More than 20 years have passed since the early beginnings of Bronx native, Swizz Beatz (born Kasseem Dean) career trajectory. With dozens of musical hits under his belt and award-winning accolades to coincide with his name, the father of five is still delving into the depths of his limitless talent. In an industry that is either home of rejection or great acceptance Kaseem Dean’s relentless ambition, true grit, business acumen and persevering spirit has solidified his staying-power long into the future.
A hallmark of the 39 year olds success is his ability to disrupt social norms with his ingenious craftsmanship ranging from music, to fashion and art. In 2015, the multifaceted producer partnered with Bacardi to create the No Commission platform “By the artists, for the artists.” With the sale of each piece of artwork, 100% goes directly back into the pockets of the artists and their exhibition space is provided free of charge. In two short years the concept has grown into a notable force by making an indelible impact for art enthusiasts around the globe including London, Shanghai, New York, Berlin and its original landmark of Miami. This years No Commission: Miami taking place during Art Basel is guaranteed to be the best one yet. According to Swizz, “It’s Showtime,” and if you’ve been following his journey or been a fan of his work then you understand the magnitude of his trademark statement.
The three-day art installation boasts a compelling lineup comprised of musical acts and an exciting “women in leadership,” component in conjunction with Hyphen Labs. An international team of women of color, working at the intersection of technology, art and science. The initiative is set to highlight and encourage the work of current and future female leaders focused on innovation and community engagement. While chatting with the pioneering talent he provided his curatorial perspective of the arts, the key to help him unlock his creativity, words of wisdom for aspiring art collectors and the strength of purpose he carries as a proud graduate of Harvard University to spark motivation for succeeding generations. Swizz Beatz story is still unfolding but the obvious is clear. He put match to a dream and ignited a trailblazing path to continue challenging standard notions in all facets of life.
Dontaira Terrell: New York is a melting pot, form of art and source of inspiration in itself. How did growing up in the Bronx fulfill your desire or inspire you to grow as an artist?
Swizz Beatz: I know for sure growing up in the Bronx served as a source of inspiration and provided me with survival tools and the skillsets needed to keep me grounded. From music to art and fashion I’ve been able to take from my surroundings and have that embedded in my DNA. It comes from the melting pot of New York and specifically growing up in the Bronx. It’s an honor to be a part of that New York legacy.
DT: Can you provide some background behind the collaboration with the Dean Collection and Bacardi?
SB: The partnership originally began about two and half years ago. It started in Miami when I first developed the concept of No Commission. At the time, they [Bacardi] were interested in becoming more involved within the creative space. They understood I wanted the artists to shine on their own and I wasn’t big on brand logos. Because Bacardi understood the mission and agreed to allow artists to keep the proceeds from the show and make it free for the people, it made a great partnership from day one. This is important to my concept in allowing the artists to continue to be free because it's “For the artists, by the artists, with the people.” It’s amazing a brand such as Bacardi would understand the various elements and how it helps maintain the authenticity of supporting the arts.
DT: You’ve a built a prestigious reputation for paying it forward. How does the “No Commission” platform continue to build on this mission?
SB: My entire mission is to be able and use the tools I have to empower others. Every partnership I am involved with at this current moment beginning with Bacardi has to have a give back factor. From this platform alone we’ve given back millions of dollars. We’ve also helped create success stories for many artists that come from No Commission. If you take a look at Nina Chanel she has sold out two shows in New York City at Mary Boone and Jack Shainman’s galleries. There are also several other artists who are starting at No Commission and elevating to the next level. This is what makes it special. The artists are able to utilize this platform as a launch pad without being indebted to someone. I feel this is the right way to do things because if we free the artist we free the world.
DT: You previously mentioned when you first began building your collection you purchased a few “bad pieces and okay pieces.” What makes a piece of artwork good, bad or indifferent?
SB: I think a piece of artwork is bad when you purchase it solely based on the status and what you can make off of it. Art should be something you feel in your heart. Its great if the price increases on a piece of artwork but if it doesn’t, it still should be a great piece of art. You should buy pieces because it speaks to you and it is a form of expression that both you and the artist can relate to.
Early on, I bought pieces for the wrong reasons. For instance, it was more or less to show Clive Davis I was different from my peers because I had a Warhol on my wall. The reality is, it truly didn’t mean anything because at the end of the day it didn’t take away or add to the talent I was born with. I’m not saying, he [Warhol] is not a master in his craft but I personally know the artists of the works I now collect. They are living artists who can use from these purchases to continue building. We can also celebrate them while they are alive. I love to see artists that began their journeys very low and end up in museums. I’m able to introduce these artists to my family members because they’re like family to me.
DT: As a multifaceted artist how do you continue to challenge yourself and push the needle forward?
SB: I try to challenge myself by doing things I know majority of people won’t take the time out to do. It is one of the reasons I attended Harvard. You’d be surprised because many people gave me a lot of slack for being successful and going back to school. I honestly don’t know how people can find fault into anyone furthering their education. Although I’ve graduated, I am still going to complete more classes because you can never learn enough. We are forever students and the minute we stop learning is the minute we stop growing. I know our culture needs these certain injections and someone has to do it. Instead of sitting back and complaining about what we don’t have I choose to get up and become part of the solution.
I always try and look beyond the day-to day into the future. I know we need to be educated if we want to be the true leaders that we not only say we are but were born to be. You can’t be a true leader if you aren’t able to pass a creative thought and that is where some creatives get jammed up. We forget it’s the fashion business, music business, art business and film business. They all have the business element attached but for some reason we tend to ignore the business aspect and leave it for others to handle. As talented as we all are, if you look at artists in any format, none of us are receiving our just due as we really should. It’s because no one took the time to challenge the business aspect. I want to be that person to show the youth it can be cool to have a business savvy sense and be a creative at the same time.
DT: What tools did you attain from your time at Harvard to help you further maneuver and navigate in the art world?
SB: The tools I received from Harvard set me up to navigate in the world [period.] In my last session before graduating I reviewed 37 case studies. The one commonality I noticed was there was structure in all of the biggest and successful companies. I learned how to take an idea from the conceptual phase and build out the dynamics behind it. I built No Commission in school three years ago and I’m hoping one day it will be a case study. Actually, Harvard is doing a case study on my wife and I right now which is a bonus because although it was a dream, I didn’t expect it.
DT: Does your personal art express a different side of your personality than your music? For instance, your music is upbeat and makes people want to dance, is it the same purpose for your paintings or do your paintings showcase a more a softer side of your personality?
SB: I don’t know. My painting is my therapy. As far as my work and the expression of my music I never looked at it in that way. When I’m painting, it’s for me personally and it’s the time when I have the most freedom. I can have a cigar, listen to jazz music, paint what I’m inspired by, let the ideas flow onto the canvas, leave it for two months, then come back to it and wonder, “damn what was I thinking?” (laughs).
Visit https://nocommission.bacardi.com to learn more and if you’re in Miami, December 8th & 9th be sure to check out the “No Commission,” exhibit.