by Larry Ossei-Mensah
Swizz Beatz has influenced the zeitgeist for over a decade, from crafting hit records since the ‘90s to now serving as Creative Director for Rebook Classics, a move that saved the brand from extinction. Yet for all his endeavors, Swizz’s passion for painting and mixed media may be the most intriguing. With whispers circulating of his first solo exhibition and possibly his own gallery, Swizz is forging an art movement that builds on his desire of becoming the premier steward of the culture he loves.
His artistic expression was born out of pragmatism. Though 1980s “graffiti train bombing” in his native South Bronx first sparked Swizz’s interest in visual art, it wasn’t until 1999—when he decorated his first home with Basquiat and Ernie Barnes paintings—that the musician had a life-changing epiphany. “I realized I just spent $500,000 on something for my wall. I could take 10 percent of that and invest in myself and just see what it does,” he explains. Thus began the adventures of Swizz Beatz “Le Artiste.” His pieces can be as large as five feet tall in various styles, including ia referential blend of postmodern and pop art. Periodically, Swizz donates his paintings to various charities, such as the Children’s Cancer and Blood Foundation, where he gifted for auction a piece entitled The Victory Suite (which has an estimated value of $15,000).
Swizz knows that his one-man art movement has much wider implications. It serves as a cultural bridge where the hip-hop generation gets a peek into the often-exclusionary world of contemporary art, and the art world gets exposure to one of the most powerful entities driving popular culture today. “If all artists accepted the entire meaning of the word ‘art,’ they would be better artists all around the board,” Swizz says. “If you can make a hit song, that is the hardest thing to do in the world. You probably could take a great photo as well. You probably could paint something amazing. They all have similar threads.”