Still On It
Swizz Beatz has sort of renewed himself in the past few years. But before the DJ turned producer was chopping up Jay-Z’s vocals for the likes of T.I. (“Bring Em Out”) and Cassidy (“I’m a Hustla”) and helping Busta Rhymes bring New York back (“New York Shit”), he was laying the sonic groundwork for the Ruff Ryder movement at the turn of the century. Now that he’s made himself a valuable commodity, Swizz is focused on developing the Full Surface imprint he formed roughly three years ago. Next up are projects by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Eve and Cassidy, who’ll return with his third album following an eight-month stint in prison and a near-fatal car accident. In between producing, Swizz is also prepping his solo debut, One Man Band Man, due in June via Universal Motown and led by the party starter “It’s Me Bitches.” In addition, he’s working on upcoming projects by the LOX, Usher, Chris Brown, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, among others. The producer tells xxlmag.com about his Full Surface invasion, his album and its potential skeptics, and speaks on behalf of Cass.
So this new album has been kept hush-hush.
The One-Man Band project came about from me just fiending to do my thing without having to collaborate with any other people. [I wanted] to just put some real hip-hop out there. I been working on the album for a long time. [It’s] not a guest-featured album. It’s not a self-produced album. I think people are just so used to that. Those are the boring selling points to me. Nowadays, I think we gotta get creative and just do different things. That’s why I did the song [“It’s Me Bitches”] how I did it. That’s a perfect example of just putting out hot shit. I didn’t try to oversell it. I didn’t go out there like, “Oh, I got my new single coming out!” I just put it out and let it do what it do.
Why did you decide that’d be the best way to go about it?
Because everybody puts so much hype on they shit. So even if they did have something that was super crazy, they killed it by just putting so much extra hype on it. Let the people decide if it’s hot. I’m a DJ first, so I took [the single] to the clubs first. I went to the local DJs, and I was like, “Take this record. Don’t even tell nobody that it’s me rapping. Just play it when the hottest shit is playing.”
What kind of response have you gotten?
It’s ridiculous. Right now, it’s outrageous. New York is in a frenzy. L.A. is in a frenzy. My spins is crazy. The demand is crazy, and the response is just way crazier than I expected. And I think people gon’ criticize, but it’s cool, though, because at the end of the day, I stand behind everything I did on my album. And that’s why I didn’t want too many features. I didn’t want too many crutches. I didn’t want people saying, “Oh, that’s hot, because this person is on it.” I’m not putting out a compilation—this is my album. This is me.
You and your beats?
Nope, not all my beats. I did the single. I did a couple of joints, but I [used] a lot of new producers that would never get they chance to shine with a hot track without somebody stealing it from them and putting they name on it. I don’t play those games. These new producers that’s on my album, they gettin’ they credit, they gettin’ they points, they gettin’ they publishing—how things should be.
The last couple of years, you had sort of a revival. Do you feel any pressure to continue that or to keep your name out there?
I work great under pressure. The time that I took off, I needed to take off, just to do other things to set me up now to where I have a clear path. And when people talk to me, it’s not just about beats. We can talk about art, we can talk about my Kid Robot clothing line, we can talk about the car dealerships, the clubs, you know. I took time off to set myself up as a businessman, because these fans out here, they not really loyal like that. One minute you hot, one minute you not, so I try not to depend on that, being that I have a son and I just had another son. Now I don’t have no pressure on me [to make] beats [or] do an album. I can make a hundred percent clear decisions that [are] creative. I’m not scared if it don’t hit. That’s why I can do a song, like the one I got out right now, that’s no longer than three minutes.
How is it to get to make music for yourself now, instead of just doing ad-libs?
It took a long time for me to just accept my vocals on a track all the way through. It was definitely a work in progress for a long time, ’cause I was just giving all my songs away because I didn’t want the pressure on me. Being a producer and trying to change the sound and create new sounds, you sometimes get stuck, because the artists wanna do what they wanna do. Which is cool, but sometimes I be wantin’ the artist to push it to the limits a little more. Their attention span for doing that is sometimes short. Sometimes less is more, and I think that’s what hip-hop needs. I’m not saying that I’m changing the whole entire thing of hip-hop, but even if I can change one percent and loosen it up a little bit so people can trust they own judgment and get they freedom back, then it’s cool.
Are there any new production elements or techniques you experimented with this time?
I got a song called “Take a Picture.” It’s a build of the sample “Lovely Day.” But the way I flipped it is just crazy. I wouldn’t [normally] mess with a sample like that, but sometimes you gotta step out the box, ’cause an album is a mixture of different things, and people don’t understand you can’t have the same sounding shit. Because the attention span of the people that’s listening to your album is so short that it gotta be like, “Okay, what is that.” [Also] I got this song called “Part of the Plan,” which is stories, like the Crash movie.
You write all your own stuff?
Did you find that difficult?
No, because I’m just full of ideas. I just let it flow. I don’t put too much pressure on myself to be—I don’t try to make it too extra. I just like to do what I feel. People always say they doin’ something different, and they come with the same shit, and it’s like the people that’s buying the record and the fans period, they know all these things already. That’s why I didn’t wanna come with all these features and, “Yeah, we know he produced the whole album.” It’s giving people something different that they can do they homework to.
How’s Cassidy’s album coming along?
Cassidy is recovering well. The album was already damn near done before the incident, and we gon’ go back in and do like two, three more tracks. So he’s lined up. He’s focused.
Was it hard for him to get back into recording?
Nah, this kid—he was ready to do that ASAP. I didn’t pressure him with it, because he really needed to get better, because the accident was very, very serious—way worse than Kanye’s accident. There’s a lot of different experiences that he recently went through, and he got a lot to talk about on this album, but we not basing the album on his car crash and him beating the case. Hip-hop gotta stop doing the obvious. We [also] got Eve coming out. Her first single gettin’ ready to drop. Trust me, everybody’s gonna dance, go crazy in the club when “Tamborine” drops. And we got Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. We ’bout to gear them up. They ready for the launch.
Why’d you want to bring Bone Thugs in?
I wanted to get with some vets. Because with the new artists, you have to do artist development—this, that and the third—and it’s a lotta work. I wanna get the new artists that I’m developing right now off and running before I get [newer] artists. In the meantime, I still need to put out product, so I get a group like Bone that works hard, got melody, know hooks, got a fan base, never really got they just due, except for Bone and Biggie and “Crossroads.” If you was a fan, you knew what “First of Tha Month” was. Everybody took they style and ran with it. So I tested out a couple records with “Spit Ya Game” and the Mariah remix [“Don’t Forget About Us”] and [Chamillionaire’s] “Ridin’ Dirty”—and they still got the fan base.
So you think they can still come out and be relevant?
Hell yeah, ’cause that’s my job. And that was the important thing that I stressed to them and why we did like 50 songs to pick 12. I think it’s important that Bone comes out like new artists, just new songs, new sound, new feel, new look, but still representin’ the struggle that they represent, still having the substance, still representin’ the harmony. You know, they was doin’ big records.
Is there any production work that you’re doing right now that people would be surprised about?
I don’t think people are surprised by what I do anymore, as far as new things. I think they’re surprised when the song comes out. A lot of the Beyoncé stuff, I didn’t talk [about]. A lot of people didn’t even know that I produced half the album, and I like it like that sometimes. So that element of surprise is cool, but the only thing I don’t like about that is I don’t get the respect that’s needed.
What are your thoughts on [the DJ Drama] mixtape raid? Do you think it’ll have any effect on hip-hop?
Yeah, for five minutes. Hip-hop, we bounce back. I’m all for the mixtapes. They gotta point the finger at somebody, so they go down there and they mess with Drama and them. Y’all gon’ mess with these dudes ’cause they provide a service that get people unsigned music out there and signed? It’s not like they downloading people’s albums and putting them out on the mixtapes. They hookin’ up with the labels, settin’ up the plan and doin’ a whole promotional situation with this music. They just wanna mess with us however they can. But hip-hop is gravy.