Why Jay-Z Keeps Referencing Jean-Michel Basquiat

It's more than just bragging about buying expensive art.

"I'm the new Jean-Michel," Jay-Z raps on his new album.

"I'm the new Jean-Michel," Jay-Z raps on his new album.

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"New money, they looking down on meBlue bloods they trying to clown on meYou can turn up your nose, high societyNever gone turn down the homie"The comparison he makes between slave ships and "Ocean's 11" yachts on "Oceans" has ruffled some critics, but he has every right to brag about his success, as he does on "F.U.T.W.," which he begins by begging, "Just let me be great."
"After that government cheese, we eating steakAfter the projects, now we on estatesI'm from the bottom, I know y'all can relate"But his new life of business pursuits – endorsements, record labels, clothing lines, sports management – outside (yet so entwined with) his music haven't entirely pleased critics. "Magna Carta" reviewers have derided the album's Kurt Cobain riffs and shots at Instagram after he convinced Samsung to buy the first million copies in order to ship the album through an Android app, as well as having the RIAA change their digital sales rules so the album was certified platinum before it was released. Fittingly, the album marketed with the hashtag #newrules.Billboard's Jeff Rosenthal wonders why Jay-Z references Basquiat so much. On a somewhat obvious level, they serve Pierre Bourdieu's theory of cultural capital: that one can establish his or her social class not just by the things he or she can afford, but also the cultural artifacts one is familiar with, such as art, music, cinema and fashion.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 his Blueprint 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.More News: