The walkout song is a time-honored tradition in MMA. It's also a delicate balancing act. The perfect song has to pump a fighter up while settling his/her nerves, appeal to the crowd without appearing to pander. "My Walkout Song" is where we ask MMA fans who also happen to be famous musicians what makes for great pre-fight music and what song they would choose to accompany their walk to the cage.
You probably don't need us to tell you who Swizz Beatz is. For 10 years he's been one of the hottest producers in hip-hop, creating hits for Jay-Z, Beyoncé, T.I., Ludacris, Cassidy, DMX, even Busta Rhymes. In fact, he's been so successful that Kanye West, who generally shies away from heaping praise on anyone but himself, once called him "the best rap producer of all time."
What you may not know is that Swizz is also a huge MMA fan who's turned his love of the sport and his worldwide fame into friendships with UFC President Dana White, women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. We figured there could be no one better to ask about the art of the walkout song. So we asked.
Fightland: When did you get into MMA?
Swizz Beatz: I’ve always been a fan of MMA from a distance. But just this year, I’ve been able to get a front-row seat and clearly understand the sport, understand the amazing people that’s running it and owning it. And also, I’ve gotten an education on the logistics of the sport, which is amazing. Because a lot of people think it’s something different than what it is. And I got a front row seat of what it really is.
What is it really?
It’s really an art. You know? It’s really an art. Is it a contact sport? Yeah. But there’s more people getting hurt in football than in MMA. Even in cheerleading.
You know, just the stories on these fighters. They’re like artists. You know, you look at a DMX, you look at a Tupac, you look at a Jay-Z, this one or that one, and, you know, the success stories are kind of the same. And it’s like: Man, these people, they’re attaching into something and everybody gave up on them and they turned that energy into something that creatively helped them graduate. And now they’re like big success stories, getting endorsement deals, have fans all across the world. I’ve seen the parallel lines of that.
How did you become friends with Dana White and Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey? Is that just from hanging out at the fights?
Just from being at the fights and, you know, I’ve been a fan but they never knew that. I’ve been next to them and chopping it up and just being, and I didn’t know they were fans of mine as well. Because when you enter a different area or a different sport, it’s hard to know anything about that. I’m not going in there assuming that. They walk out to a lot of songs I’ve produced, a lot of people I’ve produced, the kind of music their into, things that I’m doing. It was an honor.
Do you ever find yourself getting starstruck when you’re around big names in another field.
I wouldn’t call it “starstruck”; I would say “inspired.” I’m inspired because someone like Ronda, clearly, if you didn’t know who she was you would underestimate her. She has a great style, great fashion sense. But then she’s the number one fighter in the world. So you know I’m a little surprised at that. I’m like, “Man, you can never judge a book by its cover.” This is an amazing lady. She’s put together. She doesn’t have, like, an attitude. You'd never know. If you didn’t know her you’d never know that she can kick your ass, which is a cool thing, man.
As an artist, when you’re watching fighters, is there a direct inspiration? Is there something about the creativity, the improvisation, that makes you think there’s a correlation between fighting and music?
Absolutely. That’s how I was going by saying I see a lot of parallel lines. Because you gotta fight your way to the top in anything you do, you know? Sometimes, mainly, these fighters win not because they’re physically in shape but because they’re mentally fit. You could be the strongest person in the world and get that pressure to your jaw and you’re down. So, if you’re mentally fit you’re going to be able to mentally calculate that before the punch even comes to you, and to maneuver and save yourself. So it’s more of a mental thing to me. Whether it’s music, martial arts, anything, it’s being mentally fit, alongside being physically fit.
Do you train?
I used to box. I was going to go to the Golden Gloves.
I was going to. I was making my way to Golden Gloves. Yeah, I was making my way to Golden Gloves. I fell a little short. [laughs]
When you’re watching a fight, do you feel the impulse to jump in the cage or at least run to the closest gym and get it on with someone?
I’m, like, very, very competitive, so sometimes I even think I can beat the fighters in the ring. Like, “Man, put me in there.” Half of me is joking but part of me is super serious. I gotta catch myself because I’d go in there and get broke up. Because, like, with me, the reason why I had to stop boxing is because it was becoming a little bit personal. Because if you knock me out, it’s a name under your belt, or if you break my nose or jaw, you know, people like taking it a little bit too serious and I didn’t want to get in that frame of mind when I’m just doing it as a sport. Because let’s be cool here. A lot of fighters that was coming in, it was more about their status than the sport. And that’s when it became not fun because it made me want to even take it outside of the ring, naturally. Because it’s like a person who hits you rather than a sport. So that’s when I was like, “You know what, if I’m going to practice, I’ll practice private and just chill out because I don’t wanna feel any type of way towards these people.”
Okay, so: If you’re a professional fighter walking out to the Octagon for the first time, what song is playing?
When I walk out it’s definitely gonna be “Stop, Drop” [“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”] by DMX. I hate to say a song I produced but it’s just the perfect song for that, you know?
What is it about that song?
Well, it’s an anthem that’s getting you ready for war, you know? [sings] "Stop! Drop! Shut em down open up shop. Oh! No! That’s how Ruff Ryders roll.” It’s mentally ready, putting you in that fighting mood. You know, it’s gearing you up and it’s letting everybody know that you’re coming to shut everything down and open up shop. It’s a grand entrance [laughs].
If I were to ask you, as a producer, to come up with the perfect walkout song, how would you build it?
I would build the perfect walkout song based on the artist that’s walking out. If it’s myself I would use “Stop, Drop.” If it was “Bones” [Jon Jones] I would do something different. I’m gonna build something that fits that person’s character, that their fans also recognize. Not only the artist but I’m gonna make it connect with their fans and I would custom build it from there, starting from the drums to the sound to the drama, you know, to the build up to the impact. You know, I would make it like the Terminator walking down.
So if you could have one MMA fighter call you up and say, “I want you to write me a song for my walkout,” who would it be?
Man, I'd would work for anybody. I’d be working for everybody. You name it, I’ll do it. They’re all different stories. I’d love to paint those pictures.
Check out these earlier installments of our "My Walkout Song" series:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.