In a world of stunting rappers, Jay Z reigns supreme in his ability to make #grownmanshit decisions. Word got out last week that HOV effectively sonned the entire rap game by picking up Jean-Michel Basquait’s 1982 Mecca at a Sotheby’s auction last week for a cool 4.5 million dollars. It’s no secret that Jay is an art fan, I mean the cover of his book Decoded is a Warhol piece – which is a pretty definitive statement about how Jay sees himself in relation to popular culture in its own right. But this latest purchase is a massively significant investment, and in some respects it shows the maturation of HOV as an art world player. With this in mind, we decided to put together an art appreciator’s guide to Jay Z.
THE EARLY DAYS
Track: Already Home
Line: “I’m in the Hall already, on the wall already/I’m a work of art, I’m Warhol already”
See this is one of the earlier instances where Jay actually directly compares himself to an artist. There’s a certain level of wealth where ownership of material goods starts to become irrelevant. I mean sure, you can wake up in a new Buggatti, but as of 2013 there were 10,900,000 millionaires globally who could probably say the same thing. There’s an intrinsic sense of aura (shout outs to first year Art History) that adds intangible value to an object. OR, to put it practically – which is higher up on the stupid rich scale, buying a $1.2 million luxury car or Kim K buying ‘Ye a pair of original apple mice signed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak? Art operates in the same manner, sure you’re buying an important piece of cultural documentation, but what you’re actually paying for is a physical manifestation of intangible talent. For Young Hova to compare himself with Warhol is particularly prescient, as the allusion to an artist who used low-brow channels of pop culture to communicate a wider message is a pretty compelling argument for hip-hop in general.
Track: Who Gon’ Stop Me
Line: “I’m riding dirty, tryna get filthy, Pablo Picasso, Rothkos, Rilkes/Graduated to the MoMA, and I did all of this without a diploma”
This team effort with ‘Ye from 2011 sees Jay expand his repertoire a little – with a nod to UGK’s third album, and a list of word class artists there’s a clear line between where Hov’s been and where he’s heading. This isn’t exactly the days of parking lot pimpin’, this is the new Jay – family man and cultural connoisseur. Representing Pablo Picasso’s cubism, Mark Rothko’s abstract expressionism, and Rainer Maria Rilke’s bohemian poetry – we get to see that Jay isn’t fucking around with this. His taste is rich, varied, and complex. He’s graduated to the Museum of Modern Art, and all without a formal education. There’s a distance from conspicuous consumption, and an allusion to a new role as a seasoned gallerist. HOV the collector has arrived.
Track: Picasso Baby
Line: “Yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner/Go ahead lean on that shit Blue, you own it”
Well Magna Carta Holy Grail is jammed with references to contemporary art, but you know, the track that’s actually named after Picasso kind of stands out. Jay focusses on two artists that he contrasts himself with on this track (and through much of the rest of the album), Pablo Picasso and Jean Michel Basquiat. The former was a genius whose work fundamentally changed the art world – the latter was a troubled visionary whose work looked at social tensions and whose brilliance gave way to addiction and ultimately death. That’s a set of comparison that’s rife with socio-political commentary, but the one line that really stands out is pretty much a fuck you to the entire establishment – encouraging his baby daughter to manhandle a Basquiat painting because it belongs to her. Hear that? That’s the collective sound of every conservationist in the entire world sobbing quietly. Of course, it’s HOV and Beyonce’s daughter – so the toddler pretty much has a license to wear the Shroud of Turin as a nappy if she wants, but when I snap a cheeky instagram photo of Basquiat’s 1984 Untitled for some struggle likes I get kicked out of Gagosian. Life is a bitch, huh? :(
The Event: Jay Z Performs Picasso Baby for six hours straight in New York’s Pace Gallery
This performance piece marks the point that affects a very small number of people who are both incredibly passionate about a subject, and incredibly rich enough to indulge themselves. You know what would happen if John Citizen wanted to peform a six hour piece in a New York gallery? They’d get told to fuck right off. I think the less said about this one the better – although, if he was serious about his career as a performance artist I’d argue that this US$58,000 crocodile skin jacket produced by Jay and Rick Owens for Barneys is a far more compelling piece than yelling in Marina Abramovic’s face for a few hours. Hirst eat your heart out.