‘I’m Leaving It to the Artists to Create This Thing’: Swizz Beatz on His Mysterious New App for Letting Creatives Sell Their Own Art

As always, the hip-hop producer and art collector has big plans for the art world.

Swizz Beatz in New York City on November 14, 2019. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Getty Images for the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card portfolio)

No Commission, the nomadic art fair and music festival founded by Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean that lets artists keep 100 percent of the proceeds from their sales, is on hiatus this year. But the esteemed hip-hop producer and art patron will still have a big presence during Miami Art Week, where he’ll be giving a Creative Minds Talk with artist Kehinde Wiley.

“Kehinde is always family, and being able to do a talk with him is such a blessing,” Beatz told Artnet News. “He’s just so knowledgeable about his space and the space of creativity.”

The two have been close for years, to the point where Beatz doesn’t recall the exact circumstances of their meeting. “I think I was invited to his house for a party or something like that,” he recalled. “When we met, Kehinde was like, ‘I heard a lot about you. We can do some fun things together.’ I remember explaining the No Commission concept to him and he was like, ‘you’ve got some real courage to do that.'”

Wiley was one of the first artists to sign on to participate in the event, which Beatz credits with encouraging other artists to take part. “It’s easy to support something when it’s already off the ground and running, but Kehinde was even advised not to be a part of No Commission, and he still did it,” he said. “That allowed us to get to this point where we’ve helped so many artists through the platform.”

Recording artists Swizz Beatz (L) and Alicia Keys. Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for NARAS.

Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys. Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for NARAS.

Many of the No Commission artists also have a place in the Dean Collection, the 1,000-work art collection of Beatz and his wife, Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Alicia Keys. In August, the couple shocked the quiet town of Macedon (about a half hour outside Rochester, New York) with a proposal to transform a former industrial complex into the Dean Collection Music and Art Campus. Plans are still in the works, but are rumored to include an exhibition space, classrooms, and a performance arts center.

Ahead of his Creative Minds talk, Beatz spoke to Artnet News about his relationships with artists, his upcoming app, and his plans for the Dean Collection.

Kehinde Wiley, Swizz Beatz and Kevin Liles with with a painting of Beatz by Wiley in 2014. Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Grey Goose.

Kehinde Wiley, Swizz Beatz, and Kevin Liles with with a painting of Beatz by Wiley in 2014. Photo by Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Grey Goose.

Did you own any of Kehinde’s work when you two first met?

I hadn’t collected his work. I had been a fan, and I was interested in him for sure, but meeting Kehinde made me definitely want to put him in the collection in the big way that he is now.

Do you find that often happens, that meeting an artist makes you more excited about his or her work? 

Absolutely. I love to be inspired all the way around. It feels great when you know an artist’s story. I like to educate myself just by listening. When we put works in the Dean Collection, it’s not a purchase—it’s more like a welcome to the family. Everyone in the collection, we know as friends. We treat them as family and they treat us as family.

As the collection grows, is it more of a challenge to maintain close relationships? Is it harder to commit to adding people now because you want to maintain a sense of family?

I don’t think it gets in the way. The artists introduce me to new people and I introduce them to new people and the family just keeps getting bigger and bigger. If anything, it’s growing previous relationships and showing that this is something that we’re doing for real, not just creating a silo, but having an open family that all of us can learn from.

Swizz Beatz performs at No Commission: Miami presented by BACARDI x the Dean Collection at the Faena Forum on December 7, 2018 in Miami Beach, Florida. Photo by Astrid Stawlarz/Getty Images for No Commisson.

Swizz Beatz performs at No Commission: Miami in December 2018. Photo by Astrid Stawlarz/Getty Images for No Commisson.

What can you tell us about your new Sm(art) Collection app? Will it be a sales platform for artists?

I built the app before I started No Commission, which I started as a technology company when I was in school. I realized that I wanted people to have something tangible that they could actually feel, that they could actually see, that they could actually hear—instead of putting everybody in the Matrix. We have so much technology around us that I felt a physical thing would be better and that’s where No Commission came in.

The app is ready to go. I just want to do one more beta test with all the artists because it’s for them. I have a couple of events that I’m going to do, almost like parties, where it’s going to be a couple hundred artists from around the world tearing it apart, questioning it. I’m leaving it to the artists to create this thing.

Art is definitely going to be for sale directly through the app. On the back end, the artists are going to have an amazing layout to run their businesses. It will introduce a lot of new ways for artists and collectors to see data. That’s important because as big as the art world is, people are still lost in it.

The biggest questions that I get every day are: ‘how can I start a collection?’ and ‘how can I get my work out there?’ There’s not a destination one can just automatically go to and get all the answers.

That reminds me of the new school JR is starting in Paris to teach artists how to survive in the art world

I call JR my twin. One, when we put glasses on and that hat, we look alike. Two, he’s a mastermind of a thinker. When you think of how he presents his artwork, how you discover it, there’s always an educational component to it, there’s always a consciousnesses competent to it, and there’s always an easy entry point. He puts up his artwork in the favelas of the people.

Can you tell us anything about what’s happening with your plans for Macedon?

It started as Macedon, but we have a lot of options now, not excluding Macedon. It’s like, wow, maybe this can happen in many places. But we want to take our time and do it right, not rush with all the opportunities. The main thing is keeping discipline and making the right choices for the long term, even in the middle of the hype and the excitement.

The stage at No Commission: Art Performs in the Bronx. Courtesy of Angela Pham.

The stage at No Commission: Art Performs in the Bronx. Courtesy of Angela Pham.

When will the next No Commission fair be? 

Everybody’s expecting it to be Art Basel, but it’s not going to be Art Basel. I took a time-out because it got very big. People around the world understand what it is. Now I want to work on the 2.0 version, where it’s bigger, it’s better, and the messaging is clearer. It’s a concept that’s very strong, but I’m not comfortable being just okay. How can we keep making it better? The cool part is not to be so predictable all the time. Every No Commission is going to be different. We’re going to maintain its global presence, which I love the most, and tie back into the US as well.

I’m waiting for you to bring it back to the Bronx! It’s been too long.

Just know that when we bring it back, it’s going to be worth the wait.

A talk and party featuring Kehinde Wiley and Swizz Beatz will be held at the New World Center at 500 17th Street, Miami Beach, Florida, on December 2, 2019. Tickets range from $125 to $1,250 and proceeds will support Black Rock, Wiley’s artist residency program in Dakar. 

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