Interview: Swizz Beatz Takes On Art World Conventions With “No Commission”

by Keith Nelson Jr

Swizz Beatz isn’t present, but his influence is felt.

That was my prevailing thought at the Bacardi Rum Room event on the penthouse level of New York City’s luxurious Dream Midtown hotel at the end of November. As I sipped on a 10 year old Bacardi rum while taking in the impressive photo gallery on display as part of No Commission’s upcoming, first-ever photography show, it struck me how even when physically absent, Swizz’s influence precedes him through creative endeavors such as No Commission.

No Commission is an art show Swizz has been putting on for three years, in partnership with Bacardi, showcasing work from underappreciated artists, and allowing those artists to keep 100% of the sales of their works. In an art world governed by gatekeepers and an art gallery system that often takes 50 percent commission on any sale made, No Commission is radical, and potentially threatening to tradition.

That’s just the way Swizz wants it to be. The 40 year old music producer spoke with Flaunt about how No Commission is pushing back at conventions of the art world, why the way Meek Mill put out his Jay Z feature isn’t how Swizz would do it, and how Instagram has changed the art world.

How did this year's No Commission theme come about?

The themes naturally come to me. I was thinking of having an all photography show, intrigued by how many of the youth are now just into photography. You go somewhere and see cameras around their necks. At all of the No Commission shows we've done digital, we've done canvases. We've had photography in our shows, but I was like let's highlight the whole entire show on photography. Take the shot. Take the shot in life, as well. Many people don't see their greatness, because they never take the shot. Then, take the shot, with the [camera] lens, and also take a shot of a drink if you want to, as well. Right? That's the Bacardi part.

No Commission created the entry point for this generation in art. The people don't have to pay to get in. They just have to RSVP. The concert is free. The artist keeps 100% of the sales, because I really wanted to give back to the artist 100%.

Before last year's No Commission during Miami’s Art Basel you told me you and the show faced push back from the art world for how you disrupting long standing traditions with things like giving 100% of the proceeds to the artist. But, now that No Commission has been around and a success for the last three years, has that relationship with the art world changed or are you still getting pushback from that scene?

I never really cared about the pushback. My intention were to disrupt the ways that were incorrect for the artist. If I got any pushback from certain people, it was because they didn't have the right intentions. [Chuckles]. I don't care if they pushback, because it don't push nothing back over here. They're going to push themselves back. All I'm saying is do the right thing. I'm not asking you to stop making money. I'm not even doing what I could be doing to apply the pressure.

This is the first No Commission that you're putting on after putting out an album. Your album Poison was packed with huge features, but you said in a recent Rap Radar podcast interview that you kept a song featuring Jay Z, DMX, Jadakiss, and yourself off your album. After hearing how crazy everyone is going over Jay Z's verse on Meek Mill's recently released Championships album, are you inspired to put your song out?

[Laughs]. I've had the inspiration to release it a long time ago. But, I've had to have the discipline, and let people enjoy Poison as it is. You see, Meek has a great album, right?


But, you see what everybody is talking about off the album, right?

Hmmm, that’s a good point.

For him, I think it's a great thing. For me, I'm just in a different space on how I'm creating. I took big songs off my album on purpose, so people can actually focus on the craftsmanship,and lyricism, as a whole. I wasn't really going for the big hit record, even though I feel there are hit records on it. I just wanted to lay some ground foundation for my re-entry into the industry.

You mentioned Bacardi's part in No Commission earlier. They’ve been a partner since No Commission’s inception, how does Bacardi affect how they come together?

It's a very unique partnership. A lot of brands like to partner with artists to put their logo on things, and things like that. I'm not really a big fan of that. I'm a big fan of organic relationships, and that's how it's been. Bacardi is the chosen drink at the event, at the bar, and they are my partners on the financial side of things. It allows me to put on these shows, and be able to have No Commission shows. It's a big role that they play, and it's been great.

I was at your Sotheby's event in 2016 where you highlighted artists you discovered on Instagram. With this being the first all-photography No Commission, how has Instagram come into play?

Instagram was one of the tools that helped build No Commission, to be honest, from an awareness standpoint, a delivery standpoint, a social media standpoint. I discovered so many artists through Instagram. A lot of the artists that are at the show are found on Instagram, especially with the photography show. We had so many entries. I could do photography shows every day of the year with the amount of work that was sent that was amazing. It's sad that we can't do a show with the entire show all in it at one time.

You've been big in using Instagram. Earlier this year in May, you announced you were giving 20 artists $5,000 each to put on an art show. What's happened since that initiative?

The Dean Collection 20 has been very successful. We actually launched three super successful shows, rave reviews, one of the shows got a big award in a different country. The things these artists are doing with $5,000 is incredible. They're using their community, they're using their network, and they're creating sustainable situations for themselves. That's what these grants were for. I can help you sell your work at No Commissions all day. The audience is there, the people are there. But, after No Commission, how can you sustain without giving away 50 percent if you don't want to. Some people are cool with giving away 50 percent. What if you didn't want to give 50 percent away to a gallery? How do you go on a road of independence? That's why we did the Dean Collection 20.

You've worked with a number of other Hip-Hop artists like Tyler, the creator and A$AP Rocky with a penchant for high art and creative visuals. Is there one artist you'd love to see curate a No Commission-type show?

I would love for many artists to get into the arts. I know I've inspired many. I get a lot of phone calls from a lot of artists that are doing a lot amazing things, and the names that they're coming back to me with I'm like, "Wow. Ok." Wow. That's impressive.”

Like who?

I don't really want to disclose their names. The key thing is I want everybody to maintain being their own boss. If they want to give me props for helping them out, that's on their own. But, that's been the problem. Everybody wants to be their own boss. People would rather go through an agency, or an advisor, than to come talk to me, when they know I know the artist direct. I've been collecting for 20 years.

But, the younger generation they are a little bit different. They're coming to me and really doing their homework on the artist. I'm happy to see that, because I was the only person doing it for a long time. Now, it's like an open thing.

Photographs courtesy of Bacardi