I rode on a party bus from Brooklyn to The Bronx with Swizz Beatz for his #TheUnknowns project with Canon on Monday night. I said to him, “You’re not just a rapper, not just a producer, not just a business owner; so what do you consider yourself?” “A movement,” Swizz said. “Be global. Shape yourself around the world because it’s moving fast and it’s a small place.”
If you’re not familiar with Swizz Beatz (born Kasseem Dean), you should be. A Grammy Award-winning rapper, producer, father, husband to Alicia Keys, Harvard student and passionate art collector to name a few; he is undoubtedly the poster child of the 21st century Renaissance Man.
Swizz teamed up with Canon for a ground-breaking art installation from Brooklyn to The Bronx called #TheUnknowns — as part of Canon’s Rebel with a Cause campaign celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Rebel camera.
The first step in a movement, is to create something bigger than yourself. Recently, Swizz and his company, the Dean Collection brought No Commissions Art Fair to Miami at Art Basel, where artists featured received 100 percent commissions of their work sold. No Commissions Art Fair has reached over 1 million dollars in sales, all for the artists.
For #TheUnknowns, Swizz and Canon found artists through Instagram, ultimately to project their artwork onto the Brooklyn and Bronx Art Museums followed by a silent auction at Sotheby’s. The artists were flown to New York City and had no idea their artwork would be featured on these iconic buildings.
Finding these artists through Instagram was very personal, which goes a long way. Swizz explained, “We didn’t do some big, obnoxious, fake announcement, it’s intimate. It’s very real and I like that because the people on the ground feel it. When the people on the ground feel it, they’re inspired because it feels attainable.”
The second step in a movement is to live your vision and people will follow. “The reason why I care about these ‘unknowns’ is because I was an unknown myself. I know how it feels, I know what it’s like. If you’re in a position to give, that’s a blessing in itself. That’s why I do it; I feel honored” Swizz said.
#TheUnknowns featured work from Ron Haywood Jones, Jason Seife, Princess Smith, Eddie Colla and Stefanie Bradie. Featured artist Princess Smith said, “It helped me realize that my work is good enough, that I am good enough, because that question always comes up in your mind as a young, aspiring artist. You feel that fear in your heart, that intimidation.”
I sang praises to Princess on her piece One White Earring, one of my favorite pieces of the night. It’s the type of piece where you just can’t look away. Unsurprisingly, the story behind it was as beautiful as the piece itself. Princess explained, “I always paint my daughter. I want to show her to be a strong, beautiful woman and to have confidence in her abilities regardless of her skin color or the texture of her hair or her body type. To show her the beautiful side of who she is that I always see.”
The third step in a movement is to break the wheel. “Who is the modern day Picasso?” I asked Swizz. “Modern day Picasso is more than one person to me. It’s anybody that has that drive of excellence, execution, determination and willingness to get out there and be bold with their statements. It’s not even in an art form its in more of a drive form.” I thought about that answer for the rest of the night. It’s the idea to not have a person to idolize, to mimic, or strive to be like…as many do in society today. It’s to strive to become yourself, with the constant mindset to write your own rulebook.
Swizz is a Harvard student in the Owner/President Management Program. He’s in a classroom of 160 key players in ranging industries from around the world. Swizz said, “My biggest takeaway was knowing that everybody’s not as smart as you think they are. I may come from the South Bronx and I’m in this class with all these incredible people, but I have answers too. And a lot of my answers a lot of those people didn’t know. And a lot of their answers, I didn’t know. It’s an equal exchange.”
The fourth and most important step in a movement is to be the leader people need. #TheUnknowns artist Princess Smith said in gratifying awe, “Everything Swizz did [tonight] came from his heart. Everything he did was a genuine act. I was impressed, and I’m not often impressed. I don’t like feeling like I’m somebody’s charity case, and I didn’t. He created a resource to change individual lives and he did that.”
We talked about the importance of basic human interaction, and how there’s not enough of it. “We don’t say thank you enough; we don’t say hello enough; we don’t say blessings enough; we don’t say I love you enough. We have to start celebrating each other more” Swizz said.
What left me with a smile at the end of the night was to see how truly humble Swizz was. From the event at the Brooklyn Museum, to an hour on a party bus, to The Bronx Museum, he had no secret agenda. He’s the real deal. If a conversation veered off in front of the cameras he brought it back to the artists. Tonight was for them, the “modern day Picassos” who continue to shake the world every day. To change a few lives and inspire many, Swizz is truly a Rebel with a Cause. Let the movement begin.
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