Multi-talented producer and rapper Swizz Beatz is a man of many business ventures - he's designed cars for Lotus and shoes for Reebok, and served as a professor at NYU's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music -- but it is his purported role as CEO of the recently-busted Megaupload that has him in the news this week.
Beatz, who is married to R&B star Alicia Keys, got his start in the music business by producing DMX's hit single "Ruff Ryder's Anthem" in 1998 and won a Grammy in 2010 alongside Jay-Z for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the song "On To The Next One" from Jay-Z's "Blueprint 3" album. It has only come out recently - and only via the Megaupload website - that he was allegedly serving as the CEO of Megaupload.
In a statement to VentureBeat today, however, Megaupload lawyer Ira Rothken said that, "to my knowledge, Swizz Beatz was never involved in any meaningful way. He was negotiating to become the CEO, but it was never official."
The file sharing service was shut down by the Justice Department yesterday after a long investigation and four of its employees, including founder Kim Dotcom, were arrested. Authorities in New Zealand seized guns, artwork and more than $8 million from different homes and business sites associated with the arrests, but Beatz was not involved, arrested or even named at all in the 72-page indictment, according to Time.
Where exactly Beatz fits in is murky: he was recently listed on the site's About page as CEO, yet he owns no part of the company and it's unclear how much he was actually involved, if at all. The only visible connection he previously had with Megaupload came in a video promoting the site and featuring Beatz, Kanye West, Will.I.Am and other music stars and celebrities late last year that caused an uproar with Universal Music Group. UMG filed a copyright infringement claim to YouTube which resulted in the video briefly being taken down, which Megaupload followed up with a lawsuit alleging that everything involved in the video was legal. Yet even in the lawsuits filed in conjunction with that case, Beatz is not mentioned as an executive for Megaupload or as anything other than an artist that appeared in the video. A story on the legal actions published by CNET.com in December includes Megaupload's lawsuit.
While Beatz may have had a role in helping to create the video, various reports state he had a hand in rounding up many of the other artists that were involved - but it is unlikely that he could run such a large, Hong Kong-based technology company on a day-to-day basis. Plenty of artists hold the title of Creative Director -- Lady Gaga at Polaroid, Will.I.Am at Intel, and Beatz himself at both Reebok and Lotus -- and he could have been operating in a similar capacity at Megaupload, but CEO seems a little far-fetched.
Beatz hasn't released a statement or given an interview since the news of Megaupload's takedown broke yesterday, and his Twitter feed has remained bare save for an image of a fortune cookie that reads "your kindness will lead you to happiness." Calls to Megaupload lawyer Ira Rothken went unreturned at press time. So until Beatz or someone involved with Megaupload speaks on the matter or makes an attempt to clarify his role, it is likely that his level of involvement, and his status as CEO, will remain up in the air.