Since Jay Z first dropped a Picasso reference back in 1996 on "Friend or Foe," it was clear how much he loves visual arts. On the track it was less about ownership and more about gunplay, but at the least it shows Jay's focus on the art world. Since then, he consistently ramped up his association with the fine arts by not only name dropping artists but also buying pricey artworks. Jay has conspicuously diversified his tastes and expanded his knowledge of the arts. Between 2008, when he told the BBC he's "into art now," 2009, the first year he bragged about his art collection on “Off That,” and today, Jay has developed a taste for the finer things, with the help of his art advisor Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. And he's clearly visited an institution or two, going simply from “house is like a museum” in 2011’s “Illest Motherfucker Alive” to discerning between The Louvre and the Tate Modern on this year’s "Picasso Baby," where he danced with performance art titan Marina Abramovic.
We decided to calculate the value of Jay Z's growing art collection to our best estimation. Our guess to how much the rapper has spent on art takes in a number of factors. First, we decided that the more often Jay references an artist, it increases the likelihood he owns a piece, protecting his investment by name checking the artist. Second, it’s not always clear exactly which piece by any given artist Jay owns, so we used the average price the artist's work fetches at auction. Lastly, we also include estimations for works we’re not positive Jay owns, based on some of his raps, and provide totals for both an imagined, lyrical collection and a real, material collection. Check out the final results of Estimating the Net Worth of Jay Z's Art Collection.
Hebru Brantley ($20,000)
At the 2012 iteration of the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair, Jay and Beyonce picked up a new painting by street artist turned gallery guru Hebru Brantley. In the grand scheme of things for the couple, this was just a drop in the bucket though a great investment for the pair and a good boost for the painter. They paid $20,000 for the piece Everybody's Scared, that was handpicked for Jay by Maverick Carter, LeBron James’ manager. The painter delivered his work to Jay himself, as evidenced by a photo on Brantley's Instagram.
Shepard Fairey ($6,000 - $100,000)
In 2013’s “Oceans,” Jay raps a reference to the street artist behind Barack Obama's official 2008 campaign poster: "Shepard Fairey, they finally gave me some hope.” Fairey’s original work sells for close to $100,000, and his lithographs go for around $6,000 each. But then again, why would Jay want a litho? Of course he'd pick up an original print—we priced Hov's mystery piece somewhere in the $30,000 range.
Pablo Picasso ($10,000 - $155,000,000)
It’s probably the cadence and rhyme of Picasso’s name that make him one of Jay Z’s most-rapped artists. As we mentioned, he shows up first in 1996 on "Friend or Foe" and continues to appear later in Jay's career: in Rick Ross’s 2008 “Maybach Music,” on a feature for Robin Thicke’s 2009 “Meiple,” in the 2011 cut “Who Gon Stop Me,” and of course, the song that some say killed performance art, “Picasso Baby.” The best-known Picassos are already in the hands of established galleries, museums, and patrons, so let’s assume Jay owns a smaller, lesser-known painting. The most expensive Picasso, "Le Reve," sold for $155 million in March. On the lower end, Picassos can go for around $20 or $40 million, while his etchings or drawings can go for far less at around $10,000 at auction. Of course, Mr. Carter tweeted that he doesn't actually own one, so well give him the imaginary middle ground benefit of the doubt: $50 million.
Laurie Simmons ($25,000)
In 2010, Jay and Beyonce had a little tiff about which Laurie Simmons photograph should hang in their apartment. Jay initially chose the image above, a gun with women’s legs. But Beyonce wasn’t having the implied violence and returned the piece. She came home with a more feminine image, a perfume bottle with legs. The artist—who you might know as the mother of Lena Dunham—sells work for between $1,700 and $96,000 at auction. The work the Carter family ended up with, Lying Perfume Bottle, sold at public auction in 2006 for $22,800. With Simmons' newfound recognition, we'll give Jay a healthy $25,000 on this one.
Leonardo Da Vinci ($1,000,000,000)
There is no way that Jay Z owns the Mona Lisa, as he implies in "Picasso Baby." But, for the sake of our imaginary estimate, we’re going believe that Jay is actually “sleeping every night next to Mona Lisa.” Mona Lisa has not been sold since it was purchased by King Francis in 1516, for about $100,000. In 1962, when the painting was set to embark on a world tour, it was insured for $100 million. According to the Guinneus Book of World Records, this is the most any work of art has been insured for. Adjusting for inflation across those 51 years, that figure would be around $775 million. Considering that is an insurance price—and works as famous as this one almost always sell at auction for more than they are estimated—we’re going up to $1 billion here.
Damien Hirst ($1,200,000)
In a 2008 interview with the BBC and Johnathan Ross, Jay said that a line from American Gangster inspired Damien Hirst to create a painting called Beat Life and Cheat Death that he would later purchase. (That line was, “I’m trying to beat life cause I can’t cheat death,” from "Pray.") It was revealed in a later interview with the Mirror that he owned “a lot” of Hirst paintings, and in the 2007 music video for “Blue Magic,” Hirst’s massive spin-art-skull paintings appear. Jay Z later used an image of Hirst's diamond-coated skull, called For the Love of God, on the set of his 2008 Glastonbury performance. Two years later, in the video for “On To The Next One,” Jay included a replica of the skull. The asking price for that piece of art is $100 million dollars, though its raw materials are valued at about one-fifth that. Hirst’s larger paintings on canvas generally sell for between $125,000 and $500,000. If Jay owns the two massive paintings in the "Blue Magic" video, we can easily estimate this part of his collection as a little over $1 million.
It’s doubtful that Jay owns an actual Michelangelo, considering his tastes usually skew more towards the Tate Modern than the Louvre. For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that when he said called himself “the Michelangelo of flow” on the 2002 track “Guns and Roses,” he was gazing at one while writing these lines (even if he said in a 2010 Howard Stern interview that he started collecting art around 2005). Small Michelangelo paintings can be worth as much as $300 million.
Tim Noble and Sue Webster ($541,000)
Jay mentioned in the same Howard Stern interview that he owns a piece by Tim Noble and Sue Webster. We can assume it’s not one of their incredible shadow sculptures made from mostly discarded trash, as these are usually unwieldy and more conceptual than purely aesthetic. However, the market for this pair of post-Young British Artists involves gorgeous works using neon and other forms of light—perhaps the YE$ sculpture that appeared in the 2007 music video for “Blue Magic." These pieces usually run between $250,000 and $500,000. Yet this particular piece sold at auction for $541,000.
Mark Rothko ($3,000,000)
Jay often pairs his Picasso rhymes with a Rothko name drop, a practice he first started on 2008’s Rick Ross-helmed “Maybach Music” and followed in 2011 and 2013 with “Who Gon Stop Me” and “Picasso Baby.” Considering the frequency of this shout-out, we can imagine that Jay owns a lesser-known Rothko. In 2012, Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow, sold for almost $87 million. That's extraordinarily high, even for his highly regarded works. Rothko's early works, before he discovered his signature style, go for more than $100,000. But we’ll assume Jay is sticking to the finer things in life, and that includes Rothko’s color field paintings, which range from $1 million to $5 million.
On “Maybach Music” Jay includes a Rembrandt reference, along with the aforementioned name drops. When Jay is citing the Old Master—whether there, on “What They Gonna Do,” or “I Know What Girls Like,” her rarely references an actual painting. Rather, Jay compares himself to Rembrandt, often alongside the poet Rilke. Rembrandt’s inclusion here is mainly speculative, and a small painting by the artist is worth around $30 million.
Jeff Koons ($35,000,000)
On “Picasso Baby,” Jay raps, “Jeff Koons balloons, I’m blowing up.” We all know, thanks in part to Lady Gaga, the prominence of a Jeff Koons sculpture. Given the size of Koons’ sculptures, they can sell for as much as $33 million—the price mega-rich hotelier Steve Wynn payed for Glass Tulips—and $58 million, the price his Balloon Dog (Orange) sculpture sold at Christie's this week, setting a record-breaking price for the purchase of a work by a living artist. These are massive pieces, and it's doubtful the Carters have one in their Tribeca loft. For the sake of our calculation, we'll put a low-end estimate on a Koons sculpture.
George Condo ($1,000,000)
Another line from “Picasso Baby” is almost too oblique in its reference to the painter George Condo: “Condos in my condos.” But the most ardent of fans knows that Condo did the artwork for Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With that in mind, it’s entirely possible that Jay owns one or, as implied in the line, multiple Condo paintings. The estimated worth of each of these lesser-known Condos in Jay’s condos? Between $300,000 and $800,000.
Francis Bacon ($30,000,000)
In another oblique reference on the 2013 “Picasso Baby,” Jay raps about the artist Francis Bacon: “Bacons and turkey bacons, smell the aroma." While it’s not likely Jay owns an actual Bacon piece we’ll include it for speculation’s sake. The lesser-known works of the painter sell for around $20 million. This week, his three-piece work Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142 million at a Christie's auction, making it the most expensive painting ever sold. We'll land Jay's Bacon closer to the lower end.
Jean-Michel Basquiat ($10,479,938)
Basquiat is without doubt one of Hov’s favorite artists. He mentions the painter on a 2006 Hot 97 “Grammy Family" freestyle, in 2009’s “Ain’t I,” and in 2011 on “Illest Motherfucker Alive.” He also gives a shout-out to Jean-Michel’s graffiti name SAMO in 2013’s “Picasso Baby.” Jay raps, “yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner,” on “… Baby.” Later on the album, on “BBC,” he raps, “got the Basquiat collab from Versace’s place.” It’s not doubtful Jay owns a Basquit of some kind. But is it one of the painter's most famous yellow pieces? Basquiat’s work has sold recently for anywhere between $14 million and nearly $50 million. If we’re to take Jay’s word on the "collab" aspect of the piece, we can assume it’s one of Basquiat’s famous collaborations with Andy Warhol. In 2012, one of these paintings (with some yellow in it) sold at auction for a little more than $10 million.
David Hammons ($750,000)
In the 2010 Stern interview, Jay says he owns a David Hammons painting that “has a bunch of bricks at the bottom,” something that reminds him of the projects. While we’re not positive that this is the painting he referenced specifically, it sounds like Jay is describing Hammons' Untitled (Basketball Drawing). A few of Hammons' works, particularly from the 2006 series, have pieces of actual asphalt at the bottom. Hammons' pieces of this size sold for around $750,000 each in 2011.
Ed Ruscha ($1,750,000)
Jay told Stern that he lays claim to an Ed Rushca painting, specifically one in his series that reads “Annie” in the style of the comic strip of the same name. This is fitting for Jay for two reasons: his sister’s name is Annie, and he sampled the Annie musical on “A Hard Knock Life.” Considering the most famous Ruscha Annie painting, Annie... Poured From Maple Syrup, hangs in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Jay’s Ruscha must be of more modest fare… probably between $1.5 million and $3 million, Ruscha's routine price at auction.
Richard Prince ($3,000,000)
In a 2009 interview with the Mirror, Jay mentioned owning a Richard Prince piece or two. Prince’s prints, paintings, and photographs routinely sell at auction for between $100,000 and $1 million, while his Nurse paintings go for as much as $6.9 million. Let's imagine that Jay owns one or two in the series on the lower end.
Andy Warhol ($9,000,000)
Warhol is referenced more than any other artist in Jay’s repertoire, at least six times since the 2006 Lupe Fiasco track "Pressure," where Jay foreshadowed his interior decorating sense: “If the war calls for Warhols/Hope you got enough space on your hall's walls.” In the Stern interview, he mentioned that he had snatched up "a couple" Warhols, specifically the Rorschach paintings that graced the cover of his Decoded memoir Jay was promoting at the time. In auction, these works go for about $4.5 million each. Multiply that by “a couple,” and you’re looking at close to $10 million on Warhols alone.
Takashi Murakami ($2,000,000)
In the 2007 "Blue Magic" video, Jay is seen rapping in front of a Murakami painting. And, even though Murakami himself thinks his works are priced too high, the Japanese artist's recent pieces have been valued between $1.8 million and $3.5 million—and these are gallery prices.
Grand Total: $1,477,795,938
And here we have it. To be clear, we've included direct references to artists, but not allusions to works of art, of which Jay Z has many. The rapper's "On To The Next One" video nods to neon sculptor Dan Flavin, silhouette artist Kara Walker, and photographers Robert Mapplethorpe, Paul Strand, and Lois Greenfield, yet these aren't lyrical references, so these artists have been left out. Below are the totals of our estimations.
Material Total: With the works that we are sure of in Jay Z’s collection, plus a margin of error for instances where we don't know exactly which piece Jay owns, we’re estimating the value of the Carter collection at a massive $32,795,938, plus or minus a couple million here and there.
Lyrical Total: With the works in reference considered, we put Jay’s imaginary collection, including everything he’s rapped about, at $1.445 billion.
Grand Total: $1,477,795,938.