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When we interviewed Swizz Beatz for the latest issue of the magazine, he casually mentioned working on new beats for Jay-Z and Nas. Then last night at a party in NYC for toy company Kid Robot (where Swizz is a partner), dude got on the CD-Js to test out new material – namely, a moody banger sampling Nasir’s “when you on top, there’s envy” line. We asked if it was going on the new Nas record, and Swizzy said the track is for Nas AND Jay. Dunt dunt dunnnnn…
Read our entire Q&A from earlier this summer after the jump, where Swizz talks about his love of Jamiroquoi, getting Eve to rap over White Stripes samples, and much more.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m in Arizona right now actually, I got all my artists out here currently. Right now we got Eve, we have Cassidy out here, we have Bone Thugs N Harmony, we have Mashonda, we have my album, right now, and that’s just the in-house stuff.
What’s your concept for the solo album?
Just classic, I’m tryna compare it to Dre’s Chronic album, where its just not like a compilation. But I’m also having a couple of cool friends on the project with me as well.
Are you looking to play with your sound and how people perceive it?
I’m just doing what I’m coming up with, and I’m challenging myself with all different type of sounds. I might do something over a Marvin Gaye concept and then take it and mess with a song from the Gorillaz, mess with something from the classic hip hop stuff, and then some sample-free stuff, I’m just testing everything.
What’s your time frame to have the solo album finished?
I’m not even putting pressure on myself, I’m just doing it and when its ready I’m going to have enough songs where everybody is going crazy. Then I’m like, OK. I already got this song for the first single, its called “Big Money” and its kind of crazy. Just me by myself, so far.
I remember reading ?uestlove posting on the internet about hearing “New York Shit” off a CD you burned, and bugging out – this was months and months before the actual track came out.
See when he was talking about it I hadn’t given up the record yet, it was just me by myself. But you know I didn’t want to just force something on people, and Busta was working on his album…he loved the song, so I was like Yo, you know, you take the song, you’re a way better rapper than me, you can do bigger things with it than me.
Had you already recorded your verses for it?
Yeah, that’s the version that ?uestlove heard, which is gonna be on my album. I was doing more shout outs. The second verse was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m on my New York shit, Flatbush Ave on my New York shit…” you know I was just doing different things. “Washington Heights on my New York shit, rock the bubble goose on my New York shit, chicks with name earrings on my New York shit…”
The concept for this issue is for artists to name people they’re working with, inspired by, influenced by—just other artists in their orbit one way or another. Right off the bat, what’s some of the music that you find yourself coming back to over and over again?
I love “The Bridge Is Over,” I love “South Bronx,” I love “Eric B for President.” I love all different types of music though. Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye of course, then you go all the way over to like a lot of rock stuff, I like the Gorillaz, I like Daft Punk. Ice Cube stuff, I like everything, I’m not gonna lie. Everything from calypso music to jazz music, bass music. Defininitely disco, I love that disco music. Just to give you an example, Jamiroquai is not really disco, but when he gets in his zone and the beat is up tempo and just has that vibe, its real soothing.
When you were younger, were there any artists who made the lightbulb click for you, like, This is what I want to do?
Definitely KRS-One. I never thought, I should do this, or I want to do this, I just did it. I used to DJ so I was just a fan of people that were putting out good music, music that I could play it on a crowd and get the party hyped up. When you a DJ you forced to listen to a lot of different songs. Like when I first played the Black Sheep record, “Engine engine number nine…,” before I was like, Black Sheep? What’s this? Or Nice and Smooth, “I got a funky, funky rhyme…” nobody was doing things like that.
Were there any songs you were feeling personally, but couldn’t really DJ out?
A lot of stuff on Nas albums like “Represent.” A lot of album cuts, things like that.
Who were some of the people you first got down to work with?
Noreaga, we did “Banned From TV,” Busta with “Tear the Roof Off.” I actually worked with Jay Z around that time as well. Who else, I know I’m forgetting, its been so long ago, I know I’m forgetting a lot of people. Oh yeah, Cam’Ron.
Were there any songs you felt didn’t hit like they should have?
A Cam’ron and Noreaga song called “Glory,” it was on the first [Cam’ron] album. I mean, that song was a hit in the streets but it didn’t really pop like how I anticipated. Even “Tear the Roof Off,” people liked that song but it wasn’t like “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” I’m just now getting to that level with “Touch It” ten years later.
What did you have in mind when you were making your solo album [Ghetto Stories] on Dreamworks?
I was doing Ghetto Stories and I was looking at it more as a compilation. I wasn’t really looking at it like a Swizz album, like I’m doing now. That’s why it was “Swizz Beats presents…” and it was like, everybody’s got a ghetto story to tell, so that’s what represented that album. This time around, I’m doing what fits me—I want other people to come into my world this time, since last time I went into theirs.
I always felt that people kind of slept on the Ghetto Stories song with Ron Isley.
Yeah, I love that song, that was one of my favorites right there. But then you got “I Get High” that was on my album, and I gave it away to Styles P, and he did almost platinum off that one single. It’s crazy, I’m always giving shit away. See, one thing I have is confidence. I know I know how to make hits, there is nothing else out there I know how to do. I know how to make a hit, and that’s the god blessed talent that I have. That’s why I don’t really sweat them like that, like “Ehh, should I make another one?” Fuck it.
Were there points in your career where you sat down and totally re-thought the way you make beats?
Yeah, I do that a lot cause you have to always be ten steps ahead, of the fans, consumers, competition, everything. Just when people think that I’m supposed to be cool and that I made it and “Ok, you’re back again, you’re doing it big,” I’m already preparing for the round after this. A lot of people like to ride that hype so long that they’re not focusing on their creative, and they go on these long vacations, on hiatus, and then you got that new hungry person coming in or that new producer with that hot single out. All it takes is three to four [hits] to become a household name. But one thing I don’t mind doing is letting other people get their shine, so you know, say you got a producer like The Runners or whoever is coming out right now that has a lotta songs out. It’s friendly competition.
Do you feel like the whole technique of sampling other vocals to make a new hook popped off because of what you did with it?
Yeah, I played with it, but I’m way past that shit now. I had fun with it with “Diamonds on My Neck,” “I’m a Hustler,” “Bring ‘Em Out.” When we did them, we did them big, to where they were selling a lot of records. TI went platinum off that one record alone, so to get the opportunity and the clearance to get two Jay-Z records cleared, two Jay Z accapellas, it’s a power move. A lot of people is sampling on records with voices that’s their own, of the artist that’s rapping. It’s something different to take a artist like Jay-Z or an artist like Biggie, and do it like the best.
Did you approach those sample clearances personally, because of your relationships with the artists?
Yeah, especially on the Cassidy one. TI and Jay alread had a relationship, on the Cassidy one I definitely [stepped in].
What was Jay’s reaction?
At first I went through one of his best friends, Ty Ty. I did the song like a mixtape song at first, but then everybody was just going so crazy. I went and played it in the club for Funkmaster Flex one night, and I gave him the record, but I told him to hold on and let me talk to Jay first. He started playing it though, and Ty Ty was like “You know, that song is kind of crazy.” I’m not trying to force anything, if Jay didn’t like the song I’m not trying to put him out there like that, but you know, he loved the song, and we went through the business of it, and it was very successful. It was just unfortunate that Cassidy’s incident happened right after that, but on [his] new album we making up for all that, I’m not even mad anymore. Oh, and, not to cut you off, but the last [sampled vocals track] I did is for the new Tupac album, and its crazy. I took one of his vocals, and did another one of those records. Now you got Jay-Z, Biggie and Tupac, the ones that I did samples with.
And then sampling Biggie for a Biggie song, on the Duets album.
Yep. I’m not trying to recreate Bone and Biggie, that’s something that’s way out my league, you don’t mess with songs like that. It just so happens that Bone is my group and it was just a dope thing to do. And then we threw Twista on it, who is an extended member of the family as well. I think that record got a lot of props, but it blew up way too fast and the focus just went way to the left. Like, “Ok, we got what we wanted, we gonna let that ride out and we’re cool.”
When did you start working with Bone heavily?
Going on two years now. My A&R was a big fan, I’m a big fan of them as well. He just hooked it up and the next thing I know I’m meeting with Bone’s manager. I met the guys, and had them come to New York and we knocked out like eight songs in four days. I was just like, This is the kind of shit that I’m talking about! They are very humble, very respectful guys, and I got much love for them. Their album’s a fucking classic, I swear to god.
Creatively, what’s your process like in the studio with them?
I only have to do the shell with them, because they all have so many hooks and so many harmonies. When I tell you they mastered their shit, they mastered their shit. It’s crazy cause we got like fifty songs to pick and I’m even thinking like, fuck it, lets just put out two albums on the same day. I’m having a meeting with Jimmy [Iovine] next week about it, so this is some early shit I’m telling you about. It might go, it might not, but my idea is since they got so many songs, lets do a Thugs album and lets do a Harmony album. One where they got like “Crossroads” and “Breakdown” type songs, the cool out shit. Then you got the thug shit like “Spit Yo Game.” all that hard shit.
Do you think it will be a challenge reintroducing them to kids that didn’t grow up with “First Of The Month” and their other hits from the 90s?
I’m sure the legacy has been passed down. Krayzie is on the Chamillionaire track which is the number one record in the country. They participated on the Mariah remix that was just out, the “Spit You Game” stuff. I think people have already accepted them, and all the group has to do is come with what we have to offer. And we have a lot to offer, and we’re gonna put pressure. I like to be humble, but fuck it, I’m not being humble about this one. And we have Interscope as the machine, that’s where I got my new label.
What’s next for the label after that?
Eve is coming right after.
She’s been gone for a minute too, how did you approach her new stuff?
You know, we got the chemistry already so, everybody expecting her to come out the gate with these big crossover records. The first single is with her and TI, but we just got a lot of interesting things on the album. One thing about artists is that if they want to do it, you’re going to get the right project. If they don’t want to do it, if they just kind of want to fulfill their contract, you not going to get the right album. She was calling me from overseas saying, “Yo I need to get in the studio, I need to get in the studio” – she wants to do it. Eve just banged out another joint with Timbaland, we got Dre, we got Cool and Dre, we have Pharrell. Pharrell did a nice song on the album, where Eve’s actually singing.
Having worked with her so long, how do you keep it fresh?
We have a big respect for each other. She definitely respects me, I definitely respect her, that’s like my sister. She got my back, I got her back, its bigger than music. And I’m still current and its not like she needs to bring me to life or anything like that, I got shit out there that’s hot, so the respect level still goes on.
Were there ever beats you brought to artists that they thought might be too far to the left?
I make so many things, my archive is ridiculous, I’m embarrassed to play a lot of things because when I get in the studio I like to get right to business and I don’t like to waste the artists time. “Touch It” for instance, that was one for my record that I was keeping personally, then it was gonna be for Eve’s record. Eve came in the studio and we was just bugging out. I can remember that night, I even have that night on tape, where I brought the brilliant idea of, Lets write the song like we’re in the club. So we’re in the studio, and we got some drinks, and the music is real loud. I had a little bit too much to drink, Eve’s drinking Patron, and they had to carry me out later that night. The song was just a disaster,
When did you find the “Technologic” sample?
I’m a Daft Punk fan, I got all their stuff, so, when I was listening to the record that was just stuck in my head forever. Like, a whole song, that shit right there was just calling me, so I went to the studio and messed with it. I’m about to fuck with some Gorillaz stuff, I think if I was a rock group I would be like the Gorillaz because they not scared to mess with different things. And I definitely need a “Touch It” follow up, what better way to follow “Touch It” up than with a Gorillaz sample? And I might do it for Eve, just to make up for giving “Touch It” to Busta.
What new stuff are you checking for?
I check for everything because I like to monitor the competition, I like to see what’s new, I like to see what in the club. A lot of underground artists are coming with some stuff, but their good records are like one-hit records, one song.
Who do you see potential in?
I don’t even know their names, I’m not even going to lie. I’m real bad with names. There’s one dude in Arizona who’s got this song called “Bitch I’m A Boss,” and when this shit goes on in the club it gets crazy. The hook is like “Fuck being famous, bitch I’m out here getting rich, I’m a boss.” It’s one of those sample hooks, but its just the way people react to it that gets them excited.
Do people run up on you in Arizona a lot?
Yeah, all the time, they do that all around the world. But I’m all over the place. I’m heavy into my art too, you probably heard of the toy company called Kid Robot. I just became partners with them, we’re doing some huge shit man.
Swizz action figures?
Yeah, but its not like an endorsement, I’m actually owning a piece of the company, I have the Swizz Bot that’s coming out. Its ridiculous, its made of an MPC3000, and you can change the eyes of the robot to how crazy you feel that day. You can change the sneakers, and the shoe strings in the sneakers. The top of the head is a woofer, and I want a plug that comes out of it that you can plug into your iPod or whatever. It’s dropping in September, we got the Kid Robot clothing line, and we’re opening a Japan Store, a London Store and we already got the store on Prince St.
What are some recent DJ sets you’ve enjoyed?
Whatever the club is in New York, I forgot the name, I think its Stereo, wherever Q Tip DJs at. The way he goes from the old to the new, so that you don’t feel it. And DJ AM too, he goes form the old to the new to the old old to the new new, but it all keeps the same flow. He’ll mix “We Will Rock You” with “99 Problems” and it will bring you the old and the new but you don’t feel it. I love music that’s clever like that, its making everybody a fan of everybody’s culture. You got some people that wouldn’t fuck with “99 Problems” or wouldn’t fuck with “We Will Rock You” – even though those are the wrong two songs to use as an example – but it’s deeper than that. You have the White Stripes mixed with…as a matter of fact we used the White Stripes sample on Eve’s album too. It’s ridiculous.
The one that put them on the map.
”Seven Nation Army”?
Yeah. And it’s fast like that, too. Dre and Vidal are producers, they did that one and its crazy. Krayzie Bone is guesting on it.
What else is coming up?
I’m finishing some stuff for Gwen Stefani, I go to LA next week and we’re going to wrap up a couple more songs. I got access to the whole Interscope system, the whole BMG catalog, the whole Sony system, to just work with whoever. It’s fun, I’m probably going to do some John Legend stuff, his new album is incredible. Some new Nas stuff, and maybe a new Jay album.