Jay Z's memoir "Decoded" unveiled the mysterious double entendres and artistic references within his lyrics in a very sophisticated manner which open the eyes to various academics around the nation to the power and artistic genius behind rap lyrics. One of those academics is Dr. Shawn Peters at University of Wisconsin Madison. For the past two decades the hip hop generation has been unofficially led by Sean Carter, not only the pursuit of lyrical mastery, but the manner in which the constituents conduct themselves as businessmen, fashion and the endeavors we care to venture down and ultimately the cultural relevancy of elements to hip hop. As Jay Z continues to disseminate hip hop's fifth element, "knowledge", his lyrical assault on our ears is heavily saturated with knowledge for those who dare decipher the stories of his life experiences delivered through his music.
As Part II of my presentation titled "Hip Hop Inspired Architecture and Design" at University of Wisconsin Madison, I wanted to awaken the students senses to the content behind Jay Z's "Picasso Baby". Similar to his other songs, its not hard for the students to recite the lyrics, but far too many have limited knowledge about the topics being described in those lyrics. I took the students on a journey that I hope they will never forget.
With very little introduction given to the students, I distributed an inconspicuous folder of images, the contents of which I described as elements of a composition by an internationally known artist in the United States. I challenged the students to name each work of art independently to determine the piece comprised of them all. As students extracted various works from the folder, they displayed baffled facial expressions some students even laughed as they held up images of unknown artwork to display to other students.. I thought to myself, "this is perfect" it's the response I was hoping to have.
See the gallery below for some of the images I distributed to the students.
I encouraged the students to yell out the names of the images or the artist of the individual compositions which they could identify. I heard a small voice from the back of the class squeal, Jean-Michael Basquiat! Then other voices chimed in, The Louvre!, Da Vinci!, Warhol!, MOMA!. The students were now engaged, but still no one knew how these images were related and what artist used them to create a new piece. The last clue I delivered to the students was this, When reciting this person's work, which many of you can do at this very moment, each of you will be able to identify all the images in your folders". Still no answer.
I revealed the secret, "It's Jay Z's Picasso Baby". The pursuance of lyrical references to the imagery was now at full throttle. One student held up an image of a large balloon sculpture and said "This must be the work of Jeff Koon, because Jay Z says "Jeff Koons balloons I just wanna blow up", as he says that, a class mate immediately goes to Google to find out additional information about Jeff Koon. This discovery is made over and over again, as students are now delighted by the fact that they can actually name every image in the packet now, by referencing Jay Z's song, including the work of Mark Rothko, Ye Mask (scroll to the gallery of images above and see if you can spot it) and Riccardo Tisci! Take a look at the video below which includes the lyrics to the song which you can now match with the photos above.
The Assignment - "Remix"
Each group of students were to compose a new piece of work by combing extracted samples from the images available, the only rule was that students used traditional methodologies used to lyrically compose hip hop and rap music, in the case of this assignment was multiples of 16 bars. Each extracted sample of the imagery represents an individual bar of the new composition. Take a look below for some images of the groups in action. The resulting piece of work was to represent "Picasso Baby" or a view of society.
Below are some action shots of the student groups.
Abstract Art Inspired by Jay Z's - "Picasso Baby"
Each group was given 45 minutes to create their abstracted representations of Picasso Baby, some of the results are below. As expected, students deviated from the initial directions as not to limit their creative abilities, similar to what we are currently seeing within hip hop music today. I see no problem with bending the rules, break the mold, be new, be daring, especially if it heightens your results.
Yes the title was a bit misleading...or was it? I hope you enjoyed. More to come soon!