Producer’s Corner: Swizz Beatz (HipHopDX 6/30/2007)

by WILLIAM E. KETCHUM III

Whether it’s the minimalistic knock of Jay-Z’s “Money, Cash, Hoes” or the radio-ready bounce of Beyonce’s “Ring the Alarm,” Swizz Beatz is as reliable for a hit as Kobe in the closing seconds. Getting his start as a 16-year-old establishing the Ruff Ryders’ street sound, Kasseem Dean has since established himself as a consistent, versatile beatmaker for hip-hop and R&B’s elite, keeping his sound fresh all the while. In the first interview for HipHopDX’s Producer’s Corner, Swizz talks about his tricks of the trade, his upcoming album One Man Band Man, and staying on his toes.

HipHopDX: You’ve had a really distinct sound since you’ve come out. Where does that sound and style come from?

Swizz Beatz: It just came from living in different areas, from the Bronx, then moving from the Bronx to Atlanta. Just being tuned in to different cultures and music, just being a fan of reggae music, hip-hop, and just tuning in. Those old school records my mother used to play in the crib. I don’t know; it just came about.

HipHopDX: All producers have their own techniques for making a beat a certain way. What kind of techniques do you have, that you don’t think other producers use?

Swizz Beatz: I think by now, enough people have seen me in the studio, to where the technique would’ve been something that nobody uses, isn’t that anymore. But I pretty much just go in there and do what I feel, use the same setup I’ve been using. I don’t make it too complicated, I don’t do it too difficult. I just go in there and do what I do best, and do what I know how to do best. I take the same amount of equipment.

HipHopDX: Out of all the equipment that you use, what would you say is your most important tool?

Swizz Beatz: The MP3000, that’s the brain. That’s where all my drums come through, I put the piano through that; whatever I’m using goes through that. That’s where I put all the sounds, and then I organize everything in there.

HipHopDX: Around the time you did T.I.’s “Bring Em Out,” you started to really reinvent your sound and put yourself out there more. What made you take that approach with his single and your other songs around that time, and how difficult is it for you to keep your style fresh for what’s going on?

Swizz Beatz: You’ve just got to be honest with yourself, how to keep it moving. When I came with the TI song “Bring Em Out,” then I came out with Cassidy’s “I’m A Hustla,” I kind of got criticized for doing that. It was frustrating at first, but I’m like, “OK, we can take this to the next level.” People are like, “Aww, Swizz is using Jay-Z [too much],” this and that. Everybody’s still dancing to it, but they’re still beefing. So I’m like, “OK, let me show y’all something.” Then I did the Busta record, then I did the [Nitty song] “Diamonds On My Neck,” then I did the other joints. I’m like, “It don’t gotta be Jay-Z; that’s just what I was doing at the time.” You’ve just got to know how to get over those obstacles. I can kind of predict most of the stuff that’s going to come up, and I don’t let these things come up anymore.

HipHopDX: You keep in tune with what’s going, but you still make what you do different enough to stand out. How can you come up with something that you think is going to pop at a certain time, but isn’t the same to what’s already out there?

Swizz Beatz: That’s how I came in the industry. By taking risks, doing what I felt was right, and taking it to the next level. I never really waited on another sound for me to come in; I’ve always been that person that took the style to the next level. I’ve never had that problem. I just trust my judgment. Like on my single, “It’s Me Snitches,” just doing what I wanted to do.

HipHopDX: You have a new album, One Man Band, and your last album, G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories, came out in 2002. What kind of difference do you see in this album and your last?

Swizz Beatz: My last joint was a compilation. This is the One Man Band Man; me, no features. I didn’t do all the beats, I was really in artist mode. I’m definitely putting the weight on my back to take it to the next level, and getting people to know my artist side as well as my production side. I did three beats on my album. The other beats are from new producers—giving them a chance to get their name, their credit, let them keep their publishing, and start their music career.

HipHopDX: Being such an extensive producer yourself, what is it like for you when someone else is making the beat and helping you construct the song?

Swizz Beatz: It didn’t really work like that. I had beat CDs from a lot of different producers, my A&R had beat CDs. I picked what I wanted and what I like, came up with concepts, and if it was something I was sticking on the album, the producer got a call like, “Yo, I want to rock with this on the album, what do we need to work out?”

HipHopDX: How long back does this album go, as far as when you recording and writing for it?

Swizz Beatz: About three years. I haven’t really planned on doing this album; I just had songs that I made for other artists, so I’m like, put this to the side, put this to the side, and I’ve got no pressure on me. At the end of the day, when I got serious, I had six songs already done, so I had to just go and do another six.

HipHopDX: I was asking, because your rapping catalog isn’t as extensive as your production one. How much have you lyrically grown and had to step your game up for this album?

Swizz Beatz: Lyrically, I’m not trying to compete with anybody. I’m not trying to be the best rapper. I’m just saying what I feel, saying it how I feel like saying it. Some things are more focused than others. Some things are lyrically focused more than others. “It’s Me Snitches” is not a lyrical song; it’s a fun song. But then you’ve got a song on my album called “The Funeral,” where it’s like one of those stories based out of a Stephen King book. It’s explaining how the world is so crazy, but different things…if it’s a nice day and you’ve got some money in your pocket, it takes your mind off of how the world is. Where I get more lyrical, breaking down a story, and letting everyone know what’s going on, on a lyrical tip. I’ve got another song with a sample from Coldplay called “Part of the Plan,” where I’m breaking down, “Part of the plan is not to make it in this world/so part of my plan is to make it in this world.” I’m like, “Arguing with my brother to see who pick the mouse up/walked by, open up the oven door, he hit the house up.” That’s letting you know the setting that I came from. It wasn’t just always beats, cars, jewelry, and all this shit that everybody’s always talking about. So I get deep on the album, too. But certain songs, I’m not overrapping or overthinking. On a lyrical note, I help the best of the best write, but that doesn’t mean I’m up there with the best of the best. The best of the best have been doing that, and doing that only. I think people are going to be surprised with the album, trust me. One thing I’ve got is definitely good taste in music.

HipHopDX: Your used to working with other people; did it feel awkward being in there working by yourself?

Swizz Beatz: Actually, it felt more comfortable. I didn’t have to adjust to anyone’s group of people, I didn’t have to adjust to nobody’s moves. I just went in there and had fun. It wasn’t no stress, I didn’t have no pressure. I could leave when I want, stop when I want. … I stopped the songs when I want to stop them, bring in the hook when I want to bring them. Who wrote the rules on doing song formats the way they are for every song? … I’m just doing hip-hop how it used to be. People did what they felt. Now it’s all political, and I just can’t get with that. I’m just making good music, and that’s what I thought it was about.

HipHopDX: Your discography is pretty extensive, as far as who you’ve worked with. Who have you worked with that just made you trip out, like, “I can’t believe I’m recording with him”?

Swizz Beatz: I’m like that with everybody. I give everybody the same amount of respect. If I go in the studio with them, that means I’m a fan of their work and I respect it. I’m excited to work with everybody, because that means I have the chance to make history. This could possibly be another chance of making history with somebody.

HipHopDX: What has it been like for you to work with Bone Thugs, and how difficult has it been for you to get on the same page artistically? Your production and their music seem to be so different.

Swizz Beatz: First and foremost, I’m a fan of Bone, from way before I got on the music scene. Working with them was a blessing and a gift, and bringing Bone back was a major thing. It was a challenge, because you’re working on a comeback. So I took that challenge, and was just having fun with it.

HipHopDX: You also produced several tracks on Beyonce’s album. What was it like working with her?

Swizz Beatz: It was dope, it was definitely something new. It was a challenge. It was something that started off as being a cool thing, and turned out to be great. I can’t even complain, and I’m just happy to be able to make history with someone that’s making history. Nobody thought I would do half the album, I had come in to do one track. I just did what I do.

HipHopDX: Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you want to?

Swizz Beatz: Um…[pauses] Everybody that wants to work with me.

HipHopDX: At this point in your career, how difficult is it for you to come up with new ways to challenge yourself?

Swizz Beatz: It’s not hard. I just set my goals real high, and I just love what I do. It’s always a better song to be made.

HipHopDX: If you had to name your top five joints that you produced, which ones would you pick?

Swizz Beatz: “Bring Em Out,” [DMX’s] “Stop Drop,” [Jay-Z’s] “Jigga,” “It’s Me Bitches,” and “Banned From TV.” That’s my top five for right now.

[via HipHopDX]