YOUNGKINGS GET THEIR HEAD CUT OFF: Jay-Z on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Charles The First
From Jay-Z’s DECODED:
He was hip-hop when hip-hop was still in its cradle: If you look at the video for Blondie’s “Rapture,” the first rap song (using the word rap loosely to play on MTV, you see Basquiat, young, skinny, standing in front of a set of turntables while Debbie Harry struts by. He played Spoonie Gee records at gallery openings.
…his technique…feels like hip-hop in the way it combined different traditions and techniques to create something new. He brought together elements of street art and European old masters. He combined painting and writing. He combined icons from Christianity and Santeria and voodoo. He turned boxers and jazz musicians into kings with golden crowns. And on top of all that mixing and matching he added his own genius, which transformed the work into something completely fresh and original. The paintings don’t just sit on my walls, they move like crazy.
One Basquiat print I own is called Charles the First—it’s about Charlie Parker, the jazz pioneer who died young of a heroin overdose, like Basquiat. In the corner of the painting are the words, MOST
YOUNGKINGS GET THEIR HEAD CUT OFF….I read it as a statement about what happens when you achieve a certain position. You become a target. People want to take your head, your crown, your title. They want to emasculate you…
…When Basquiat painted Charles the First he was only twenty-two. People always wanted to stick Basquiat in some camp or another, to paste on some label that would be stable and make it easy to treat him like a commodity. But he was elusive. His eye was always on a bigger picture…
One critic said about Basquiat that the boys in his paintings didn’t grow up to be men, they grew up to be corpses, skeletons, and ghosts. Maybe that’s the curse of being young, black, and gifted in America….I’m trying to rewrite the old script, but Basquiat’s painting sits on my wall like a warning.
Some of the best art writing I’ve come across in a while, and terrific book design, too.