How superstar producer Swizz Beatz uses Instagram to push art, battle Timbaland

You likely use Instagram to keep up with your favorite celebrities and friends.

Prolific hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz used the social media app to find artists for his sixth No Commission music and art showcase, which hit Miami this month. Oh, and in his spare time, he incites beat battles between himself and mega producer Timbaland (Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience). Safe to say, Beatz is a renaissance man on the ‘gram.

Since 2015, the mega-producer who has worked with superstars like Kanye, Kendrick, and Jay-Z has put on five No Commission art shows where both famous and unknown artists showcase their works — and retain 100 percent of their profits. In a sense, Beatz’s No Commission embodies the all-inclusive spirit of Instagram, where your picture of your dog is a swipe away from Beyonce’s pregnancy photos on your feed. “[At No Commission], you have artists that are in big galleries across the world, big museums, right on the same walls as up-and coming-artists,” Beatz told Digital Trends. “So there’s no section where it’s like ‘this is the fancy section.’ Everybody is hanging together.”

Digital Trends spoke with Beatz days before his No Commission show touched down in Miami as part of the Art Basel show to hear more about his Instagram projects, when we’re finally going to see him square off against Timbaland, and why he’s ready to release some Poison into hip-hop.

Digital Trends: When I first heard about No Commission, the first thing I thought was “disruption.” Not charging people to attend, giving artists 100 percent of the commission, and placing all artists on the same level bucks tradition that art galleries have adhered to for centuries. Have you experienced any problems getting artists or experienced any pushback from galleries?

Swizz Beatz: That’s the thing. In the beginning, a lot of people were scared of me, scared of my concept, and they made artists feel uncomfortable about my concept. I knew that in time people would understand my intentions, which are good. I support the artist whether they’re in a gallery or not. I just bought five pieces from a gallery this month. But, I’m not a gallery. I’m not a broker. I’m not a dealer. I’m an advocate for the arts and I’m an artist myself. So, if I choose to do something to celebrate the artists, that’s my business. And I’m not charging a commission, so I’m not cutting into anything a gallery is doing. If anything, I’m helping the galleries because your artists are going to come back to you with millions and millions of impressions. Now it’s billions of impressions globally for No Commission. That’s your artist. I don’t own that artist. That’s not my thing.  My thing is to celebrate the artist. So, a lot of guys were hesitant. Now, they’re not. I have six more [No Commission] shows planned for next year.

Have there been any big celebrity purchases of art at No Commission?

“Most of the No Commission artists are from Instagram.”

A lot of people, man.  Timbaland’s bought from No Commission. Carmelo [Anthony] is a big advocate of buying from No Commission. Amar’e Stoudemire has bought from No Commission. So many people. Steve Harvey and his family always support and buy from No Commission. The owners of UFC. Super range of people.

How has Instagram been influential to the No Commission shows?

The biggest. The biggest influence. I’ve discovered most of my art from Instagram. Most of the No Commission artists are from Instagram. Most of the new artists that I put in my collection are from Instagram. Why? Because I can deal with them direct. I can see their works. I can discover all types of things. Then you can link into who they’re cool with, and you’ll probably find 10 more cool people. It keeps going. That’s why Instagram has been very influential on No Commission. It’s been influential on my personal collection, as well.

Yeah, I’m on your IG daily and you’re always skating around your huge Kaws statue next to all of your art. We can’t talk to you about Instagram and not ask about the beat battle between you and Timbaland. What’s the status of that battle right now?

The status is that I had to finish [Harvard Business School]. We both got albums, so we decided, “Yo, let me do my school thing, finish up our albums, and come with it at the top of the year.” A lot of things are already shutting down for this year, and let’s give the people what they want, but also let’s have our music ready. I pretty much held it up a little bit, because I had to graduate. But he was off with his things as well. So, we both made an executive decision to postpone it. This isn’t even a battle no more. It’s a battle, but I would say that it’s a celebration. We’re celebrating each other’s craft, and we’re going to face off like a sport. But, battle sounds too aggressive, and I feel there’s enough aggressive shit going on.

When you battled Just Blaze on Instagram Live, I don’t think anyone thought Just Blaze was finished or was trash. 

I think it took him to the next level.

When you were previewing beats to hype up your beat competition with Timbaland on Instagram, I always wondered how you chose from your hundreds of beats which ones to preview. How did you even choose?

I was just making them right then and there. I just went downstairs to the basement to the studio and made those beats on the spot. I thought, “Oh, he’s coming at me? Let’s go.” I’m competitive. I like to have fun with my shit. We were sparring.  A lot of people think that was the battle. I’m like, “Nahhhhh.” When we battle, people will know it’s the battle. When the showdown go down, we going to know now. [Laughs]

These days, it seems playlists are a major driver of popularity. Have you factored in playlists like Spotify’s RapCaviar into how you make your album?

Man, my album is called Poison. I took all of the radio hits off my album, on purpose. Yes, I graduated from Harvard. Yes, I got No Commission going. But, on my music mode, I’m in a different type of energy and a different type of space. I just feel people need that raw, uncut shit. I’m going to give it to them. I promise you. This album is very, very, very, very serious. It’s very raw. It’s very uncut. And it’s short. It’s not 50 songs — 10-12 songs max called Poison. When I drop that Poison, people going to be sick in the rap game. [Laughs].

Swizz Beatz
Bacardi
Bacardi

What’s your view of the rise of the importance of playlists to an artist’s success? 

I like it because it switches the pace. A lot of the normal formats keep rotating, rotating. They keep recycling the same thing. I like that playlists have different flavors, different options, and you can be in control of your own movements on things. I like traditional things as well. It’s something about being on the radio and being on TV that still feels important. So, I won’t cancel those things out. When I dropped the Jada[kiss] and Fab[olous] joint, just hearing [DJ Funkmaster] Flex pull that back, it just made me feel like, “Wow.”

You have a long history in the music industry and you’ve worked with some of the best equipment. But there had to have been a time when you had to make due with what you had. What are some do-it-yourself hacks you had to do early in your career?

“That was part of being a DJ at that time. You had to be fucking handy.”

With the MPC [drum machine] and turntables, you had to be handy. That was part of being a DJ at that time. You had to be fucking handy. You couldn’t just be on autopilot like most people are now. Now, the equipment makes the beat for you. [Laughs]. Just think about it, 50 percent of my catalog out of 550 songs were based off of me only having 30 seconds to sample — 30 seconds. On the MPC-3000 you only had a certain amount of memory. So, it was 30 seconds you had to fit everything in that, then chop it up, then do this. Now, you can sample an hour if you want, right?

Wait, you’re telling me DMX’s 1998 hit song Ruff Ryders’ Anthem was made like that? Thirty seconds at a time? 

Ruff Ryders Anthem was made in 10 minutes. If you count the first part — dun-na-da-dun-dun dun-na-da-dun-dun … I would play it fast, and then I would slow it down. So it really is [twice as fast]. Then I’d slow it down. I probably have to show people that process one day. We had nothing to work with … We didn’t have no Pro Tools. We didn’t have none of that. Now I can just play drums into a computer and not care about a time schedule. Back then, we had to care about time.