Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, “Women In Art.”
At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.
But don’t let his art endeavors make you think he’s not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year’s best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he’s dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.
VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?
Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.
The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.
Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?
She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery. Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.
We’re having a party called the Dream Party at the W South Beach, where the pajamas designed by February James and LaKela Brown will be premiered.
Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?
Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit,” just like everything else in the world.
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🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)
You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?
Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.
A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?
There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.
You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?
I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting–whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.
You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?
It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.
Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?
I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.
In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?
We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.