Thursday, October 4, 2012

Swizz Beatz ~ This Man is on Fire!

I know his name. I know his face. I know he's married to Alicia Keys. I know he's one of hip hop's top producers...but that's about it. That was as far my knowledge of Swizz Beatz went, until the other night when I watched a Breakfast Club interview on YouTube, and was pleasantly surprised to hear about just how deep this brother's repetoire goes.

And I'm not talking about the producing. I mean, it's definitely worth mentioning. What's not to celebrate about "Jigga My Nigga" by Jay-Z, "Love is Blind" by Eve, the classic "Ruff Ryders Anthem" from DMX, or even "Fancy" by Drake? What's not to praise for a man that has created some of hip hop's sickest beats and worked with practically every legendary artist in the game, in his young lifetime?

At 34-years-old, Kasseem David Dean is the true definition of a Renaissance man, and while the hip hop community has known his talents for decades now, he is firmly planting roots in other avenues like art and design, and setting up a great foundation for an extended career in expanding his brand, and helping to introduce his community to a broader range of expression.

From his first compilation album in 2002, to producing hot tracks for the hottest artists from every major record lable, Swizz was at the top of his game at the same time hip hop was hottest, commercially. Music aside, in 2006 Swizz became a partner in Kidrobot art toys and clothes, in 2010 he started a sneaker line with Reebok, and last year he became a creative director with Lotus Cars.

Did I mention the brother is also an artist? Literally...he paints. And he donates the proceeds of his paintings to support a Children's Cancer and Blood fund. In fact, he's the go-to guy in the hip hop world when it comes to the fine arts, often giving advice on paintings and such to the likes of Diddy and others. He is so influenced by the visual arts that he incorporates various prints into the design of his Reeboks.

In an article in the prestigious New York Times last week, Swizz professed that he wants to be the representative of his generation to "show them that there are so many more things that we can do out here to move this world to a forward-thinking place."

This is what it's all about, I figure. I love watching a "community" grow up, find it's strengths, and expand it's powers. I've mentioned Russell Simmons, Tyrese, and the numerous authors, filmmakers, and others of the "hip hop generation" who are actively pursuing a life of public service, striving to raise public awareness, and most importantly, building important legacies of family, business, and culture.

It's a beautiful thing to see people doing what they love, and taking opportunities that start out on one level, and catapulting their brand and efforts to an entirely different stratosphere! There's no doubt that Swizz has come a long way from days growing up in the South Bronx, to even the days when he started working with his uncles at Ruff Ryder. I have to commend him for not only being consistently hot (albeit under the radar at times), but also definitely original.

For example, for the 2010-2011 academic year, he was appointed the first ever Producer-In-Residence at New York University. Last month, he was named the first Global Ambassador for New York City's public hospitals system.

Innovative is an understatement.

We all know of his wife Alicia Keys' classic music, and equally commendable charitable works, and it's only natural that the two spiritual forces would unite to form a family. Married in the summer of 2010 in Corsica (in a ceremony led by the infamous Deepak Chopra), the two welcomed their baby boy Egypt Daoud Ibarr Dean into the world shortly after, in the fall of the same year. The first child for Ms. Keys and the fourth for Swizz, Egypt is the heir to a combination of social riches and artistic talents.

I haven't followed this brother closely throughout his career, but he's definitely on my radar now. I'm sooooo over the empty artist just trying to make a dollar, flaunt that dollar, and barely think about how their fortunate position in life is going to benefit greater mankind. Yeah, I'll listen to the music and appreciate the value of their talent...but what really moves me is someone like Swizz. Someone doing MORE...when he doesn't have to. He has inspired me.

He's stepping us as one of a handful of individuals who are taking their money, power, and wealth, and applying it to the long term vision. Thinking about themselves, but also thinking about their community. Celebrating their art, but also celebrating the future of their genre.

It's crazy how much hip hop has grown. Could you imagine even thinking it would go this far? I watched Barack Obama and Mitt Romney last night in the first of three scheduled pre-election presidential debates and still had to smile. Because one day you wake up, and things you never thought were possible...are suddenly possible. Things that others just a decade or two ago could have never imagined, are simply commonplace right now.

So when I think about musicians outta The Bronx, just like Swizz, learning and developing an art form...and then think of the icons like Swizz and company, and how they are now full-fledged businessmen, intelligent leaders, and in his case still filled with humility and drive...I am confident. I feel confident knowing that the youth have a variety of role models to emulate. And not because they are "just" rappers, or "just" athletes, or "just" R&B singers, but because they have taken their window of opportunity and turned it into a growing legacy.

I love to see this, and love to see that as we age along with the hip hop generation and urban entertainment community, that the minds and activities and actions of our peers are aging as well. Growing. Developing, and contributing to society in a way that makes me proud.

It's a good feeling.

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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