Some 20 years deep in the music industry, Bronx-bred producer and rapper Swizz Beatz is still able to coax groundbreaking performances out of seasoned MCs like Nas, Pusha T, and Lil Wayne—artists who have long cemented their individual legacies as innovators. Though there are guests on every track, Swizz's second album, Poison, is less a compilation of assorted collaborations than a collection of inspired performances united under a singular vision, each one somehow living up to the brilliance of the last. The recent Harvard Business School graduate tells Apple Music his methods for getting the most out of his collaborators in the studio — and how they happen to double as MBA-caliber, Fast Company-approved leadership tenets.
Focus on Strengths “I think I got the best out of these artists because I actually have concepts; it’s not just about throwing them a beat. Look at what Young Thug was able to deliver [on “25 Soldiers”]. I just produce him in a way that is different than people normally hear him. And it was fun to take Nas, put him on “Echo,” and have a story in 2018 that's just so ill coming from one of our poets—the Langston Hughes of rap.”
Have a Vision “The criteria for the album was that everybody had to deliver the best that you know them for or better. It was like, 'Is this the one of the best Nas verses you've heard in a long time?' Yes. Look at what Wayne was able to do off 'P.O.M.S.'— he was able to launch! And then we hit ‘em with “Uproar” [from Tha Carter V]. It was important for me to have that vision with Wayne, but it was important for Wayne to deliver on that vision; it's an equal exchange.”
Make Connections “I wanted to make 'We Gon' Make It Pt. 2' and hear Styles and Kiss go back and forth like that. I wanted the chorus [for “Something Dirty/Pic Got Us”] to be big in a way that people wouldn't expect. I knew Kendrick was a fan of theirs and they're a fan of Kendrick, so I was like, I can make that happen. Would it have been dope for him to kill a verse? Yeah, definitely, but I just like that fact that he's on the chorus on a Styles P and Jadakiss in-and-out.”
Don't Micromanage “Áine Zion was at a No Commissions art show in London and she did a spoken-word performance. I just thought she was dope, so I challenged her with the Poison theme ['Poison Intro']. She came back with that in like an hour and it just felt so authentic. I was like, 'There we go right there.'”
Create Safe Spaces “It’s not that I'm asking an artist to do something that's going to make them feel uncomfortable in a bad way. I might ask them to do something that they're uncomfortable with because they’ve never done it before, but that's different—that's a discovery. And all artists should be open to discovery. I'm a disruptor, right? I want to disrupt the whole shit, every chance I get.”