Super producer Swizz Beatz is covering the latest issue of Paper magazine.
So here’s an introduction to Swizz Beatz.
He was born Kasseem Dean in the South Bronx and starting around 1998, began making music under the moniker Swizz Beatz as the in-house producer for hip-hop’s notorious Ruff Ryders camp. Swizz crafted hits for acts like DMX, Eve, Drag-On and the LOX. The Ruff Ryders’ sound was one of the most aggressive and unlikely on radio — hit songs that made people want to hit each other. And when he first started making music, Swizz would brag in interviews that most of his beats took him 15 minutes or less to make. He went on to produce albums for a who’s who of the R&B and rock worlds and make music on his own, which for the most part flew under the radar.
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Please allow Swizz Beatz to re-introduce himself.
Swiveling on a stool in the control room of Jungle City Studios, Swizz is playing me selections from his new album, Haute Living. At 32, he’s nearly twice as old as he was when he first started out in the business. He’s a family man, a new dad with a superstar wife; a creative consultant, collaborating with the luxury automobile company Aston Martin to create their first four-door model; a fashion designer, working with Reebok and Christian Louboutin; and Producer-in-Residence at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“Man, I crossed bridges in the industry that should stop water,” he says. “Me coming from the South Bronx and partnering up with Christian Louboutin — we’re not supposed to be in that world!”
As for Haute Living, his third album under his own name, he hopes people hear his “growth” as a musician. Swizz has changed some things up, so he can be, he says, “properly judged and compared” to other superstar producers like Dr. Dre, Timbaland and Kanye West. On the album, Swizz has updated his trademark sound. Where there was once nothing but industrial-sounding drums and synthesizers, there are splashes of live instrumentation and melodies. “I still believe less is more — that’s still my concept — but you have to evolve,” he says.
The guest stars on his new album are also a testament to Swizz’s evolution as an artist
and producer. On his first two albums, 2002’s G.H.E.T.T.O Stories, and 2007’s One Man Band Man, Swizz showcased unknown talents like the rapper Cassidy. Haute Living is a star-studded affair. Though he still records with many members of the Ruff Ryders camp (Eve is the featured MC on Haute Living‘s first single “Coolin’ (Everyday)”), Swizz’s lineup of guests
is extremely impressive: There’s Bono and Lenny Kravitz to show Swizz’s rock bona fides;
John Legend for some melodic texture; and when it came to MCs only the cream of the crop were allowed on, including Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne. “I thought that it was time people know who my friends are and who I’m affiliated with,” Swizz says.
During the interview, he plays me a track called “I’m A Star.” Swizz produced it, rapped on it and Legend sang the hook. It also features some very skillful piano playing. Swizz goes into
great detail about the song and its meaning, but when I ask him who’s on piano, he very shyly,very quietly says, “Oh, that’s Alicia.”
Alicia Keys is one of the most popular singers in the world, and just so happens to be his wife. But unlike some of his other high-profile friendships, Swizz keeps his marriage close to the vest. During the interview he ignores every incoming message and call on his Blackberry, except for one. “Pardon me for one second,” he says. “It’s my wife.”
While he’s reluctant to talk too much about Keys, he does admit that her superstar status has its perks: “Being married to a public figure made people take a second look at me.” And sometimes, he says, the second look isn’t from his fans, but hers. “I know who my fans
are and I know who her fans are that come up to me,” Swizz says with a laugh. “I’m cool
about it, I’m happy to have some of her fans coming to say what’s up.”
The fact is, even his fan-in-laws would probably know at least one of the songs word-for-word that he’s produced. Swizz Beatz songs are ubiquitous anyplace dancing is encouraged and have been since he first made it big in 1998 with DMX’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” He’s also responsible for Beyonce’s “Check On It,” T.I.’s “Bring Em Out,” Chris Brown’s “I Can Transform Ya” — but they’re so closely associated with the artists who performed them Swizz has become a mere afterthought by many of the fans who play them on repeat. Even with a high-profile marriage, a roster of super friends, affiliations with luxury brands and elite institutions and an extensive list of hit records, Swizz probably doesn’t need Haute Living to sell well so much as he needs it to remind those who have forgotten and those who simply still do not know, that he is a bona fide hip-hop renaissance man.
can hear on this album, those beats aren’t 15-minute beats.”
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAN MONICK
Shot at Go Studios
Photos 1 and 2: Jacket by Armani, Jeans by A.P.C., watch by Richard Mille and sneakers by Reebok.
Photos 3 and 5: Jacket, pants, cummerbund and bow tie by Tom Ford, shirt by Dolce & Gabbana, watch by Richard Mille and vintage pocket square.