Swizz Beatz may be known for building hits for some of the biggest names in the business (Whitney Houston, Chris Brown, JAY-Z), but the hip-hop recording artist is also an avid art fan.
2015, the Grammy-winning producer partnered with Bacardí to debut a three-day art show entitled No commissions at the annual Miami Art Basel. The idea, according to Swizz, was to give artists the opportunity to sell their work and take home 100 percent of the income, instead of delivering a considerable commission to a gallery space. After the success of the program, Swizz and his team took the concept to the whole world, making stops in London, Shanghai and New York. This weekend, the producer will bring No commissions back to Art Basel at Soho Studios from Thursday to Saturday.
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Swizz is not the only rapper who appreciates a well-oiled canvas. The 39-year-old tells Billboard that several of his colleagues, including Nas and Beyoncé, have followed in his footsteps and are becoming art fans. "People used to laugh at me for collecting art, and now it's the right thing to do," he reveals.
Billboard spoke with Swizz to discuss his transition to art curatorship, plans to launch a new "serious" album in 2018, and how life has changed since he graduated from Harvard in November.
How did it arise No commissions and association with Bacardi?
I came up with this concept three years ago in school. I was like, "How can I create something that will celebrate the artist 100 percent?" because I realized the creation of other shows and other fairs that the gallery wins, the collector wins, the fair wins and the artist has to find the way home. So I decided that I was going to build something where the artist can maintain 100 percent. I started to build that and then Bacardi contacted me and wanted to be a partner. I was receptive to that because they agreed to do all the right things and here we go again. We have been around the world since our first show in Miami and this weekend we will return to Miami for Art Basel.
What has been so surprising has been the number of lives I've seen change since No commissions – artists going on to large collections, museums, great representation. These are people that I met on Instagram, some who just arrived with hope and a dream, and made it possible. No commissions is not a charity. We are giving people a platform. Everyone here is willing and able to do their thing; they just do not have an outlet. I'm excited about what we bring to the table.
What was the first work of art you ever bought?
The first real piece of art that was quite expensive was Ansel Adams. There was something about that that made me dream. I got that piece, and then I went crazy. I'm still going crazy. It was a black and white photograph of a landscape in the Alps. I had never seen such a detailed photograph in black and white. I was 19 when I bought it. I was like, "How can a human take that picture?"
What are some of your favorite pieces in your collection?
My studio is basically an art gallery and I have a lot of piece there that I love. I have a Michael Vasquez and that is a piece that everyone loves taking pictures in front of. I have a Lyle Owerko. He was the photographer who took the cover of the magazine T ime when the Twin Towers were hit. He also made the Boom Box photograph that I have hanging there. I have an original Biggie photograph by Jonathan Mannion, a glass sculpture by Dustin Yellin. Zio Ziegler is an amazing artist and I have a huge piece of him there, Damien Hirst. There are many pieces there. But that is a summary of some of my favorites.
I think the most expensive piece in my collection now is probably a [Jean-Michel] Basquiat. He is the best-selling artist at the moment, African-American. But I collect all the living artists right now. That is mine. I would like artists to be able to smell their roses while they are here, use their money to invest in themselves and then give the world more greatness. I have been encouraging people to support living artists so they can enjoy this now. It should not be like oh, when that person is not here, we want to be in the person. That's the other way around!
Tell us about your mission to attract more women and people of color to the artistic community.
I think it's important that people know how important culture is to real because a lot of people get it out of it, but it's never really returned to the right place. It has always been a goal to have a diversified group represented in my shows. I always say "how many women are there in the program? How many men are there in the program?" It has to feel like a balance. It does not have to be 50/50 all the time, but everyone should feel important. I also want to represent other minority groups because they have so much talent. The good thing is that African-American art is at a super high level. But even though I collect African-American artists, I collect all the artists. I am color blind when it comes to art but I will never minimize the art that is mainly from my side of the culture as well.
We take artists that are well known and mix them with future artists. because we feel that what happens with these old systems is that if you do not have a certain state or a certain income, you can not participate with the other. I am like why? Good art is good art. That's. Nina Chanel was on my show in the Bronx and now she only had two sold-out shows with Mary Boone Gallery and Jack Shainman. It does not get bigger than that. You can be on that main level, but still be cool enough to be next to promising artists. I think that is the spirit that No Commissions has. I love seeing the love and diversity of cultures in the room.
Have you thought about selling your own art?
I've been doing art for years but just do it for my therapy. I do it out of charity. I give art to hospitals sometimes. I have never sold any of my jobs. My goal is to help at least 100,000 artists before I take my art seriously and show it.
Which of your friends in the music industry are the biggest art fans that people might not expect?
I think most of them are. Many of them are very calm about it. NAS, Bey & Jay, Erykah Badu, Carmelo Anthony. Everyone is in the wave of art at this time. It's different than when I started. People used to laugh at me for collecting art and now it is what should be done. It's like "Man, I have this piece" or "What's the next piece?" It is a topic of conversation. It's right where it should be. And I love that more culture is seeing this now. I want the culture to have more guidance on what to buy because a lot of people are being cheated. Many people do not know what they are doing.
Give us the "Swizz Beatz quick guide to buy art".
1. Buy from your heart Just buy what you love, what you feel, what you want to live.
2. Research your art style before buying. Internet has everything. We are going to use it, not only for social networks but also to obtain the information you need. Do your homework before you go shopping so when people say things to you, you have a point of reference and can not just convince them to go in your favor. It should go in your favor.
3. Go to the gallery shows. Go to the openings. Go to shows. Enter the mix When you enter the mix and start attending these programs, even if you do not buy any of these programs, you get the feeling and you begin to inform yourself directly and indirectly about how the flow happens, how to get your feet wet. It's like, "OK, I start with this book? I start with this impression? I start with this title?" He will know what he wants to do.
4. Beware of investment expectations, which means that the galleries put pressure on you or on a person who pressures you to buy something because of a guaranteed investment. Nothing is guaranteed That's why I go back to number 1: buy from the heart, buy what you feel. You will never lose if that is the case and then, if the investment happens, then you win again. So be prepared to win sometimes.
5. Try to buy live artists. Try to contribute again to the artist who may also contribute to the world now.
6. Try to come to without commissions and buy the art from there because the artist will keep 100 percent of those sales. If you really want to do something, come and support the artists like that.
How has life changed since you became a great Harvard graduate?
I feel very appreciated in the world, it's not that I have not done it before, but it's just a different kind of energy. I am constantly approached by people of all ages and nationalities who tell me that I have inspired them. It was like the world sent an APB about my graduation. It felt like the biggest thing I ever did in my life. I know it is personally. But I just did not think that culture would react like this and even outside of culture. I'm glad that people have supported this trip because I wanted the youth and our industry to understand how important education is. As creators, we always want to ignore it and act as if we were superheroes. We forget that it is the business of music, the art business, the fashion business, the film business. All those things have issues related to them, but we always want to ignore that part and leave it in the hands of another person to do the work and then we wonder why we are always falling short. Therefore, it is like no man, take some time and invest in yourself and still you can have representation, but at least 50-50 with the conversation so you can understand it. There will come a time when your creativity will reach the ceiling where you will have to be able to think beyond that point. That's what made me go back and put these three years. It has been incredible. I feel like I'm starting my career. I started at 17 years old. I just turned 39 years old. I really feel like I know what I'm doing now. I feel like I can plan well. So, if people felt they had done something before, shit, I did not even start!
Do you have your diploma hung in your home or is it not elegant enough to share wall space with your fabulous art? collection?
I have not seen it since I graduated; I think my wife took it to frame it. But I'm going to hang up. I'm not very good at hanging achievements or recognitions or things like that. I do not need that around me to feel comfortable. It also makes me feel that I did it when I have not started yet. That's why I do not have any plaque hanging in my house. I do not make the trophies hanging. I did not even get my Grammy because once it was over; It's done. You know that you have done it; The world knows that you have done it. I probably keep it for my children or something, but I want to feel like I have so much work to do because I do it.
You won your Grammy in 2011. Does anyone in the office ever communicate with him? a quick reminder: "Hey, are you going to pick this up?" email?
They have arrived a couple of times (laughs). But they are not sweating if I'm not sweating.
What's in the music front for you?
I come with my record and it's the opposite of everything we just said he talked about. All those things are Harvard and No commissions and this and that. My album is called Poison . I'm back in mode and the music that I'm coming to is going to be very serious, very raw, very real, because I feel we need it and I want to do it. With all these different things that I've been doing, I could easily come up with an album that is like the success of radio No. 1, but I'm just not in that space musically. I'm in that space in other areas of my life but musically I want to put on my hoodie. I want to feel a little intense. I want to feel some emotion I want to feel something that is like "yes!" Like "wow! I needed him!" I want to give people that dose. I want to give people that injection, that poison that will really revive them.
I'm ready to go out with the album every time, but it looks like it will be next year's top. We closed things to prepare for this show and then I was busy finishing school, so we postponed it. Even the battle with me and Tim (Timbaland) postponed it. But we are still doing that. It is still happening. The smoke is coming down! Let's make 2018 something special!