While listening to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s new album Watch The Throne, we couldn’t help but notice that Jay-Z made a number of references to famous artists including Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. However, this should come as no surprise. After all, Jay has made fine art into a hobby of his in recent years.
In fact, not only has Jigga name-dropped famous modern and contemporary artists on his songs, but he’s also had them design his album art, featured their work in his music videos, and talked about his ever growing art collection in interviews. That’s why we put together Timeline: Jay-Z’s Obsession With Art detailing Hov’s growing tastes in high-brow culture.
Jay-Z References Picasso On “Friend Or Foe”
Lyric: “If you draw, better be Picasso, you know the best/Because if this is not so then...God bless.”
Complex says: This was Jigga when he was young, brash, and pretty fucking gangsta. His reference to the iconic artist Pablo Picasso is only within the context of shoving a gun in someone’s face and we can’t help but think Hov didn’t really know much about art at this point. And he probably didn’t know much in 2002 either when he referenced Michelangelo on “Guns & Roses.”
Jay-Z References Andy Warhol On Lupe Fiasco’s “Pressure”
Lyric: “If the war calls for Warhols/Hope you got enough space on your hall's walls.”
Complex says: Wait, what kind of war calls for Warhols? Again, we’re not sure Jay had really done his homework on this one. However, Andy Warhol was shot in 1968 and nearly died as a result. So we guess Warhol did know a thing or two about being in a war-zone.
Jay-Z Spits Jean-Michel Basquiat Inspired “Grammy Family Freestyle”
Lyric: “Inspired by Basquiat, my chariots of fire/Everybody took shots, hit my body up I’m tired.”
Complex says: With Flex hyping up the moment, his Roc-A-Fella crew in tow, Jay spit one of the greatest freestyles ever as he blacked out on Kanye West’s “Grammy Family” beat live on Hot 97. He kicked things off saying Jean-Michel Basquiat inspired him before talking about the perils of fame. “So it's best for those to not overdose on being famous,” lamented Hov, no doubt aware that Basquiat shot to super stardom in the art world only to die from a heroin overdose in 1988 at the tender age of 27.
Jay-Z Features Art By Takashi Murakami & Damien Hirst In “Blue Magic” Video
Jay Uses Damien Hirst Artwork In Glastonbury Set, Later In “On To The Next One” Video
Jay-Z References Picasso, Rembrandt, & Rothko On Rick Ross’ “Maybach Music”
Lyric: “The curtains are drawn perfectly like a Picasso, Rembrandt’s and Rothko’s/I'm a major player, 40-40's in Vegas at the Palazzo."
Complex says: True, one could argue that this Picasso reference is no more sophisticated than the reference he made over a decade before. But he also slips in references to lesser known modern artists Mark Rothko as well as Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt. Jay had obviously expanded his artistic palate.
Jay Talks About Owning A Damien Hirst Piece
Jay-Z & Beyonce Are Spotted At Art Basel Miami Beach
Jay-Z Says He Owns “A Lot” of Pieces By Damien Hirst & Richard Price
Jay-Z References Warhol & Basquiat On “Ain’t I”
Lyric: “I got Warhol’s on my hall’s walls/I got Basquiat’s in the lobby of my spot.”
Complex says: By 2009 Jay had already referenced both Warhol and Basquiat, but this lyric was different from past lines. Before, Jay’s namedrops felt forced, as if he was just trying to sound knowledgeable. But on this line, Jay was actually boasting about owning art. Not bad for a guy who once claimed all he needed was some Nike Airs and a bucket hat.
Jay-Z Compares Himself To A Warhol Painting On “Already Home”
Lyric: “I'm in the hall already, on the wall already/I’m a work of art, I'm a Warhol already.”
Complex says: It might seem like a stretch for Jay-Z to compare himself to Warhol but consider this: Both Warhol and Jigga were often criticized for embracing consumerism. In fact, in the later part of his career, Warhol became more of an entrepreneur than an artist and was even dubbed a “business artist.” In other words, he wasn’t a businessman, he was a business, man.
Jay-Z Raps About His Art Collection On “Off That”
Date: September 2009
Lyric: “In my TriBeCa loft, with my high-brow art and my hot yellow broad.”
Complex says: We’re willing to defend Jay’s new-found love for art and chalk it up to him maturing as a person and expanding his worldview. But does he really have to stunt on us like that? It’s not enough he’s got a TriBeCa loft filled with high-brow art, but he’s gotta bring up how he’s got Beyonce too? Dude, we get it, your life is awesome.
Jay-Z Compares Himself To A Picasso Painting On Robin Thicke’s “Meiplé”
Date: December 2009
Lyric: “Avant-garde, lanvin socks/Call me Picasso, I’m art on yachts.”
Complex says: Jay’s open-ocean steeze had been well documented by this point, but he still doesn’t get a pass for a rhyme this bad. Call you Picasso? Yikes. Sounds like someone should have stayed on vacation.
Beyonce & Jay-Z Disagree Over A Laurie Simmons Photograph In Their Home
Date: June 2010
What Happened? After Jay bought a black-and-white Laurie Simmons photograph of a pistol with women’s legs for he and Beyonce’s apartment, Beyonce sent it back and replaced it with a more feminine Simmons photo of a perfume bottle with women’s legs.
Complex says: One would think that when you’re rich and powerful like Jay-Z, you can hang any photo you want in your apartment, right? Well, that’s not exactly the case when your married to an equally powerful woman who probably pays as much of the rent as you do. Who runs the house? Bey does!
Jay-Z Chooses Warhol’s “Rorschach” As The Cover To “Decoded”
Jay-Z Talks With Howard Stern About The Art In His Home
Date: November 2010
What Happened? During an interview with Howard Stern, Jay opened up about the art detail in his book Decoded, getting hustled as an art collector, and how he only buys pieces that resonate with him.
Complex says: Sure, Jay may have only gotten into collecting art six years ago, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Jay over the years it’s that you can’t outhustle a hustler!
Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci Is Hired As Art Director Of Watch The Throne
Jay-Z Graduates To The MoMA On “Who Gon Stop Me”
Lyric: “Pablo Picasso, Rothko’s, Rilke’s/Graduated to the MoMA, and I did all of this without a diploma.”
Complex says: Some may scoff at the idea of a thug who never graduated high school dabbling in the finer things in life. But to them we quote Jay himself and say, “Every step you take they try and remind you you ghetto.” For Jay, being a part of the MoMA is more a means than an end—it’s proof that a black man who sold drugs can mix with high society. And best of all, he confirmed what we knew all along: Art history is a stupid major.
Jay-Z Talks More Fine Art On “That’s My Bitch”
Lyric: “If Picasso was alive he woulda made her/That's right nigga, Mona Lisa can't fade her/I mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice/But why all the pretty icons always all white?/Put some colored girls in the MoMA...Back to my Beyonces/You deserve 3 stacks word to Andre/Call Larry Gagosian, you belong in museums.”
Complex says: By the sounds of it, Jay wants to get some fine art of Beyonce made and put into a museum, and is assuming his buddy and well-known art dealer Larry Gagosian can help get it done. But dude, an image of Bey is already in a world famous museum.
Jay-Z Says His House Is Like A Museum On “Illest Motherfucker Alive”
Lyric: “When I say it then you see, it ain't only in the music/Basquiat’s, Warhol’s serving as my muses/My house like a museum so I see 'em when I'm peeing.”
Complex says: We’re not sure the bathroom is the right place for priceless paintings, but either way by now we’re convinced Shawn Carter knows a thing or two about art. But please don’t tell us this is what Jay and Yeezy meant by “Watch The Throne.”