Most Monsters just hide under the bed. There’s nothing there, really, just your mind playing tricks with the bedroom shadows or that creaky floorboard, right? Not Swizz Beatz the Monster, no sir, his impact on hip-hop over the years has been far from a bedtime spook story. The NYC beat conductor has composed timeless bangers for everyone from The LOX to Beyonce, and now Swizzy is poised to grab the mic and beast the game on the other side of the boards as well.
We all recognize him for his one of a kind production and catchy hypes, but the dude is far from standard with his take on the game and issues that come with it. Swizz spoke to Ballerstatus about what he is trying be (and not be) as an MC, how many of these wanksters keep hip-hop in their wallet and not their heart, and how rappers are unfairly stigmatized. So, forget checking your closet and under the bed, it’s broad daylight and the Monster is real, SHOWTIME!
Ballerstaus.com: A few weeks ago, I saw what went down at S.O.B’s with you, Mos Def, Kweli, Saigon, Q-Tip and bunch of others on stage together. It made me think about how rarely moments of natural community happen like that at such a level in hip-hop. Why do you think stuff like that doesn’t happen more? And what is so positive about moments like that for hip-hop?
Swizz Beatz: I think the reason why it doesn’t happen is because it just too hard to plan. First of all, with people’s schedules and everything, it just has to be the right place and be something unplanned like it was that day. I happened to be there and so did this one and that one; we all just happened to be there. It started off as a one-person show and ended up as being everybody’s show. As far as it being a good look for hip-hop, first of all it is very rare to see so many artists having fun on stage naturally just doing their thing. This is how it used to be, no egos, nothing, just pure talent. That is just something that can be written in the history books. As quiet as something like that is kept, it just pushes the envelope and let everyone know that hip-hop is not just a bunch of ignorance like how they put it in the news.
Ballerstatus.com: It is interesting how you were talking about it being fun and how rarely fun is a motivation. What percentage of rappers would continue making hip-hop music if they knew for certain it would not make them any money at all?
Swizz Beatz: 50%… Because 50% do it for the love and 50% do if for other reasons.
Ballerstatus.com: One of the dudes on the stage with you was Kanye West, a producer who has moved in the rapper lane and been successful as a top MC. You are making that jump now and I have read you say you’re not trying to be a top rapper and, correct me if I’m wrong, even have said you’re trying to be an entertainer more than a rapper. Why is that distinction so important for you to make?
Swizz Beatz: It is very important for me to make that distinction because a lot of people get it messed up. They start writing in their articles and interviews about the lyrics of this and the lyrics of that, but what they are really comparing me to is guys who really specialize in lyrics. Like whom are you comparing me to? Nas? Hov? Kanye? Who are you comparing me to where I need to step up what I’m saying? I mean I’m saying what I feel like saying. So I’m like, “Oh I see” and “I get it,” they’re comparing me to these people so I need to clearly let them know that I’m an entertainer. I’m not trying to come in on my first album and take anyone’s spot as an artist; if it happens, it happens but that is not my mentality. I’m sitting here like, “How can I go walk away with the Summer Jam crown (like I did) even when they put me on stage third?” By being an entertainer and a performer? By performing and entertaining that crowd? You might be saying the hardest sh– and it’s flying past people’s heads because it’s not being delivered properly. Me, I’ll take the basics of that and have lines people are all saying, like “Chillin in my Beamer, listening to ‘Ether'” or “SHOWTIMMME” or “It’s me Bitches!” Saying memorable lines that last longer in hip-hop and in the fans’ heads rather than just going line for line hotness.
Ballerstaus.com: That being said, and obviously it’s effective, I don’t think it has always been that way or that is the type of thing that has always been what sticks in people’s minds. I remember when you would take in the whole song, you knew every word to a song! You listen to “One Love” and know every single word. Do you think hip-hop listeners’ attention span is smaller than is used to be?
Swizz Beatz: Absolutely. The attention spans are smaller than they used to be. That is something that I always say. That’s why I’m like, “do 16 songs on the album,” for what? You’re lucky if they listen to five songs. There is so much music out there and it is so easy to get. You don’t have to go to the music store or dig in the crates anymore, you can just do that from the side of your bed on the computer. I just want to be the most effective in that immediate demand. The artists that are out there that’s lyrical, that’s their thing, that’s why they’re in those categories. I am going to progress as time goes on, my new freestyles, everything. I’m getting it more and more, but for me to sit here and be like, “I’m doing my thing as a rapper,” well, I’m not doing my thing as rapper yet.
Ballerstatus.com: I don’t know if you happened to see it, but MTV did a top MC’s of the moment list. What bothered me about it was that I did not see a tight consistent criteria that they used. They judged based on a lot of things, but I didn’t see a consistency in their standards. If you to try to make such a list for producers what standards would you apply to your candidates?
Swizz Beatz: You said it first, consistency and originality. Basically those two. What I’m saying for those two, I’m saying so that the people love it. Not to where they feel they (the producer) was consistent or to where they thought it was original, but to where the people felt that way. Because you can make consistent garbage and you can make original trash. I want to talk about who is making original hits.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you only judge it by hits? Sometimes it might fly over the contemporary audience’s head. Because sometimes the best music is ahead of its time.
Swizz Beatz: Yeah, yeah, but you know a hit when you hear it even if it don’t connect on the radio.
Ballerstatus.com: Yeah, you’re right. Just a little devil’s advocate there. Anyway, you have a very distinct sound. When you’re going into a situation where you are going to be working with an artist on their project, do you feel obligated to give them that identifiable Swizzy sound or do you just want to mess around and do something new?
Swizz Beatz: I always like to do something new, but it’s just that the artists get caught up in what they hear on the radio from me or what they hear on the radio from someone else. If you really listen to the beats closely, every last one of them is different. The only thing that really connects my beats, really, is my hypes and my ad-libs. If you take those out, you wouldn’t even know. Like Eve’s second single with Sean Paul is anti-Swizz while “Tambourine” was 100% Swizz. The song with Sean Paul is all acoustics and I’m doing different things. What you’re about to hear that I did with the collaboration with Alicia Keyes or the one I finished with 50 Cent or Mariah, all these different people, I took the hypes out. Because damn near 80% of New York radio is Swizzy with hypes. So I need to make something that is mystery, but you still moving the same way without it being forced.
Ballerstatus.com: Everyone knows you’re from New York because of how long you’ve been out, but I don’t simply identify your sound as New York hip-hop. Most people have a regionally indefinable sound, but you have been able to not do that. How have you been able to have such a strong New York base, but still branch out regionally?
Swizz Beatz: Because I travel. I have a fan base that is outside New York. I lived in Atlanta, I get along with people in the West, Midwest. They just embrace me because of the type of person I am; I’m a people’s person. A lot of people just be 100% New York and have that ignorant attitude. I don’t feel like that. If I’m in your state, I’m respecting it. I’m trying to show love and get down with what’s going on.
Ballerstatus.com: Let me switch them gears up. If you could produce a full album for one artist of anytime period who would it be?
Swizz Beatz: Fema Kuti and Me.
Ballerstatus.com: Nice choice. Why?
Swizz Beatz: Because that would be taking it to the next level. I already damn near did full albums for half the industry; I’m cool on that. I would want to do something that would be music changing if I’m going to put my time in and make a full album. People would be like “Yo, who is this African dude from Nigeria that Swizz is running around with, whose pops? His pops is like some political leader.” That’s real, because me hooking up with Fema would be a link, so that people could link to me to link to him to identify real music.
Ballerstatus.com: Recently, what I interpreted as a complete misunderstanding, but still an issue with the New Jersey police was when they was feeling that you were backing the whole stop snitching thing with the radio version of “It’s Me Bitches (Snitches).” Although in that instance it was a misunderstanding, in general, do you consider the message of an artist before you work with them?
Swizz Beatz: Not until recently. I am just now seeing that this music thing is different. Now, having business and different things, I have to be careful of what the artists are saying around me and what I’m doing and a bunch of things.
Ballerstatus.com: This is a question I like to ask all artists I speak to. What is one thing you don’t like currently in hip-hop and would like to see change?
Swizz Beatz: The stereotypes, definitely. Because all artists are different and not everyone should be thrown in the same category. When I go to different places, I see how they act at first, but then when they see I’m a cool person, who is not with a million people and I’m just chillin, they be like “Wow, you’re different.” I’m like, “You’re God damn right I’m different, everyone is different…”