The quick response to Jay-Z’s new album released over the holiday has been a spirited debate of the rapper’s identification with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Billboard’s Jeff Rosenthal wonders if the pre-eminent rapper is simply dissembling about his interest in art:
Ugh, it takes one verse for Jay to compare himself to Basquiat (“I am the new Jean Michel”) and bring up Warhol; for a guy who claims to spend so much time at MoMA, why does always name the same names?
But US News wants to read deeper into the over-identification and claim that Jay-Z is completing Basquiat’s career and ascending in person into the cultural and financial elite:
It’s not just that Jay-Z is rich enough to afford a Basquiat painting, he understands its cultural relevancy. So devoted to Basquiat’s legacy, Jay-Z even used Basquiat’s signature “E” without the vertical line on hisBlueprint 3 album cover.
In Jay-Z’s world, he can be a high-flying rich guy, but someone concerned with the racial and political struggle on the streets. And in that sense, his Basquiat references are fitting. Not only because Basquiat’s art focused on many of the same themes as Jay-Z’s music, but because their careers followed the same trajectory. Jay-Z’s career may stretch as long as Picasso’s, but its really a continuation of the contradictions Basquiat was only beginning to face. As Jay-Z says on “Picasso Baby,” he wants to “spray everything like SAMO,” but he’s also worried about “scratching up his Lambo,” a concern Basquiat never had the chance to understand.