the sign-up phase. But from Twitter, Uko has made many discoveries and observations on people.
"It's crazy because Twitter is the direct representation of how the world is," Uko said. "When I first made a Twitter,people that I know personally wouldn't even respond to my tweets, follow back or anything. Then when I started ... getting more followers and tweeting funny s**t, ... it's those same people that are like: 'Oh, s**t, you know mad b****es, you know mad people, shout me out, follow me.' Now that I get a little bit of status,people want to f*** with me and that's how life is; people do the same s**t."
Over the past three and a half years, Uko has tweeted his way to the Internet status that he is at now. Being labeled as a "Twitter celebrity" and followed by others of that rank has come from a long line of funny tweets, relatable topics, controversial issues and the occasional "twitbeef" - a battle of words on Twitter.
Main targets of the twitbeef were porn stars, video vixens, groupies and washed-up rappers. New Orleans artist Chopper and Miami artist Spectacular were both victimized with slander that only contained 140 characters. The tweets led to an eruption of mentions, followers and eventually Uko being blocked by both.
Amber Rose, fiancÃ©e to rapper Wiz Khalifa, wasn't safe in the streets of the World Wide Web either. Some jokes were thrown her way, but instead of blocking Young Work (Uko's name on Twitter), she responded with some slick words of her own.
Nobody was safe in the prime of @DerrickSwerve. Honest and unfiltered opinions on women, sexuality, music, sex and many other topics were regular tweets refreshed on the timeline of users throughout the Twitter world. His account was never one to be read if you happened to be sensitive or insecure.
Now, with enough followers on Twitter to wage war, Uko sits comfortably on a seat that levitates over those who don't have commas in their number of followers. Team Swerve, in turn, had gained more popularity because of the new outreach.
Life seemed to be going all right.
But on April 3,Uko's followers and supporters erupted in anger. G.O.O.D. Music dropped its platinum single "Mercy," in which Big Sean notably repeats "swerve" throughout the song. "Swerve," the term that was coined nearly six years prior,was now being credited to the Detroit artist. Today, no Instagram caption or hashtag is safe; "swerve" is everywhere.
"I felt a way," Uko confessed. "I can't be mad because s**t happens. 'Swerve' is still a word, but of course we've been using it since forever. It took me about a month and a half [to listen to the track]. People kept hyping that s**t up so I [didn't] even want to listen to it until I just heard it on my own. It was whatever after a while, but f*** it, s**t happens."
Uko doesn't tweet much nowadays. He goes on a rant every once in a while, but it's nothing compared to his heyday from 2009-11. Today, he's better known for memes and picstitched photos.
Earlier this semester, a photo that showed a blonde-haired woman was picstitched with Ramen noodles and ended up going viral. You would think that she braided her hair with the ready-in-three-minutes meal. The image reached the retweets of rapper Waka Flocka Flame and the unverified Katt Williams. Uko was responsible for that.
Social media is now used just for fun, though; he is studying at UB to one day live comfortably. That's his main focus.
"I always tell people this: when I was doing photography, a white man told me: 'As a black man in America, the smartest thing for you to do is get your degree,'" Uko said. "Nothing in life is guaranteed. I do the music.I'm in school; I'm just trying to find ways to be prolific, be resourceful."
Uko, who expects to graduate next spring,has experienced enough to know exactly what he wants and possess the ambition to strive toward it. Keeping a low profile, Uko continues his focus toward making real money and pushing Team Swerve.
As Coleman put it, "he's a good dude, he's still young, he's still swervy; he's about that life."
Still the same Michael Uko, still the same Derrick Swerve. But the swerving is less drastic. The new path is clear, and he's cruising straight down it.
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