Swizz Beatz: Hip Hop's Patron and Advocate for the Arts
written by Moeima Makeba
We hear about it all the time. Whether it's from a good girl hungry to go bad only to turn good again (cough, Miley) or musicians popular in most countries in the world except the States, or visual artists working within a genre they are not known for, seeking acceptance -- the idea of crossing over into uncharted territory is a pioneer spirit that haunts every creator.
The story is the same for Swizz Beatz (government name, Kasseem Dean). For Black folk - we've heard his name whispered (or in DMX’s case hollered) on a track since back in the days when Ruff Ryder camp was everything, and to this day, Ruff Ryder's Anthem is still one of the most recognizable songs to come out of New York, produced by Swizz at the age of 17.
For many producers, their place is behind the scenes - mostly unknown. But Swizz felt that crossover twinge something serious and didn't need much motivation to follow it. Known to the mainstream as Alicia Keys' husband or just a ‘rap producer’- to us he's that Swizz that has consistently produced (no pun intended) hot fire.
For Swizz the new frontier was not about his ear, but his eye.
A young man, raised in the Bronx and now finding himself financially solvent, he bought a house and immediately wondered what to dress his walls with. Posters were not the look and with this hunger for visual pleasantries Swizz tumbled into the art world at the age of 18.
The work that did it? An Ansel Adams photograph. This was the beginning of what would be known as the Dean Collection - Swizz's personal collection of artwork. A collection that now boasts work from from artists like Keith Haring, Joan Miró, Peter Max, Takashi Murakami, Gordon Parks, Lyle Owerko and of course, Jean Michel Basquiat.
When seeking art to purchase Swizz was often pushed toward buying Basquiat (probably because of the similarities of being black, talented and from a modest background). It makes sense that as ambassador of Reebok Classic, Swizz took creative reign for a collection, plastering Basquiat on the Reebok Blast in 2012.
The following year it was his painting of Basquiat, using a Mercedes Benz hood for canvas, interpreted from a photo by William Coupon, showed a talent previously unwitnessed. And was quickly purchased by friend and co-creator, Jay-Z.
Growing up in the Bronx, Swizz was never far removed from art. From the original purveyors of graffiti like Bronx artists Riff or Tracy or Keith Haring's Crack is Wack in nearby Harlem - his home was lit with raw energy, uncut passion and visual talent.
And it was here he chose to make his debut of No Commission in August of 2016. No Commission is just that, Just that, no commission at all.
No Commission is a platform in which artists receive 100% profit of work sold.
The four day event included a corporate partnership with Bacardi, multiple performances, food, a Ferris wheel, celebrities and of course - art. Work by artists like Ebony Patterson and Jeffrey Gibson was appreciated some but not all and many local Bronx residents, protested the fair and criticized its promotion and execution - believed to have dropped the ball on showcasing what the Bronx of present day is culturally.
Swizz recently told The Source..
Should there be a part II for No Commission in the Bronx - focusing on bringing art to the locals (to their schools, to their streets, to their everyday life) is a move I would fully support. As well as funding programs to travel students and young or untrained artists to major, world renowned art institutions that are less than a mile or two away.
For many New Yorkers especially those born in the city without means, a mile might as well be the Atlantic Ocean and places like the Guggenheim, the Whitney or even the Metropolitan Museum of Art are foreign and frightening.
Comfort in a completely unknown territory is something Swizz should know well, being a navigator is a role he's born to play. Let's hope as No Commission makes its way around the world (having already hit cities like Shanghai and Berlin this summer) but returns to New York, ready to tackle and represent progression that much more.