Every week, a different FADER editor compiles a playlist to highlight a new release and give you a guide to that artist’s web of influences and peers. These Staff Selects live in our Spotify app, alongside GEN Fs from our archives and playlists for each issue. This week, it’s Jessica Robertson on Jay Z, Picasso and music’s infatuation with visual artists.
It was a short trip from Jay Z’s Tribeca loft to the Pace Gallery in New York City last week, where the rapper performed “Picasso Baby”—a four-minute roll call of artists off his just-released 15th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail—for six straight hours. The event, which also featured performance artist Marina Abramović of recent The Artist Is Present fame, wasn’t Jay Z’s first foray into the arts world; his reverence for late New York art icon Jean-Michel Basquiat is well-documented, from songs (“Most Kings,” “Ain’t I”) to Jay’z autobiography, Decoded, to the recent purchase of a Basquiat portrait painted by producer Swizz Beatz. But it was with “Picasso Baby” that Jay Z attempted to turn from collector into curator, and moreover, highish-brow performance artist.
For ages, music has been littered with name-checks and tributes to myriad visual artists, from the famous (David Bowie’s “Andy Warhol,” Don McLean’s “Vincent”) to the less so (the Stranglers’ “Goodbye Tolouse”), and even to the fictional (Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five’s “Beat Street”). My arts education is sufficient for a music editor; I’ve been to the Louvre. I have a Frida Kahlo finger puppet. While I may never curate an art gallery, I can curate a playlist. Come for the Picasso, stay for the Magritte.