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Swizz Beatz is leaving his print on the art world

The Grammy-winning producer discusses his creative process, owning the largest collection of photographs by Gordon Parks, music and arts education

Swizz Beatz is making it his priority to create safe spaces and opportunities for legendary and emerging African American visual artists.

Five years ago, he co-founded The Dean Collection with his wife, Alicia Keys, to support artists around the world. The Grammy-winning producer curates No Commission, a traveling art show, and recently launched Sm(art) Collection, a mobile app that allows artists to sell their work and keep all their profits.

The Undefeated caught up with Swizz, 41, in Atlanta to discuss his creative process, owning the largest collection of photographs taken by Gordon Parks, music and arts education.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s your process when you’re producing for artists?

I asked, ‘What would Beyoncé, Jay-Z or DMX want to hear in this small time they are taking out to be with me? How can I grasp their attention and make that a long withstanding relationship?’ So I would have choruses, ideas, up-tempos, and midtempos. It was like a candy store. I was making 60 beats a day and then probably keeping 14. I was creating a library, so when I go into the studio with the artists, even if I’m making something new, I can quickly tell if it doesn’t work. The main thing is being prepared.

You own the largest, privately-held collection of original photographs taken by Gordon Parks.

It’s something about black-and-white photos that puts me in a timeless state of mind. His work feels like a true story. We’re not taking photography seriously because we have too much access to it with our phones. I noticed museums buying up photography. We can’t say we’re a part of the culture and don’t own a part of it. We’re looking into putting it into a couple of more places. We didn’t add the collection to The Dean Collection to just hang on our walls, we hung it so that the culture could have access to it.

You were rejected by the Harvard Business School three times.

Rejection has always been a theme in my life, that’s my cue to go forward. I just had to come with a different plan. Most people use rejection as a downer, I use it as power.

You and Alicia Keys have plans to convert a 110-acre chemical plant in Macedon, New York, into a music and performing arts center.

It’s in the works. When you’re dealing with something that has a school, a museum or other facilities on it, there are certain things that even star status or money can’t handle. The process is the process. Our goal is to open up something that is created by the creatives for the creatives.

You launched F— Cancer along with Jadakiss and Styles P?

My mom’s dad passed from cancer. I witnessed many older people pass from cancer. But to see Jay ‘Icepick’ Jackson, one of my closest friends, who’s also close with Jadakiss and Styles P, all of a sudden just leave us. He didn’t drink or smoke. I knew if it could happen to him, we definitely have to straighten up. I got a colonoscopy, which most men are scared to do. It’s very easy. These are things we have to make cooler. Health should be a cool thing without stigmas. It’s about preserving life for your future and your family.

What’s next?

I’m focused on global activities because the world is one place now. With technology, no place on Earth is far anymore. The people are ready, the leaders might not be ready, but the people are. I want to be a part of that.


Christopher A. Daniel, M.A. is an Atlanta-based, award-winning journalist, cultural critic, ethnomusicologist, Prince enthusiast, and multimedia journalism professor at Clark Atlanta University.