“The artists get to keep 100 percent of what they sell because they deserve it,” the producer, rapper, and art collector Swizz Beatz yelled enthusiastically from a stage in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood Saturday night, followed by a bevy of air horns. Swizz was talking about the No Commission Art Fair—an event he organized based on his own art collection and in partnership with Bacardi—where admission is free, the artists keep everything, and product placement is rampant.
An additional component came in the form of the “Casa Bacardi” parties that happened outside of the fair every night, also curated by Swizz. Over the week, they have included performances from Swizz’s wife Alicia Keys, Pusha T, and many more. Swizz took the stage Saturday to close everything out alongside his longtime collaborator, the rapper DMX.
Earlier that day, just before I was set to interview Swizz, I spied him talking to the dealer Jeffrey Deitch in front of the very stage that he would perform on that night. “[Deitch] told me some amazing words,” Swizz recalled in our interview. “He was saying, ‘This is the new model,’ he said, ‘You’ve found out the new model.’ Jeffrey Deitch is known for building new models and changing the tide, and so for him to come here personally and have that conversation with me, it meant a lot,” he said.
The synergy between branding and contemporary art is pretty loaded at this point, but after spending time at Basel proper, it’s hard for me to really make a judgment call on anything. “It was very important for this show not to be only about rich people, right,” Swizz said. “No, man, we have billionaires here and we have people that live with they mom here, you know? That’s the mix, that’s how you want it. You want it to be a real cultural effect.”
The show featured work from KAWS, Dustin Yellin, Swoon, and Kehinde Wiley, among many others. Some of the artists are less known, and a good portion of the show is culled from Swizz’s extremely popular art-centric Instagram. “It just became a community that lived in a digital world that we’re now bringing to life here,” Swizz told me.
As an art collector within the world of hip-hop, Swizz Beatz was an especially early adaptor. He told me that growing up in the South Bronx around graffiti and hip-hop nurtured his sense of aesthetic curiosity. The first piece he bought was an Ansel Adams. When he started collecting, he bought “more into quantity than quality,” but now trusts his own eye. “The way I collect now—I just see it and I know it,” he said.
When I arrived back to Wynwood around midnight, cop cars lined the outside of the venue, which was at full capacity with many more clamoring to get into the gates. Wiz Khalifa was doing a DJ set, smoking blunts and handing them out to the members of the audience. The “Casa Bacardi” theme was somewhat noticeable: toward the back of the room, there was a weird Bacardi-branded tub next to a kitchen vanity, the mirror of which partygoers were pragmatically taking advantage of for primping purposes. People took photos inside of the tub; one of them pulled a gag where he pretended to be passed out.
After Wiz’s DJ set and some interstitial hype-man activities, Swizz came out and proceeded to roll through a medley of his many classic hits, at one point bringing out the Miami legend DJ Khaled for a short guest performance. (If you haven’t heard the Khaled ad that ran on local Miami radio for the McCafe line at McDonald’s, stop reading this right now.) Finally, DMX appeared on stage to rapturous response.
He was decked out in a red bucket hat, sunglasses, and a Keith Haring–branded T-shirt. He slowly removed these layers as the show progressed. At one point, he yelled, “Why are all these cups here?”—referring to all the Bacardi-branded cups clogging up a table positioned toward the side of the stage, probably strategically placed there by a brand rep—before kicking all of them off, into the crowd, and starting up “Ruff Ryders Anthem” (the track that started the career of Swizz Beatz, who produced the song). It was nothing but punk in spirit, and a moment of pure intensity inside of a week filled with blandness.
(DMX’s history of erratic behavior and struggles with addiction are deeply human and have resulted in some of the most compelling rap music of all time. His 2006 reality show for MTV is probably one of the most “real” efforts to ever come out of the genre: there is a reason that it only lasted one season. I think you can still watch it on worldstarhiphop.com.)
The world is a complex place. All systems are by their very nature fundamentally flawed. All one can hope for in this life is to do or see something that transcends its context, however fleetingly. Which is to say: I’m glad I saw DMX perform in the middle of an art fair at a party sponsored by a rum company.