Where form meets function

The New York Times weighs in on hip-hop’s recent infatuation with the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist who got his start in SAMO, a graffiti collective in Manhattan’s early-’80s downtown scene before becoming a famed painter. In the last two years Basquiat has been name-checked by the likes of Jay-Z, Nas, Kanye West, Swizz Beatz and Rick Ross, bringing his story and work to the attention of a new generation. Some choice quotes follow:

Fred Brathwaite, a k a Fab 5 Freddy, the longtime hip-hop impresario and former friend of the artist’s, said Basquiat’s sudden exposure on hip-hop airwaves coincided directly with the 2010 release of a Basquiat documentary. In addition to exposing the artist’s story to a larger audience, the film established a connection between Basquiat and hip-hop, by way of their friendship. “It made people in the hip-hop community realize we were tight,” Mr. Brathwaite said.

“Jean-Michel lived as the only black person in the room,” he said. “A Jay-Z or Swizz Beatz can relate to that as record executives.”

But references like that on the 2010 track “Most Kingz” describe a deeper connection.

Jay-Z begins a verse in the song with the couplet “Inspired by Basquiat, my chariot’s on fire /Everybody took shots, hit my body up, I’m tired,” and in later verses makes reference to the pressures of escaping the ghetto but not its stigma, something Mr. Sirmans says Basquiat, whose work was often regarded by critics as “primitive,” faced.

Read the full article here.

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