Photography courtesy Swizz Beatz - Branded partnership director: Dena Mekawi Photography courtesy Swizz Beatz - Branded partnership director: Dena Mekawi

Beats on the Nile: Exclusive interview with Swizz Beatz

Fri, Oct. 12, 2018
We’ve ogled at their pictures that immediately went viral on social media feeds; the musical power duo posing gloriously next to the Pyramids, and looking like your not-so-average family sailing down the Nile. Grammy-award-winning producer, and Mr. Alicia Keys as he likes to call himself, Swizz Beatz brought his family to Egypt last August for their summer vacation and a dash of education on the history and culture of the country.

And we caught up with the iconic producer in an exclusive interview to find out about his time in Egypt, his future artistic endeavors, and just what his favorite Egyptian dish is.
“There’s so much history and rich culture in Egypt. We really felt at home,” Swizz tells us. “When you visit other cultures, and step into their territory, don’t ever look down on anyone. Learning about cultures makes your mindset grow, we are always thinking global. It has been life changing for my family and I.”

The 40-year-old Swizz is a DJ, producer and rapper who has been active in the music scene since he was 16. Starting out as a DJ, his name quickly rose in the industry and he launched his own label, Full Surface Records, which featured artists that included Bone and Mashonda. He is the producer behind many popular songs for hit artists like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Eve, Cassidy, Busta Rhymes and DMX. If you’ve ever danced to the beats of Beyoncé’s Upgrade U, Check on It or Ring the Alarm, for instance, you know you have Swizz to thank for that. He has been awarded several times as one of the top hip hop producers, and was nominated for the Grammy Awards six times and won the “Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group” Grammy in 2010 for On to the Next One.

KDean_Egypt1
Photography courtesy Swizz Beatz


Swizz has just released the first single from his latest 10-track album “Poison,” which features Lil-Wayne’s Pistol On My Side (P.O.M.S.), and the album will be released on November 2. With J Cole as the executive producer, the album also features several renowned artists, including Kendrick Lamar, Nas, Jadakiss, 2 Chainz and many more.

Swizz and Keys got married in 2010 and have two children; Egypt Daoud, 8 and Genesis Ali, 4.



Exploring Kemet

The couple’s social media feed was filled with tidbits about Kemet, the ancient name for Egypt and the name the couple used throughout the posts documenting their trip. “I posted a lot to allow others to come on this journey with me. We need others to learn about cultures, and the history,” Swizz says.

Egypt is no strange land for Keys, right when she was in the prime of her career, she escaped here to find herself and find peace. She recalls the places she visited on that first trip to Egypt “I sailed down the Nile, I saw the tombs and I saw the temples and I saw the pyramids,” she said in Oprah’s master class. The feeling that was imprinted onto her from this ancient land was “reinvigoration.” She took that same travel itinerary with her family this year.

KDean_Egypt2 Photography courtesy Swizz Beatz

Egypt has always had a special place in Keys’, and her husband’s heart, so much so, that they named their firstborn son Egypt. When we asked Swizz why they picked that name, Swizz says “the magical history of Egypt [was the reason why we picked that name], we wanted to remember it forever.”

One particular post on Swizz’s Instagram account is a picture of him roaming the streets of Cairo in a vintage car, with Oum Kalthoum music playing in the background. Swizz says that “Oum Kalthoum has been one of my favorite artist in the world for several years now.”



Swizz’s favorite city in Egypt is Nubia in Aswan. While there, they visited a school and received an Arabic lesson from a Nubian teacher. “We believe everyday you are living, you should learn something new. Especially when traveling, experiencing culture is so rewarding and inspiring,” Swizz says.

And his absolute favorite Egyptian dish, Swizz tells us, is macaroni béchamel (baked pasta with meat, cheese and béchamel sauce).



Extending a Musical Hand

Swizz and Keys have founded “The Dean Collection 20 St(Art)ups,” grant program to help all the struggling artists from around the world fund their dream project with a $5,000 grant. Recently, the first batch of 20 lucky artist was announced, and the Egyptian Hana ElSagini is one of them, and will hold her exhibition next year. “I would love to attend [her show], but it depends on both our schedules — her show is not until later next year, so we will see,” Swizz comments.

KDean_Egypt4 Photography courtesy Swizz Beatz

With the competition being open to contestants from around the world, Swizz and Keys are hands-on founders with a team of more than a dozen curators to help narrow down the selections, Swizz says. “But ultimately, we approved each one [of the winners],” he adds.

Swizz also introduced The No Commission Art Fair, an art fair where artists from all over the world are invited to showcase their work and all sale proceeds go to them, without commission. The fair has been held in Miami, New York, London, Shanghai and Berlin, and Swizz is hoping he can bring it to the region. “It would be amazing to bring something like No Commission to the Middle East, this is something we still need to explore more to see how we could make it work.”

A while back, Swizz had told Pitchfork that he was working on a “global album” that will have “all different concepts, all different messages, all different sounds.” Will we hear any Egyptian artists or sounds in it? Swizz answers “I’ve been working with artists from all over the world, for many years now. From South Africa to Japan. I have not found any Egyptian artists yet, but I am looking.”

KDean_Egypt6 Photography courtesy Swizz Beatz

Having recently released the first track from his long-awaited album “Poison” we asked Swizz about the missing track that features Bono and Kanye West, one that we have been hearing about for seven years now. Swizz describes it as “timeless” explaining that “You can hear it now, or in 10 years, and it will not sound out of date or out of place.” Speaking on how such a collaboration happened between that artists “Getting both of them on the track is something that naturally happened, as I have worked with them in the past. Why not?!”

Speaking on why his solo projects tend to take years to be made and released, Swizz says “I am a perfectionist when it comes to my music, that’s why I’ve been going back and forth. … I make a lot of music. A lot. Sometimes it’s just for fun, or to see what I am in the mood for. I can be happy with what I have now, and not happy with it the next hour.”

A final piece of advice for artists; “staying true to yourself is key,” Swizz says. “Music can unite, uplift and put you in a kind of zone that can be your escape.”

KDean_Egypt7 Photography courtesy Swizz Beatz


Photography courtesy: Swizz Beatz
Branded partnership director: Dena Mekawi
 
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