On Friday, Jay Z dropped his new “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.” In it, he performs this new song in the sparsely decorated PACE gallery, on a white raised platform and with a simple wooden bench facing the platform. The area around this “stage” is roped off where others watch the performance. Oh, and did we mention? The audience (and co-performers) is filled with other artists – everyone from Jemima Kirke to George Condo to students and kids and more.
The lyrics and the performance itself are all about ART (huh – what is it good for?!). Jay raps about his own art collection and really the joy of owning art right alongside his Bentleys, hot mamas, and rap royalty status.
Oh, what a feeling, fuck it, I want a billion
Jeff Koons balloons, I just wanna blow up
Condos in my condos, I wanna row of
Christie’s with my missy, live at the MoMA
Bacons and turkey bacons, smell the aroma
I like the video. It’s joyous at its most basic and everyone is having a great time. There is definitely a novelty aspect – wow, modern artists AND fashion designers AND regular old erryday people AND Jay Z all in one room together!? – but maybe that’s why he calls it a “performance art” piece: why does a gathering of people making music, dancing, and smiling like this all make us stop and take notice (just because all of these people are Names)?
Another interesting question for me was, in collapsing and combining the two, whether Jay Z was elevating the materialistic aspects of hip hop to the level of fine art or debasing fine art to the level of ornate accessories (Bentleys, Rolexes, Mansions) that would ordinarily populate a song about musical grandiosity?: “I’m never satisfied, can’t knock my hustle / I wanna Rothko, no, I want a brothel.“
Is he saying finery is finery and deserves to be appreciated – and it’s what you get and DESERVE when you achieve wild success? Is artistic name-dropping and art-collecting just another way to peacock? Or is asking the questions by putting together a “we’re not really sure what to do with this” music video the ultimate stuntin’ iself: “What’s it gon take for me to go / For you to see, I’m the modern day Pablo, Picasso baby.“
I’m not really sure the questions about fame and ostentation matter. I think it’s cool that Jay Z and his PEOPLE are thinking about these questions, because putting Bacons next to bacon is an undeniably cool concept filled with the awesome word play to match the over-the-top performance it engendered. What’s most important is, whether this video is that “deep” or not, that there’s this artistic force coming from 1/2 of hip hop’s First Family that’s trying to push music and art forward, which I really do think is important. So here’s a pro-tip: check out the Rap Genius annotations to Picasso Baby to get all the refs, reflect upon the importance of fame, art, performance, and puns, and be grateful this isn’t another song about the joys of The Club.