Backtalk with Swizz Beatz

Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean has been producing music since the age of 16, crafting hit records for the likes of his wife, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z, to name a few. While music still drives him, the Bronx, New York, native now wears several hats: those of entrepreneur, philanthropist, painter, photographer, designer, and most recently, the first producer in residence at New York University. Taking a break from his busy schedule, the 32-year-old Renaissance man sat down with black enterprise to talk about his work with students at NYU, self-branding tactics, and the vision behind his recent partnership with Reebok.

What does it mean to be a producer in residence?
I spend one-on-one time with my whole class. They get to sit down and play their music, and I critique it and tell them what they should do. I ask them about their business plan and help put them on the right road. The talent I’m discovering is mind-blowing, and it shows that the music world is still going to be a great place.

What’s the most valuable lesson students in your class walk away with?
A lot of music classes and music studies are outdated for the world we live in today, so to have a platform for the students that they can touch, feel, and apply now is a great asset for them. The key thing I teach them is identifying their brand and then taking it to the next level. You don’t have to give everything away for free just to get [recognized]. You can do it in a creative way. If you’re going to give something away, [ask yourself] am I going to get paid from sponsors for that? How are you making up for what you’re giving away? A lot of them don’t have the answers.

Speaking of brands, you’re expanding yours. One of your latest projects is your partnership with Reebok. Is this an endorsement, or are you involved on a corporate level?
Man, it’s a real job. I have several different capsules and different things coming out, such as the [Jean-Michel] Basquiat [collection.] It’s not a Swizz Beatz sneaker–I think that’s corny. That might be your thing if you’re just an artist, but I like to be on the business side. I [wanted to] come inside the company and be a real partner and help the company grow, and in exchange grow with the company on a financial level and on a respect level. Swizz Beatz is the music side [of me] and Kasseem Dean is the executive side, presenting the world with different varieties of fashion from Reebok.

Why Reebok and not another sneaker brand?
I felt like I had room to grow. A lot of these other companies are pressed to the ceiling with celebrities. Reebok was at a coming-back phase. I always root for that part of the team–where there’s hunger. Creativity flows when a brand or person is trying to prove themselves to be the best or [is coming] back to the best. This was a unique opportunity for me to help this brand grow, not on an endorsement level, but to [build] a partnership for years.

You come from a family of entrepreneurs, including your aunt Chivon and uncles Joaquin and Darrin Dean, who founded Ruff Ryders Records. How have they influenced you as a businessman?
My uncles definitely had a lot of influence on my business, because we started together as far as Ruff Ryders–especially [Joaquin], because he’s more independent and started the whole Ruff Ryders brand, name, and concept. [Darrin] would go out and bring in the big dogs for the deals whereas my aunt Chivon was more on the executive side. Just seeing that infrastructure was super amazing because it became a big movement. I learned that no matter where you come from or what your background, if you have a great idea it can work. So I applied that to my goals and projects. If I think of something, I just feel it can happen.