Returning to the scene of Rami George profiling music and urban entertainment artists in our Icons series (find our first entry through Sean “Diddy” Combs here), our second entrepreneur from the New York side of performance arts holds direct links in evolving urban and global culture along with modernizing luxury brands: Kasseem David Dean, more popular known by stage name Swizz Beatz.
What Dean continues to fuse into the world’s perception of the many sub-cultures he takes an active role within is a paradox of progressive and open-minded vision twinned with aggressive decision-making, the kind of which is often required to make a successful early career in hip hop. Since his teenage years, Dean would consistently develop his personal portfolio of entreprise through prioritizing art and creativity, even if the man himself takes a uncharacteristically recalcitrant and often extended role away from the spotlight in order to continue the momentum of the projects he helps build.
Such a willingness to display humility and forgo credit is a rare trait to be found in a young man who cut his teeth in New York’s urban music scene, yet this consistency of character and sure-mindedness continues placing Dean in some of the most commercially captivating and artistic collaborations today – projects that extend to Aston Martin and Lotus car design credits, Basquiat paintings, Audemars Piguet and Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces, runway fashion, and an ever-lasting high stock in the eyes of his musical peers who rank Swizz Beatz as one of the greatest and most influential producers since hip hop began in earnest.
Family Beginnings: A Ruff Ride to Full Surface
Kasseem Dean would first emerge to the world’s attention as Swizz Beatz, during adolescent years where he identified an opportunity to create his position among New York’s hip hop scene in adverse style and approach.
Swizz Beatz arose on the Ruff Ryders label, of which his family had numerous roles within, yet chose to stick with the straight-laced synth production Dean had developed in his formative years. Such an approach was against the grain for the 1998 East Coast scene habitually feeding off of more sample-led production, but the move worked.
Swizz Beatz found instant notoriety striking up a professional and personal understanding with rapper DMX, and the duo would become largely responsible for the sweeping success of their first hit together – Ruff Ryders’ Anthem – of the kind of magnitude opening an avenue for the entire Ruff Ryders music stable onto record.
At the time, urban music was ready to gear towards embracing music producers as fundamental players in a record’s success, and it is thought that the wiry and muted Dean played (whether by circumstance, persistence or both) a large role in the wave of emerging hip hop producers becoming celebrities and commercial authorities in their own right.
Elements of Dean’s early success seemed to be at constant odds with his image and demeanour. As Swizz Beatz, he largely chose to remain silent on record and in his own music videos whilst letting the featured rappers take centre stage. The mystery of Dean as a synth-led hip hop producer still won a tidal wave of success in the first half-decade of his music career. It is thought the widespread criticism he would subsequently receive, whilst sometimes being derided amongst mainstream fans as “Casio keyboard” one-trick artist, would permanently convince the young Dean to never rest on creative laurels from then on.
Despite releasing a solo album that truly signalled the industry respect the Swizz Beatz name carried, including the helping hand he would have in many artists’ recording careers, Dean largely retired from his own solo career to work on other artists’ projects from 2002 onwards. Unknown to anyone who wasn’t paying attention to Dean’s ambition beyond the music world, he began expanding his entrepreneurial endeavours into other corners of the globe and parallel creative industries in typically understated manner and resounding style.
Kaseem Dean Haute Living: Creative Entrepreneurship
Whether Dean is to be found collaborating on the highest echelons within the fashion industry, or spreading his creative influence to automotive collaborations with some of the world’s most heritage-led car manufacturers, his artistry is the consistent first point of call for a man who looks to create his way through one answer at a time.
It is a boundless approach that would lead Dean to his first creative and commercial success outside of music: Kidrobot clothing. In a large way, Kidrobot is still arguably the only creative venture mirroring Dean’s varied personal style, even if he would go onto to share a large role in the direction of the Reebok Classics brand.
A largely eclectic individual of fashion, Dean would never show adversity to mixing and matching his personal image with casual and luxury couture in the same breath. Such a boundless approach serves both to capture the mindset of an entrepreneur sourcing inspiration for his projects in global culture, spending nearly as much time in the Far East as Dean does back home in the United States, and also stands in sharp contrast to the subsequent heritage brands that continue to invite the Swizz Beatz creative insight into modernizing their house image.
The list of haute design houses that have collaborated with Dean reads as fairly illustrious company. He would first have creative input at Aston Martin in 2010 where he had a hand in the design and final creative process behind the Aston Martin Rapide coupe.
Subsequently, Dean would be invited by then Lotus CEO Dany Bahar to revamp colour schemes and materials behind Lotus road cars, as a British brand that was in desperate need of re-connecting with its core base and sustaining new fans. With Bahar’s subsequent departure from Lotus came Kasseem Dean’s return to Aston Martin late this year.
In typically mysterious circumstance, it has remained unclear what direct input Dean maintains in the design of these high-performance models. But if Dean’s final credits on such unorthodox collaborations are sometimes hazy, his application and preparation are anything but. When Dean was signed onto the Audemars Piguet house to have creative input into their timepieces, he would prepare for such an event by personally visiting and learning the watchmaking tools and tips of the trade in Audemars’ ateliers.
Dean’s continued growth and influence does not inhibit Swizz Beatz from continuing to release commercially successful hits in the music industry. Swizz Beatz would satisfy himself with an eventual follow-up album in 2007, entitled One Man Band Man, and continues to ramp up intrigue as to whether the artist will ever release another studio album again.
Largely unsatisfied with the transitional state of the music industry, Swizz Beatz has most recently suggested he would rather restrict his music ventures to releasing “moments” and singles that continue to make impact, choosing to shelve his “Haute Living”-titled third album in favour of haute living entrepreneurship instead.
The Swizz Beatz Legacy: A Student in Fast Cars, Haute Couture and Design
As an open-minded entrepreneur who preaches the importance of unrestrained thinking and haute living lifestyle, Kasseem Dean is arguably not too far from a list where Jean-Claude Biver stands atop, as one of the most influential and decisive thinkers to help luxury brands into the 21st century. Dean also maintains a substantial record of philanthropy and community involvement to round out his character and legacy – he has taught students at New York University in spells and was recently a critical part of a multi-million dollar renovation project in Harlem. Despite this multi-faceted lifestyle and constant drive to refine and innovate his culture, Dean maintains a consistent approach in describing himself as “[always] a student first.”
In a new millenium where the highest creative and design houses seek to exploit both heritage and innovation, Kasseem Dean’s (still largely unfinished) entrepreneurial career symbolises much of the contradiction sought in growing some of the most aspirational brands today, and the innovative risks constantly needed to harmonise both renovating the past whilst shaping a viable path into the future.
Dean has continually shown disregard for any notion of having something to lose and remains humble at the suggestion of lack of recognition, often choosing to embed his creative processes in different cultures and keep abreast of the next wave of innovation. This remarkable list of characteristics continues to place Dean in the most innovative and creative circles, and there is no telling where this Rami George icon’s legacy will peak to a conclusion… or the number of new avenues and opportunities Dean will have created for others.