Swizz Beatz on Remaining True to His Roots and Why He’s Just Getting Started

The Grammy Award-winning producer took the stage at Brandweek

Swizz Beatz
Swizz Beatz is becoming more than a music producer. Sean T. Smith for Adweek
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean is more than just a producer these days. He’s an artist, a collaborator and a man with a vision who’s determined to remain authentic to his roots and leave a positive legacy for artists.

Dean closed Brandweek with a candid fireside chat in conversation with Adweek’s chief brand officer, Danny Wright, ranging from moving beyond making music, why he decided to go back to school and the various projects he’s involved in now.

On becoming more than just a producer

While Dean’s quick to say that music will always be part of his life, he’s currently involved in projects tangential to his music career. He’s currently helping the executive music producer of the show Godfather of Harlem, and hinted that he’s open to appearing in front of the camera as well—if it’s the right fit.

“I wouldn’t just do a role because of the hype of a movie or the hype of a TV screen,” Dean said. “I have to figure out how it can take me to the next level.”

TV isn’t the only industry Dean’s been involved in; he worked with Kidrobot to create a clothing line for the toy company, and collaborated with Christian Louboutin to create a sneaker. What wove these experiences together, Dean said, is that he was like a student in these situations, ready to learn.

Through his work on No Commissions, an art fair in Miami that gives 100% of proceeds directly back to the artists, Dean was able to work with Bacardi to get the brand to sponsor the festival. Part of that, Dean said, was because he viewed himself as a partner, rather than an ambassador for the brand.

“What I did was I built something that ran parallel to that brand,” Dean said. “I built No Commission and I got Bacardi to back that as an initiative to give back, so we can feel good about the work that we’re doing.”

No Commission, Dean said, has now traveled across the globe, with some events receiving 37,000 RSVPs. He wants to expand the festival and make it as accessible as possible so that all of those 37,000 people can make it into the festival.

“At first, I was like the line around the block—it looks cool,” Dean said. “But it’s not really that cool. It’s going against the point of why I created it.”

Editor: Josh Rios

On his vision for himself and the future

Dean went back to school—Harvard’s Owner/President Management Program—in part because he was making deals and talking to brands but didn’t “understand the language,” he said, adding that he would be in the room, and people couldn’t get past the artist Swizz Beatz to see him as Kasseem Dean.

“Why would you talk to me about anything in that world that I might be uncomfortable talking about?” Dean said. “I didn’t know all these different things, and I decided to fix that.”

Dean applied to Harvard three times before being accepted, and next week the college is set to release his case study.

“First and foremost, you must always be a student of life,” Dean said. “We’re never too old to sharpen our pencils.”

Dean said he’s just getting started and wants to spend his time creating platforms for creators to own and operate on. It’s why he and his wife, singer Alicia Keys, are planning to open Creative Land, a business school for artists in New York. For Dean, it means continuing to step out of his comfort zone and learning about different industries.

“The sky’s not the limit; it’s just the view,” Dean said. “The most exciting thing is realizing that I’m not as smart as I think I am. In our comfort zone, we’re the smartest person and when you step outside of your comfort zone, you become closed up, you become this little mouse again when you were just a big dog.

“Time and time again, when I thought I knew about an industry, [I only saw it] by the time the work’s already put in. But, when you go in and see the labor and the 10,000 hours put in to even scratch the surface, I feel that that’s what’s been most inspiring.”

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@itstheannmarie annmarie.alcantara@adweek.com Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.