BACARDI and Swizz Beatz's No Commission project is becoming - as much as anything can — a well-oiled machine. He's already taken the art exhibition-cum-live show to New York, Miami, London, Shanghai, and now Berlin.
Over two nights, despite much of Berlin going the way of Atlantis, and the Altes Kraftwerk Rummelsberg springing one or two leaks, Swizz brought together painters, photographers and all kinds of visual artists to display and sell their work. The first night saw Swizz and headliners Major Lazer take to the DJ booth to soundtrack the night with every possible sound to make your feel et move and the walls shake. Though Black Coffee wasn't able to make it through the tropical monsoon, there was still plenty of dancehall, house music, R&B, techno, soca and bashment to counter the torrential rain outside.
Where London was a more chilled affair — arrestingly subtle sets came from Blood Orange and Emeli Sande — Berlin went straight for the rave jugular. Even the warm up sets packed a punch. Unfortunately, Black Coffee wasn't able to make it in time for his set, but it almost didn't matter.
Swizz's set could quite easily and satisfyingly have been the headline set, stepping in with a glorious hour of rap bangers old and new. When Diplo, Walshy and Jillionaire took to the booth, however, the venue transformed into a technicolour carnival. Doing what they do best, the trio put the formidable sound system to work with only the gulliest, chest-rattling bashment and dancehall. General Levy, Bounty Killer, Buju Banton, Capleton... you get the idea.
As stars like Alicia Keys (who treated the crowd to an impromptu, and mesmerising, performance) and our own D Double E drifted their way inconspicuously through the crowd, there was a noticeable lack of pretentiousness in the building. Even if you didn't know a single thing about the art world, there was a whole crew of experts on hand, each of whom had endless and flawless knowledge of all the artists on display.
As we sat down the morning after day one, nursing lemonades and thick sunglasses, Swizz talks passionately about the No Commission project. "Last night was the ultimate, ultimate demonstration of passion," he says. "People were coming out in a damn near hurricane, way out of the way, to come to No Commission. It shows you the dedication and passion that they have for creativity out here. They had every excuse not to come and the place was packed out. I'm still blown away from it."
He also remains wide-eyed and is quick to share a thousand anecdotes he has about the various artists the project gives a platform to. Jamie Evans, for example, has a story Swizz is keen to share. Primarily a graffiti artist (though its not his only medium), Evans found his first taste of success when he was approached by Emeli Sandé via Instagram. She commissioned him to decorate her piano to be taken on tour. She then introduced him to Swizz Beatz, who then brought him to London for that leg of the No Commission tour. Since then Evans has found himself in high demand as his work finds more and more fans at the serious end of the art world.
"One of the artists — you know the big piece that was in there?" Swizz asks. "With the guy standing up? It's this Marvin Gaye piece by Marcus Jahmal. He's being represented by the biggest gallery right now. He even raised the price up on me! I laughed because this guy was just hanging around No Commission in the beginning and now I can hardly even book him for No Commission!"
He does, however, resist the temptation to pick favourites. No Commission, after all, has been specifically designed to private a platform to every artist involved, not just the ones Swizz prefers. He explains that ever since the project's launch 18 months ago, "we've given back almost $3 million into artists' pockets. "A lot of the artists, maybe 30%, weren't really known and now they're doing big gallery solo shows, selling massive works." To build on that idea of finding art in the grassroots, BACARDÍ and Swizz have also formed a partnership with Central St. Martin's college and the Berlin Masters programme in Germany to work with four young artists whose work will be exhibited as part of No Commission.
In fact, we talk so excitedly about the whole No Commission project that Swizz neglects to mention entirely that 1) he's working on an EP with Bakery on the way; a new album that features some of the usual names like Styles P and Jadakiss, and potentially some UK names; and 2) he's working on a Ruff Ryders tour. Once again, Swizz keeps the details close to his chest for now — although he did confirm the tour would happen in September before he takes it global.
But that's the nature of No Commission, and of Swizz. When he takes on a project he devotes himself to it 100% with laser-like focus. He does, however, hint at the future of No Commission. "We're gonna have No Commission everything. But I can't give them everything yet because the attention span of people is too short. You have to plan out everything. I plan on freeing the artist in every form of creativity. I just happened to start with art because it's one of the hardest to do. It's the area people feel the least welcome in. So now that they get that, they're definitely going to understand the other four platforms. Everything's calculated."
Though he remains tight-lipped on any more details besides that, it's interesting that he hints at four other platforms. Could we be getting a No Commission film festival? TV channel? Poetry slam? While we let our imaginations run away with us, rest assured Swizz Beatz will have it all worked out.