Want to start a knock down, drag-out, blood-inducing debate with a group of hip-hop purists? Just throw down the following gauntlet: Swizz Beatz. When it comes to the veteran beatmaker, who first gained stardom as Ruff Ryders’ in-house producer in the late ‘90s, any mention of Kasseem Dean being ranked alongside the Mount Rushmore of studio gods Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, J Dilla, and RZA is usually met with rabid get-the-fuck-out-of-here indignation. In fact, a quick Google check of Swizz Beatz will open up a litany of blogs, threads and editorials (moving beyond the tabloid-fueled love-triangle between Swizzy, his superstar R&B princess wife Alicia Keys and outspoken ex Mashonda) where the producer has been called everything from overrated to vastly underrated to a complete hack.
However, the truth is this: Swizz Beatz is the most improved hip-hop producer of all-time. Over the past few years, Swizz has taken his straight-ahead skill-set to new heights, creating some of the most surprising and unique tracks of his career. To understand just how far the man who first garnered his fame with his humble Casio-keyboard-or-bust signature sound has come, VIBE has gathered together The Fader’s executive editor Julianne Escobedo Shepherd; Rap Radar content director B. Dot, Lox member and current Def Jam artist Sheek Louch; and super producer Just Blaze to offer their insight on why Swizz Beatz more than deserves your respect. Read on.
5) He Makes You Forget About His Casio Days
During his early hit-making reign when he was cranking out a bevy of Tunnel bangers for everyone from longtime collaborator DMX (“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”), and Jay-Z (“Jigga My Nigga”) to N.O.R.E. (“Banned From TV”), Swizz Beatz was routinely called-out for his no-frills Casio keyboard production formula. After all, the Yonkers, New York native did not exactly fit the prototype for the traditional ‘90s East Coast hip-hop producer. For years, ingenious cut-and-paste sample-based masterworks of Marley Marl, Prince Paul, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and RZA ruled the Rotten Apple scene. For many, Swizz’ futuristic ‘80s-era video-game soundscapes equaled being drenched with a bucket of ice water in 90 degree weather.
Which is why The Fader’s Shepherd finds Swizz’ overall musical evolution so startling. She points specifically to Lil Wayne’s 2008 orchestral, jazzy concept track “Dr. Carter” as an example of Swizz Beatz’ impressive reinvention. “I’ve always liked Swizz Beatz’ production,” Shepherd says. “But you get the sense that during his Ruff Ryders days he was kind of noodling on his synthesizer. It worked for that time, but it never really felt like it was an entire piece of music. Yet, when you hear a song like “Dr. Carter” you almost don’t believe it was produced by Swizz. It’s so different that it makes you ask, ‘Why weren’t you doing this before???’”
Shepherd continues: “I think earlier in his career, Swizz took a lot of heat for his straight ahead synth-production style in comparison to the classic hip-hop sound of DJ Premier. But with all respect to the great Preemo, that criticism came mostly from the purists who were afraid of going from a sample-based production to this sort of new age sound that didn’t bang in the same way. That’s why his evolution makes Swizz Beatz the most improved producer. Whether it’s “Dr. Carter” or a completely different song like Drake’s “Fancy,” you can hear his [tremendous] growth as an artist.”