NEW YORK — Swizz Beatz hasn't had a problem making a hit record for the streets or pop charts since he did the beat for N.O.R.E.'s "Banned for TV" almost a decade ago.
Everybody knows how he recently gave Beyoncé some platinum smashes for her B'Day album (see "Beyonce Hitmaker Swizz Beatz Defies Radio Rules With Two-Minute Single""), not to mention his credentials from working alongside top notch MCs such as Jay-Z, DMX and T.I. (see "New T.I. Songs Leak — Swizz Beatz Calls Track With Tip 'A Whole 'Nuther Level' "). Still, Swizz only got the courage to put out his first solo album a few months ago (he considers 2000's Swizz Beatz Presents: G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories to be a compilation, like the Ruff Ryders series he produced).
"I had the inspiration — it's when I got the heart, when I got the material." said Swizz, sitting in his Manhattan studio, about how his June 5 album, One Man Band Man, started to form.
Swizz said he started thinking about making his own album while working on his latest onslaught of tracks for others. For his entire career, he's had the reputation of not just making beats, but writing hooks for his records too. Recently, he began rapping on some of the songs, just to give the artists a reference of how to flow on the beat. When many of the people he was working with kept telling him they were feeling his raps, he started making his own songs and setting them aside.
"I started tucking stuff away," he said. "Before I knew it, I had six songs. I started working little by little. It was no pressure. Nobody knew I had an album coming out — I ain't even know."
A few of the songs that made his album were tracks he contemplated selling but decided to keep. "I was doing Nas' album, and he said the reason I ain't get a beat on his album is because I played him my album," Swizz said (see "With Tracks From Eve, Nas, Mary J. On Tap, Swizz Beatz Is Hotter Than Ever"). "I played him a song called 'Take a Picture.' But that song meant a lot to me. I wasn't gonna give my song up. It was a significant amount of money offered for the song, but certain things to me — a lot of things to me — is worth more than money. He was like, 'Wow.' It is what it is. We still gravy to this day."
Like his catalog, Swizz's album is a collage of different sounds. He didn't even produce the whole album. Although he handles about 95 percent of the vocals, he handed over a lot of the production to track masters such as Nottz and Rockwilder and newcomers like Snags, E. McCaine, the Individuals and Young World. The tracks range from a cautionary tale about gold diggers out for the kill on "Money in the Bank" (a definite single contender) to "Take a Picture," where Swizz actually uses a piece of S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M.'s "It's Gonna Be a Lovely Day." Yes, Swizz Beatz sampled.
"I don't like people to predict what I'm gonna do," he said. "That 'Lovely Day' beat, it's one of the songs I produced. Who says I can't sample? I came in the game not sampling to separate myself from everybody else. Ninety to 95 percent of my catalog — over 400-something songs — have no sample. I can sample now."
Of course the major catalyst for Swizz to make the foray into rapper-hood was the song "It's Me Bitches." He says the success of the record is one of his proudest moments. " 'It's Me' was a water-tester," he said. "Is this water warm or cold? I don't like cold water. It's warm. It's a Jacuzzi. I didn't even put my name on 'It's Me Bitches.' I wasn't all over the record saying, 'This is Swizz Beatz.' I just put it out there. It started in the club, now it is what it is. Now I'm committed to doing the whole thing."
Swizz's commitment included playing most of the album for MTV News. And he didn't do the regular listening session — where we go in a studio, sit down and listen. Swizz's session was more like an experience. First of all, in the room where he played the music, there was barely a blank space on the walls. When there wasn't platinum or gold plaques, the walls were covered with graffiti from the hands of Swizz himself or some of the finest tag artists from all over the world.
And Swizz didn't just cue up songs. He played his records through the turntables and scratched and even brought a few songs back, like the record he wants to be his next single. The song is just about riding around the 'hood and feeling safe in your environment even though you're a hip-hop celebrity. "For the video, you're gonna see me driving around," he said. "I'll park my car, run into the store real quick and come out with nothing but boxes of sneakers."
The mood takes a more serious turn during "The Funeral." "With my album, I wanted to be able to do sh-- that I wanted to do, that I think other people should be doing," he said. "You know, the world is f---ed up ... but when it's sunny outside and things are going good for you at the moment, things are clear. I break down the story, like, 'The funeral now wants a piece of the action.' Like death is coming. 'Maybe death is coming because they did things different/ Like killed you in the crib right in front of your infant/ ... Death is callin', ain't no stopping it.' It's deep as sh--."
Coldplay appears on the song "Part of the Plan." "Not making it in this world is part of the plan because it's so hard," Swizz said. "I put Coldplay on there. Some people team up with Coldplay and do something out of the range of what they're supposed to be doing. I just tried to stick to the topic — break down the story. It was part of my plan to make it and not part of the plan to not make it. 'Start arguing with my brother to see who gonna pick the mouse up/ Walk by, open up the oven door to heat the house up.' That's some real sh--. This story right here, I'm gonna do it like the 'Crash' movie. I'm gonna hook up with the director of 'Crash' [Paul Haggis] for the video, and it's gonna be real crazy.
"My album is more than just party songs," he continued. "I got substance. I got street joints. I didn't really aim for radio too much on everything. I just had fun. I could have done a bunch of songs, did a bunch of features. I could have gotten Beyoncé, a bunch of other people. It might have been a bigger look than I'm probably gonna get, but at the end if the day, people will know it's a great album."
Outside of his own album, Swizz has been working with 50 Cent, Chris Brown, Marc Anthony, Usher, Eve, Cassidy, the LOX, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and some Jennifers.
"Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Lopez, all the Jennifers you can think about," he laughed.