Getting To The Money: Swizz Beatz Talks Business, Branding & Motivation

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Prominent music producer and fashion designer Swizz Beatz recently did an exclusive interview with Black Enterprise. In the cover story, the BX native talked about being a regular kid living in New York to becoming a major figure in the entertainment industry, his collaborations and partnerships, how education holds people back, the music industry, 360 deals, and much more. Below are a some excerpts:

With guns — to where you are now: A man of expensive taste and someone who all these brands [Aston Martin, Reebok, Lotus, Audemars-Piguet, Christian Louboutin] want to work with. You’re not only a musician but a visual artist now and in 2011 you’re definitely a business person. Tell me how that evolution happened.

The evolution happened just with me being who I am and thinking outside of the box. My famous quote I came up with is “the sky is not the limit it’s just the view.” I look at it going back to the days when people thought I should just stick to deejaying. Just think about that. If I had just stuck to deejaying I think I would have been one of the best DJs but you would’ve never known me as Swizz Beatz, the producer. That means DMX would’ve never had “Stop Drop” [“Ruff Ryder’s Anthem”], Jay-Z would’ve never had “Jigga …” [“Jigga My N–ga”]. 500 plus songs wouldn’t have been contributed to our culture if I didn’t follow my heart no matter what doors I had to knock down to move forward. The one thing that I do is that I do everything that I love. There’s a lot of opportunities for me to do this and that [and] they’re all big amazing things but if I can’t wake up in the morning feeling great about what I’m doing then I’m doing the wrong thing.  So I just cleared everything off of my table and said I’m only doing what I love doing from this point on. Life is too short.

Do you recall when that was? When’d you have that epiphany?

I been had that mind frame but 2010 is the year I call that my graduation year—mentally, physically, spiritually on the business level, everything. Every couple of years you have to graduate your brand or people or going to still identify me as “Swizz Beatz the Ruff Ryder.” I am a Ruff Ryder and I started Ruff Ryders with my uncles and DMX and everybody but it’s been like 10 years plus since that happened and I don’t want to be stuck in that box— I’m a different person. But people don’t know that, they just know certain highlights of your life that have been publicized and me I’m really a low key person. By the time people heard about me and Aston [Martin] I already done did it. By the time people done heard about me and Christian Louboutin I already did it, it was already on people’s feet! By the time people were hearin’ about me being a VP at Lotus I did it already. By the time people heard of me taking over the global creative direction for Reebok, that’s in play already. That’s how I move. I don’t like to hype things up before they happen. I like to have product done a little bit of success already to go with it, a little bit if excitement to go with it. I do one appearance or announcement and once things are moving then I just go back in the cut.

Source: Black Enterprise

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What do you think holds people back the most?

I think the educational process holds people back because if you’re not educated in certain places you don’t know which way to go.  For instance that building over there might be your dream. You might be like “damn, when I get a billion dollars I’m gonna own a building like that.” And you’re really thinking that so now your goal is to get a billion dollars because you think that’s what that costs but really if you really did your homework you could get that building for free if you know the right people, know how to get the right deal structured, had the right plan in place you might not even have to come out of your pockets for that building. So it’s more of an educational thing and I have very successful friends  that I surround myself with that’s around the world. Super-successful people. And I’m not there because they’re billionaires or what I can get [from them], I’m there to be a student. To learn certain things that I can bring back to our culture and be like “nah, that’s not how you do that. This is how you do that.”  And the crazy thing is I speak to a lot of people that inspire other people, they come to me. I would never disclose who those people are because it’s a trust thing. I’m sitting there sometimes and it’s like “damn, I got this phone call from such and such? Like why would he call me for that?” And this is the giants of the giants—

Why do you think that is?

Because man, people sit back and they look and they see certain things that’s missin’ [in their businesses]. They might not tell you have it all the way or they might not give you the props but at the right timing you will find out everything. And I just found out that they people like the way I move on the business front, they admire the risk I take. Just think: I dismissed myself from the music industry as a business for a couple years now. I don’t even operate in the system, I departed from that because I knew that this point that we’re at right now was coming. A lot of people [were] lookin’ at the music industry like a bank ‘cause it’s a bank to them and now it’s a bank with no money in it so now what? You gotta sell your 360 deal to get ahead but you’re never gonna get ahead because you’re gonna be living off your tours and I’m just not built to be livin’ like that. So I’m like, you know what? Time out. Y’all can have all of that. I’d rather do my thing over here, solo travel the world create a couple of new things … I did that in one year! All of those accounts in one year! And that’s not even talkin’ about the stuff I got going in Hong Kong. I’m into goin’ for IPOs– that’s just where my mind is at. Like I got two major IPOs that’s pending and I’m waiting for. When it’s time to make the announcement it’s done and I’ll be proud to make it, matter of fact, the people who I’ll be doing the IPO with, I’ll let them make the announcement because once I get to that level it’s super-inspiring. Let the work speak for itself.

Tell me about some of the various collaborations that you’re involved in and how they came about. Let’s start with Lotus.

The Lotus project came about because I’m great friends with the CEO. He was a big fan of my work even when I was at Aston [Martin]—

Your work musically or in terms of design?

My work in design and creativity. Most of my deals are not based on music. Most of my collaborations are based off of pure creativity in those fields or else I’d be doing endorsement deals. I don’t have endorsement deals, I have partnerships. I’m Vice President of Design for Lotus North America.

That’s a real job!

SB: That’s a real job. That’s me planning the way Lotus is sold in the United States, the way Lotus is presented, the way Lotus is designed, commercials, everything. Everything goes through me and the CEO. I demand those positions because I have to set the bar that high and I have to make other industries at least respect a little bit of our industry. Everything shouldn’t be for sale.

What do you mean by that?

What I mean is they shouldn’t be able to look at somebody in our industry like they can just buy them and it means nothing.

Which is often times what an endorsement means.

It means: “Let’s buy this person. Give ‘em a million dollars, we’re gonna make 50.” If that’s what the artists wants to do and they want to make some quick money then that’s them. I’m not that type of artist. I’m behind the scenes so for me to do these deals it has to be structured with stock options, points, valuations for when the brand goes up [for public sale]. Every deal I have is serious partnerships with equity, serious things involved. Everything from A to Z that a real business partnership has involved.

Read the entire interview over at Black Enterprise

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Donovan is the CEO and Editor-In-Chief of For all general inquiries please email Donovan has a BA in Journalism & Media Studies from the prestigious Rutgers University. He's currently studying entertainment and fashion law.