Swizz Beatz’s music studio is basically an art gallery

On a recent late summer evening, a shiny black Mercedes Maybach pulled up on West 15th Street outside Kola House, a newly opened restaurant, and lingered quietly at the edge of the sidewalk. .

In the backseat of the car, amid neon purple light strips, sat Kasseem Dean, aka Swizz Beatz, the hip-hop artist and producer who has worked with Jay-Z, Beyoncé and DMX. Kanye West called him “the greatest rap producer of all time”.

Mr Dean, 38, is also an avid art collector (and curator of Kola House), who made his first major purchase, a photograph by Ansel Adams, when he was 18.

Since then, he has devoted considerable energy to building up what he calls the Dean Collection, an assortment of works of art that he intends to bequeath to his five children. It is in storage, at home and in his personal studio in Chelsea, where the Maybach was heading that evening.

“Sometimes you leave the studio at four or five or six in the morning, you can just lay down and have a little baby moment,” he said, referring to the pillow in his lap from the Brooklyn Museum. , whose board Mr. Dean joined in 2015.

“My brain doesn’t unlock until midnight,” Mr. Dean said. “There is too much going on during the day. I like to make music when the world is sleeping. I don’t think too much, I don’t look at my phone, the kids are sleeping.

After most of the studio sessions, Mr. Dean returns home to New Jersey to take his children to school and does not go to bed until 11 a.m. Then it’s a three or four hour nap and back to business.

Mr. Dean started working as a disc jockey when he was a teenager, in clubs where he was not even old enough to legally enter.

He was paid, but he didn’t trust checks or the concept of quick money. “I was getting all these checks and putting them in shoeboxes,” Mr. Dean said.

Once he realized he actually had several hundred thousand dollars in the bank, Mr. Dean bought a house, looked around, and realized he didn’t want to decorate with it. posters. It was time to go to the galleries.

“They wouldn’t really take me seriously,” he said. ” I am 18 years old. And the style was different back then: loose clothes, everything 10 times bigger. I just didn’t look like the kind of person who came to buy art.

He eventually meets the collector David Rogath, who becomes his guide in the art world. Mr. Dean’s collection now includes works by famous artists such as KAWS and Kehinde Wiley.

Back at his music studio, Mr. Dean showed off works by Dustin Yellin and Michael Vasquez, then enthusiastically leapt to a copy of Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God,” a diamond-encrusted platinum skull.

“None of these vibes can stay in my house,” he said, referring to the skull, which appears three-dimensional from certain angles. “Imagine you go to the kitchen and it’s in the hallway. No, I’m cool.

In the corner of another room, on the floor next to a set of shelves that displayed pictures of Mr. Dean and singer Alicia Keys, his wife of six years, were two large plaques. “My wife and friends have had them made for my accomplishments over the years,” said Dean, who only has a statuette of the 2010 BET Producer of the Year on display in the studio. “They know I don’t celebrate that kind of stuff.”

The support between the pair goes both ways. When Ms Keys was criticized this summer for her decision not to wear makeup, Mr Dean took to her Instagram to defend her choice. “Someone is sitting at home angry because someone hasn’t done their face makeup – not your face, but they did not wear makeup their face,” Mr. Dean said in disbelief in the post, emphasizing that Ms. Keys’ decision was personal.

After dropping off the plates, Mr. Dean walked into the next room, a small check-in space. The walls were covered with a brown whitewash; enlarged newspaper clippings; portraits of big names in rap; and sayings like “Get Better”.

Mr. Dean seems to share his wife’s interest in authenticity and the natural way of doing things. “I wanted this room to be where you can get a nostalgic feeling,” Mr. Dean said. He gestured to an air conditioning unit, disappointment on his face. “I wanted to leave it out. I wanted it to be warm so you have to wear tank tops,” he said. “It was like that in the studios: tank tops, shorts, slippers, making the best music. But it was too hot.