On Dec. 8, legendary hip-hop producer, rapper and art collector, Swizz Beatz will be bringing No Commission, the art and music showcase, to London. The idea behind the project, which is a collaboration between Swizz Beatz's The Dean Collection and rum brand, BACARDÍ, is to give upcoming and emerging visual artists the opportunity to display and sell their work without having to forgo a chunk of the money on commission. Hence the name. A painter himself, Swizz tells us the paintings he creates himself are unlikely to see the light of day. For him, painting is more of a therapeutic exercise. From our conversation, and the enthusiasm with which he talks about painting and music in the same sentence, it's also an effective way of stimulating his creativity, albeit from another direction.
Swizz Beatz's productions speak for themselves. His lengthy and star-studded discography has seen him work with some of the all-time greats: DMX and Ruff Ryders, Bounty Killer, Ashanti, Three 6 Mafia, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, and the list goes on. And apparently it's genetic; his five-year-old son got a production credit on Kendrick Lamar's Unmastered Untitled. Right now, however, his focus is on No Commission. With major events in New York and Miami already in the bag, and London just around the corner, Swizz and BACARDÍ are on a roll, and are already casting their gaze across Europe, Asia and beyond.
We caught up with Swizz to discuss the project, why he's bringing it to the UK, his own private collection (aka The Dean Collection) and the importance of nurturing new talent.
We’re here for the No Commission project you're doing with BACARDÍ. How did that collaboration come about?
I was already doing an art fair to celebrate the artists 100%—so the artists keep 100% of what they sell. It’s free for the people. Live concerts. Everything free. The people from BACARDÍ saw what I was doing and they wanted to be a part of it. At first, I didn’t really want any partnerships because I felt like brands and artists didn’t have that chemistry. The brand assured me about the different things they would do, and they did it. I explained to them what this platform is and they said “You know what? We’d love to support something like this.” We started in Miami at Basel [Art Fair], shook the place up and down. We did the South Bronx, my hometown, which was even bigger. We wanted to show the world that No Commission was going global and the first place I could think of was London. This is like my backyard and the culture here is so amazing. It’s amazing to make it not just a U.S. thing. Artists inspired by people all over the world. It’s going to be epic.
Say someone’s never heard of The Dean Collection, how would you describe it to them?
The Dean Collection started off as my personal collection that I was building for my kids. But what happened with The Dean Collection is I started only collecting art by living artists. I stopped collecting artists that weren’t living and started only collecting living artists because I feel like you should support artists while they can use the support to support themselves. If an artist’s not here and an estate’s taken over and you’re paying all this money, how does that give back to the world? So I felt like I wanted to give back to the world. What I started doing was posting artists’ work that I was buying. They would call me or DM me and say "Man, thank you because my art just sold out." I started to see this was bigger than me just collecting art for my kids. This is a platform that I can use my powers to give back to a whole world of artists. So that’s how it formed.
Were you ever a visual artist?
Yeah, I grew up in the South Bronx so graffiti was all around me, music was all around me. As far as me, my graffiti name was Loco because I was crazy as hell! But I paint, I still paint. I paint but it’s more for therapy. A lot of people want me to do shows but there are so many people that are better than me that I feel should have that chance. Let me put on a couple of hundred thousand artists then maybe I’m cool with doing a show. Then I’d know I’d given my contribution and it’s earned. It’s not like I’m skipping the line because of some celebrity status. By the time I do my show people will really know that I’m knee deep in this and I’m really here for the culture and not to exploit it.
This is the first show outside of the States. Why London in particular?
I just think that the creativity here is at an all-time high. I think that London should see something different like this. I see a lot of different shows and fairs that are happening here and I just wanted to do something different. The thing about No Commission is it’s like the entry point. I’ve created this entry point where you can spend $50 on a print and feel like you were a part of the show. Or, if you wanna spend a bit more, you can spend a couple hundred thousand. Whatever. So most shows and most galleries, the entry points are very high and make people feel very uncomfortable. If we’re gonna educate and if we want more people to embrace art there has to be an entry point. You shouldn’t have to pay to see art. The entry should be free. You should have to RSVP, you should have to do something. But as far as paying to see creativity, I just don’t agree with that.
Do you follow grime? Do you think grime could benefit from having more of the visual art aspect that hip-hop had with graffiti?
I think all forms of fashion and culture could benefit from it. A lot of people think that everything relates back to hip-hop but really there’s other elements that even inspired hip-hop: jazz, rock, country. All movements, sounds from the UK, sounds from Africa. I think more global-minded like that and I think art helps art. Creativity breeds creativity. Everybody can pull from it. You never know what can trigger somebody. You bring, let’s say, a grime artist into No Commission and he or she is probably going to see something different but I think everybody’s going to have something they can take away. Which is the most important part.
It’s cool that you’ve used your platform to bring artists like Jamie Evans and others through and now Jamie’s doing the same thing in his area in the North East.
That’s what it’s about. That’s how it happens. People need the chance. This could happen everywhere but the chances are all boxed off into these controlled sections that you can’t get out of. You can’t do your thing because you’re on a leash. That’s why No Commission is like taking off the leash. Jamie has this goal, this dream, to pass on the spotlight and create his own platform. What’s holding him back? Nothing. He’s gonna be on a platform with millions of people seeing his name. Millions of people are gonna see his work. Now it’s up to him to go out and do exactly what he said he was going to do. That’s what it’s built for. If we can keep spreading that then we’ll have more people reaching their destiny. But you can’t do that if you don’t have the launch. I'm grateful to be collaborating with BACARDÍ to provide this for artists."
How do you think UK and US graffiti and street art differ?
There’s definitely a different style. The graffiti’s different, the attitude in the painting’s different. It’s two different spaces. But I feel the love and the passion for art is the same. For me, it’s a part of the entire world. It all forms one family at the end of the day. Even though people try to slice the pizza a different way, it’s still the same pizza. You just got this piece of the pie. I look at art on a global scale. It’s cool because I get to see all this talent. There might be a guy in Portugal and you guys like each other’s work. You might never have met each other but you see it’s an ongoing communication. A conversation that was never had, but it’s being had through art. I get to see that through traveling. A piece might remind me of such and such, but this person’s from a favela and never been out of the favela. But the work is matching this person in Manhattan. I always love to put artists from all over the world on. It’s the juxtaposition of the place we’re doing it too. It’s gully, but then it has chandeliers hanging in it. It’s where worlds mix and make one amazing moment. It’s not too left, it’s not too right. We’re not too cool to keep these walls raw. We’re not too gully to put a chandelier here and make this area beautiful as well.
You’ve taken it to Miami, the Bronx and now London. Where next?
We’re looking at Berlin, we’re looking at Shanghai, we’re looking at Brasil, we’re looking at Australia, we’re looking at coming back to LA, Japan, and wherever else the plane can land!
The Dean Collection X BACARDÍ present No Commission: London 8-10 December 2016 at The Arches in Southwark, London (Ewer Street entrance, SE1 0NR, off Union St.). Tickets are free but limited. Head to here for more info. Visitors must be 18 years of age or older.