Hip hop is an art form in itself. It’s reflecting personal thoughts. Or someone’s mood. Or a generation. It can paint a picture of something with so little; a couple of rhymes.
Wu-Tang Clan did a brave move a couple of years ago. They made a case for hip hop being a fine art form, by auctioning out just a single copy of their album, just like one would with a painting by Picasso or Monet. It’s a smart move to increase the value of hip hop. But what I like about music is that it’s an art form that is created to be available to a large audience and can be experienced anywhere, at any time. One person listening to Jay Z on the sidewalk strolling down Brooklyn will experience it differently than someone enjoying a beer in Stockholm: based on surroundings, the person’s mood and life situation, whereas the original Mona Lisa can only by experienced in one form: which is live, in front of the painting, at the Louvre.
To keep on topic: this newsletter is about hip hop and the connection to painters and artists from other types of art and craft. Connections are the artwork, music videos, exhibitions in collaboration between musician and another artist and more. Let’s go!
Kendrick Lamar & Jonas Lindstroem
Kendrick is known for his spectacular music videos. They always have a quality director, photographer and of course music. This video is no exception. Kendrick got together with Jonas Lindstroem to shoot a video for the hit ELEMENT. of Kendrick’s latest album DAMN.
Lindstroem’s personal style is expressive, experimental, minimal and often conceptual that quickly saw him being commissioned by labels such as Hermès, Calvin Klein, Adidas and Uniqlo.
He has made some stunning visuals prior like this video that acted as an exercise in relating to oneself through others, presenting 21 unique narratives sourced from the imaginary minds of a global generation. Lindstrom describes his project as a reflection on the content found on mobile devices whose search histories reveal queries from activism to meme-culture.
Two years ago, he also shot another music video for MMOTHS. The track is called Eva and the music video really elevates the sound as well.
If you didn’t catch it above, this is the link to the video of ELEMENT.
KAWS and Kanye West
KAWS is today a hugely famous and influential artist. Wikipedia writes: “His work includes repeated use of a cast of figurative characters and motifs, some dating back to the beginning of his career in the 1990s, initially painted in 2D and later realised in 3D. Some of his characters are his own creations while others are reworked versions of existing icons.”
Google him and you’ll find a lot of sculptures and paintings that all have a similar feeling and style to them. It’s familiar to the style used in Kanye West deluxe version of his album 808’s & Heartbreak.
Listen to the album here.
Jean-Michel Basquiat & Hip hop
If Michael Jordan is the most referenced basketball player when rappers rhyme, Basquiat is the most popular painter. Franklin Sirmans writes in the book In The Cipher: Basquiat and Hip Hop Culture “Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies”, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.”
It goes well with topics that rappers today write about and hence why it’s a relevant artist. A couple of tracks that mention Basquiat is J. Cole in his track Rich Niggaz where he raps:
“It’s like Sony signed Basquiat. He gave it all he got, and now a nigga don’t paint the same, damn”
“Cole is saying once you give it all you got or truly love something youll be able to do things no one could imagine. i.e Basquiat.” Read more about the context about this lyrics here.
Listen to the track.
Jay Z also quotes Basquiat in his song Picasso Baby where he says “I’m the new Jean-Michel”. Tierney Sneed writes “It’s an allusion that Jay-Z has made for years.But the parallels between the artist’s and musician’s careers suggest that Jay-Z is not so much the new Basquiat, but a continuation of the struggles the painter faced had he been allowed to mature. Dying due to a heroin overdose at 27, Basquiat was just beginning to grapple with the contradictions of success and his humble, urban beginnings, a contradiction that has defined much of Jay-Z’s (and plenty of other rappers’) career. This juxtaposition is also a dominant theme for much of “Magna Carta Holy Grail.” Simply put: Jay-Z is Basquiat grown old.”
Eric Poppleton & N.W.A
NWA’s debut album was nothing but revolutionary. It was a new type of sound, gained popularity like few other albums. One of the key ingredients was the aggressive attitude that was portrayed throughout the album and the performances. They didn’t hesitate about anything and went all-in, whilst still keeping a popular radio sound to it for the masses.
The story about the cover art is a perfect summary of the album as well. Eric Poppleton, the photographer for the iconic album cover remembers:
“We were in downtown Los Angeles, we didn’t have money for locations and most of our shots were just really simple set ups. There was no artificial lighting or anything, I just lay on the ground and they pointed what hopefully was an unloaded gun down at the camera. I couldn’t say for sure whether it was ready to fire, but it was definitely a real gun. There wasn’t anything fake back then.”
Listen to Straight Outta Compton here.