Billboard Arabia sat down for an exclusive one-on-one with Grammy-winning producer, rapper, songwriter and DJ Kasseem Daoud Dean — known professionally as Swizz Beatz — for an interview about his work in Saudi Arabia. These days, the 45-year-old musician-turned-businessman spends his time hyping up one place in particular, and that’s the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“Why Saudi?” seems to be the question on everyone’s mind. “Why not Saudi?” Swizz Beatz answers assertively. “It’s so amazing and has so much heritage.” Speaking with the same passion you would find in locals of Jeddah and Riyadh arguing over which city they think is cooler, Swizz Beatz’s advocacy for Saudi creativity runs deep and started way before the kingdom decided to leverage celebrity influence as part of its global tourism campaign.
“It’s amazing to see where everything is going, from when I started coming to Saudi, to what I see today,” explains Swizz Beatz, who has been visiting the country since 2006 and supporting its talents even before that, such as in early 2000, when he crossed paths with a young kid from Jeddah who had big dreams of rapping about his homeland internationally.
“Skinny was the first Saudi artist I produced. His last album, I executive produced. I got him his deal, I structured his deal, and to see him on [the MDLBEAST] stage in front of all of those people, singing those songs that we were sitting in the studio with, it just shows you that Saudi is not far off at all!”
In March 2022, Skinny released the bass-laden track “Saudi’s Most Wanted,” produced by Swizz Beatz, accompanied by a three-minute video set to a montage of scenes throughout the kingdom.
“I think the creative community here is thriving! I have a compilation with some local artists called MOYA, including Jeed, Shaolin and Ntitled. All of those guys are family to me. When I came here and was listening to their music and their stories, I said to myself, ‘You know what? I want to give everybody music.’” A few months later, those same artists debuted at the region’s biggest music festival, Soundstorm.
Having worked with legends such as DMX, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, Mary J. Blige and his wife, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz has always had an eye for creative talent. Much like an unofficial brand ambassador for the kingdom, Swizz Beatz can often be seen publicly commenting on his celebrity friends’ Instagram posts with Saudi flag and red heart emojis. “I’ve been telling them for years! I’ve been saying, ‘You have to come to AlUla! You have to see the development of The Line and NEOM. Go visit JAX!’” In the time since, Saudi Arabia has continued to boom with artists visiting through performance opportunities, or on their own accord. In the 2023 edition of Soundstorm, major headliners from the global hip-hop community came through including Will Smith, 50 Cent and Travis Scott, to name a few.
“See, I’m kind of biased about Saudi. For me, it’s like being home. It’s like asking me about my own home when you speak about Saudi. I feel like it’s going to be the number one place in the world, period. Especially when you look at all the new places being built, the energy the region has in general.
“I just recently went to the Noor Festival [in Riyadh] and there were a lot of amazing artists in that particular show,” he says. “There’s Ahmed Mater, who is a great friend.”
An avid collector of art, Swizz Beatz admits he’s constantly inspired by the many talents he meets in the kingdom. “I’m getting them [Saudi artists] into my museum show in New York at the Brooklyn Museum. That’s coming soon insha’Allah, so their work can be seen abroad as well. But the art scene [in Saudi] is super booming. There’s a lot of talent here on all sides of art — fashion, music and visual photography. To see all of these doors open has been amazing to watch.”
Swizz Beatz is much more than a spectator. His latest endeavor, the new headquarters of his Riyadh-based company, Good Intentions, is less office space and more incubator-like venue that can easily be transformed into an interchangeable setting, ideal for all facets of creativity.
“I’ve seen so many styles in Saudi already now. It’s not just one particular style,” he explains. Swizz Beatz admits Saudi is a melting pot of influences and aesthetics, and exporting its culture is just as important as the country opening up to the rest of the world.
When closing out the interview, Swizz Beatz gave a final testament to his excitement about the progress in Saudi, stating, “The thing that I like is that everybody’s in their own vibe and everybody’s supporting each other.”