Hip hop artists have been rapping about Basquiats for some time, that is Jean-Michel Baquiat. Basquiat was a native New Yorker “discovered” by Andy Warhol and quickly became the darling of the NYC social scene. His works are highly prized for art collectors. Rapping about Basquiat seems to be essential to prove you have arrived. When I first arrived in NYC, I met a “trust-fund” baby. I mentioned my goals for first generation youth, trust fund told me that I needed to talk to art collectors. I asked why? She replied, “People who collect art are have money to spare. Collecting art is not for the rich but the wealthy.” In the words of Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey, when it comes to household furnishings and art collections, “your lot [nouveau riche] buys it, my lot inherits it.” So the point of Jay-Z telling Blue Ivy to lean on the Basquiat is his tongue and cheek paraphrase of Mary Crawley. Blue Ivy will inherit the wealth and riches of the Carter-Knowles union, including the Basquiat. For as much as hip hop artists rap about Basquiats, I have wondered how many of its listeners know the significance of Basquiat and his contribution to the art world. But for Basquiat, there could be no Bansky or Shepard Fairey. Let us move beyond the lyrics and peer into the legacy of an art and NYC icon.
Let me preface this by saying I am not an art historian or enthusiast. At best, I appreciate art and its contribution to our world as an expression of life. I do not always understand or like all of its various techniques, but I appreciate it. The Latin nerd in me gravitates towards the Greco-Roman classical pieces. In high school art class, I was exposed to the Impressionism, Renaissance, and Modernist movements. The names Monet, Manet, Gaugin, Van Gogh, and Matisse were familiar to me. I liked Matisse’s Blue Nude II because it made me comfortable with my thick thighs. I liked Henri Toulouse-Lautrec for featuring taboo subjects shunned by others. The bold colors and fantasy attracted me to Gaudi, Dali, and O’Keefe. However, aside from Ernie Banks, whose work featured in the sitcom “Good Times,” I was not familiar with other African-American artists and painters.