At this point in his career, Swizz Beatz has achieved OG status. Or, if you ask him, he's a "young OG." Whatever you want to call him, the New York native is still going strong decades into his career.
After an 11-year break between solo albums, Swizz dropped POISON in early November. "I didn't have to go get the most crossed over song to feel cool or to try and justify anything," he says, explaining that he was able to create the project on his own terms. "I was actually able to focus on the craft, lyricism, poetry, and the actual producing of an album as a body of work."
Sitting down for a candid conversation with Complex, Swizz spoke about his business ventures, the making of POISON, and connecting with Nas. He also revealed what his favorite song in the Swizz Beatz discography is. Continue for his full interview with Complex News' Speedy Morman.
We've got to talk about the album, Poison. It's been over 10 years since the last one? Why so long?
Over 11 years.
Yeah. Honestly, I've been doing music since '98, professionally, successfully. I just got tired of the industry, of the business rules. I just wanted to take a break and diversify my portfolio, and show people that you could do other things—not just be a musician. You can design watches, cars, fashion. You can do other things. Also, I wanted to forward my education a little bit more, and come back into this game with another 20 in me.
It's an interesting complex, though. I mean, you went to Harvard. It's like the best school in the country.
Yeah, that's what's up. But for me, Harvard was something that I wanted to do, just because people always told me I couldn't, right? And I got kicked out of all my schools growing up, so to finish up strong like that, I thought I owed that to my family, and my kids. But education is education, right? So, a lot of people say, "Oh, well, you know, it's Harvard so, that's why you got educated." No, you can learn anywhere, and you can learn on your phone, you know? You can learn anywhere, it doesn't have to be that type of school to learn.
For sure. Talk to me about those 11 years. Are you sitting back, twiddling your thumbs? Or are you sitting back plotting, like, "Oh okay, I'm just watching what's going on."
I was making music, I just wasn't putting it out.
What's the mind state like during those 11 years? More so, just like an observer or—
Having super fun. Having super fun.
Doing everything, you know? We brought Reebok back, you know? Eight years ago. I designed an Aston Martin, the first photo of Aston Martin with Mary Richmond. I was a part of Christian Louboutin for men launch. That whole concept. I was a part of multiple watch brands, and with Zenith now, but it was AP, Richard Mille. You know, my partnership with Bacardi, which is the reason why people are getting commissions now, through this partnership. Just so many different things.
Too many things.
So many things. And I just actually was having fun stepping outside and creating an ecosystem, where I didn't really have to depend on music to pay my bills and things like that. So now, coming back, I can give the people an album like POISON, that's not compromised. I didn't have to go get the most crossed over song to feel cool or to try and justify anything. I was actually able to focus on the craft, lyricism, poetry, and the actual producing of an album as a body of work. Rather than just throwing a bunch of things on there, and see what sticks.
For sure. Let's talk about the track just for a second, "Far and Away." My favorite record is the Nas joint, because I'm a Queens dude. Do you have a favorite record?
I mean, that's definitely one of my favorite records. With the experience that we about to drop, to add to that, which people are probably gonna see, in the next week or so...
And that's the video in Japan?
What can we look forward to for that? I heard it's gonna be crazy. I heard you say that it's gonna be crazy.
Then, it's gonna be crazy.
We can trust your word.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, the fact that, me coming from the Bronx and Nas being from Queens, we took a road trip to Japan. Shot the video with teamLab, which is Google teamLab, you'll see their work. And to be the first ones to be able to do that, ever in the history, was something major. I just wanted to put Nas in a setting that we haven't seen him in before. And I wanted to be in a setting like that also. We've seen Nas in a bunch of street videos, and every other kind of video. So it's like, you know what, let's take a story where he's reflecting on being from Queens, but then narrate that different, for the visuals. So it's the juxtaposition of that, that creates performing arts, actually.
Was there a song on this album, that maybe was more difficult to produce, than one of the others? One that you had to put in some extra hours, or one that you maybe didn't know how it would come out?
Everything that was difficult, didn't make the album. Everything that flowed naturally made the album, right? There were other songs that people might have wanted to hear on the album. But we just chose not to put it on, because the components wasn't matching up. Like I said, everything had to have a natural flow. That's why the artists sound like how they sound on those songs, because they wanted to be on those songs, right? It wasn't like, "Just give me anything." It's like, "No, this is what we're doing. I need you to go... " And I'm not even putting drums on the song, so people can actually hear what you're saying on this.
And you had to kinda chess game it. I read somewhere that you took some songs off, because you didn't want them to overshadow other songs.
For me, it would be difficult because you want those kind of records on an album, especially if it's only your third one. How difficult of a decision was that, to be like, "Yo, let me take off what potentially could be the biggest song on this album, and save it for something else."
It's all discipline, right? So the song, "Just Because," with Nas, Jay, Jadakiss, DMX-
That's the one we're waiting for.
I know, but had I given it already, it'd be done already, right? And then, it'd be done already, and then, a lot of things that's on the album, would have been overlooked, because everybody would have been chasing that. Right? So I had to reroute the direction of the traffic, and let people enjoy the body of work. And then of course, I'm gonna give them that song. They're gonna get it, they'll get it soon.
When you say soon, are you thinking, on another project? I know you got some other projects coming up, or—
Just changing one thing, it's gonna be its own thing, right? Because music now doesn't actually have to—everything don't have to be linked together like that, right? So it's just, one day you gonna wake up, and it's gonna be available for you.
Cool. Do you have that date in your mind already?
I'm just waiting on... One thing got changed on it, for the better.
or the better? Okay. We'll leave it at that then.
Let's talk about the "SWIZZMONTANA" track. I heard it for the first time when you were on Flex. Smoking hookah, it was a vibe in there. The album version sounded different to me.
I'm gonna assume that it was a clearance-
Yeah, I don't like it.
You don't like which one?
I don't like the album version one.
Because man, you know, that's just like one of those things where I didn't follow my instincts, which I'm never gonna do again.
What was your instinct telling you?
If we couldn't clear it, just leave it. It was a last minute thing, because I had a song, that actually closed out the album. It was called "Grateful," it was a pretty sick song. I don't know, we just got so hyped. You know, even when I changed it, I played it in the club, they was going crazy. But when I listened to the body of work, that's the one thing on the album that I don't really like.
Do you feel that often? Is that a common feeling? To put something on an album that you don't like, just because you feel like you have to?
I never do that, and that's why-
So was this the first time that you ever didn't like a song on your own album?
Probably. It's not that I don't like the song, I don't like the track. I like what French did, I like the concept of the song, I just don't like the track that I produced to replace the sample.
Right, because you couldn't put that original. Why didn't you just maybe release that as a, you know, a freebie, on a mixtape?
Because we went so hard at the sample people, that they was on us. And then I also had to respect that. The reason why the sample wasn't cleared, was for personal religious reasons. And so it was like, you know, the owner of the sample wrote a handwritten letter, of the concern of why he didn't wanna clear the record. And he was generous enough to say, "If you wanna sample anything else, that's what's up." So it's like, imagine I did a song about my grandmother or something like that, and I'm like, this is her dedication. And then, you go on and put French Montana and Swizz on it, I would be like, "Yo, you gotta respect that." So I had to respect the artist on that one.
Sure. Like you said, you've been in the game since '98. At this stage, do you see yourself as an OG? I think it's safe to say, we all do.
A young OG, yeah.
What does that mean to you? To be at this OG level. Did you ever think you would achieve that? So much rich history, and still relevant, all of this time later.
I don't know. I was just working hard, you know? But I also feel like I'm just now starting, so you know, if I'm a young OG now, then damn, they in trouble. I'm just now knowing what I'm doing. I'm just now starting. I'm just now motivated to a level that I never have been before. Which is why, you know, even after POISON, y'all gonna see a consistent body of work that's gonna continue to follow. I'm just gonna compete on all levels. I'm on the basketball field now. So, you know, everybody can play Jordan, when he not on the court.
I like that. Let's talk about some of those other projects. One of them is an R&B joint, another one is an international joint. What can we look forward to from these projects altogether?
You know, I just wanted to play in the boxes that I'm excited about. I love R&B music, I always produce it, but it was never highlighted, you know? Even when I was producing Beyoncé albums, and all these things, it was always a piece here and a piece there. But nobody's never seen a body of that work from me. I just thought it was an interesting conversation, because in order to keep POISON pure, where there's Volume one, two, three, four, five... I have to have other boxes where the things that don't fit go, right? So, when I was looking at POISON, I didn't have to make the song for the females, I didn't have to make the radio song, I didn't have to make the international song. So what I did was, I just created separate boxes, for them to be their own projects, right? So even, Return of the Showtime, it's all anthems, right? So, imagine if Party Up" and "Uproar" had a baby.
Yeah, I heard you say that. That got me excited. The anthems got me excited.
Yeah, the anthems are gonna be crazy. And then the international is just showing people all the different talent that I get to see around the world that's really, really, crazy. That hasn't even landed over here yet.
Definitely. Let's talk about, quickly, No Commission. It's your initiative now.
Cheers to No Commission.
Cheers to No Commission. It's your initiative now to promote artists and let them highlight their work, without any commission, literally. Talk to me about the initiative and the project. Why do you care? Why even fight for artists?
Well, one, I'm an artist myself, so, it's like I'm fighting for myself. Right? But, in reality, I'm fighting for the creatives for real, because, you know, there's a lot of fairs, and there's a lot of things that has art name on it, and feel like it's helping the artist. But my thing is, you know, it's like giving the artist one thing, and then taking it back from them, at the same time. And so I said, I'm not a gallery, I'm not a broker, I'm not a dealer, we don't need no commissions off the artists' work. We're able to fund this with my partnership with Bacardi, and so, my thing was like, when you free the artist, you free the world. And just basically creating an entry point for the youth, right? So you don't have to pay to get into No Commissions. The concert's free, the art show's free-
Big names at the concert every year, too?
Yeah, yeah. Everything. You come to the talks, you have sip and paint, you know? And if you wanna be a part of this, go to nocommissionbacardi.com and the password is free the artist.
Swizz, I've got one last question for you: What is the best record that Swizz Beatz has ever produced?
The best record? It depends on categories there. But-
If you had to just say the best record, all-in-all, in your entire career... It may be a song we've never even heard before. What's the best record that you've ever produced?
Well, I think, I would say "Party Up," DMX. Yeah, I've just never seen it fail. Anywhere in the world, anytime it's played, just white, black, brown, purple, green, it doesn't matter.
It don't matter, everybody love it.
Yeah. And that's when you know, when you have something that is internationally timeless.
When it transcends culture, race, age, everything...
Yeah. Might not be the hardest joint, but probably the best.
Say no more. Swizz, appreciate your time, dog.
Yes, thank you.