Attracted to Bebop

“I never know how to describe my work. It’s not always the same thing. It’s like asking Miles, ‘How does your horn sound?’”
Jean Michel Basquiat

 
 

Portrait of Miles Davis, date unknown

 
 

Discography II, 1983

 
 

What attracted Basquiat to bebop is the way it used repetition, reproduction, and improvisation to transform, or “artistically other”, the shape and meaning of somebody else’s originals, and to do so in the name of black protest against the restrictive social structures of American Racism. For LeRoi Jones, what most characterized bebop was its “antiassimilationist sound”, its rapid improvisations, its jagged time shifts, its wild solo flights, its embrace of melodic and rhythmic dissonance-its willfully harsh resistance to being swallowed up into the unisonance of American harmony. Bebop musicians understood the importance of communicating their racial difference from the American mainstream through their music.

While bebop was the music Basquiat inherited from the radical past, it was the radical present of hip-hop that he was born into. Basquiat was coming up as a painter and graffiti tagger on the streets and subways of New York City just as the music culture of hip-hop was being born on the very same streets and on the very same subways. In many ways Basquiat was hip-hop’s first galley artist, the first audiovisual hip-hopper to be legitimized, popularized, and substantively supported by the official New York art world.

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The Holy Grail of Rap Records

Beat Bop is a hip hop single by American rappers Rammellzee and K-Rob, originally released in 1983 by record label Tartown. Initially distributed merely as a test pressing, it is notable for being featured in the hip-hop documentary film Style Wars (Tony Silver, 1983) and having a cover designed by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The result of a disagreement between Rammellzee and Basquiat, the track has been cited as having an influence on artists such as Beastie Boys and many experimental hip hop artists due to its chaotic, abstract sound. Due to the rarity of its original pressing, it has been called the Holy Grail of rap records. Due to Basquiat’s fame, original copies exchange hands for over four figures.

 
 

 
 

Designed solely by Jean-Michel Basquiat, the artwork of the record are typical of his style, featuring a graffiti-influenced, chaotic clash of imagery and text. The front cover includes rough sketches of bones, what appears to be a crown, an explosion (and within it, the word “bang!” in capital letters), and Roman numerals. The record labels are in the same style, even going as far as originally not mentioning the artists involved in its production or the name of the track. Due to Basquiat’s fame, original copies exchange hands for over four figures. Curiously, the cover spells Rammellzee’s name incorrectly, using only one L instead of two, a fact that irked Rammellzee even in the years following the record’s release. The single was repressed in 2001 by Tartown Records, the label that initially released it, with its original cover art retained.

 
 

To listen to this single, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

To Honour Charlie Parker

“Since I was seventeen I thought I might be a star. I’d think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix… I had a romantic feeling about how these people became famous.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat

 
 

Bird on Money, 1981

The painting is an homage to one of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s heroes, jazz saxman Charlie Parker. Rather than a conventional portrait, Basquiat portrays Parker as a chicken, or yardbird, which was one of the musician’s nicknames. It’s painted in a loose, neo-expressionist style the artist helped pioneer in the 1980s.

“Para Morir,” in the bottom right, means “to die.” At left, the words “Green Wood” are set above a diagram for Green-Wood Cemetery, located in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the artist was born in 1960, collector Mera Rubell told a Raleigh, N.C., reporter in an article. That is not where Parker is buried but, eerily, it’s where Basquiat was laid to rest seven years after he made this painting.

 
 

CPRKR, 1982

 
 

Charles The First, 1982

 
 

Discography I, 1983

 
 

Horn Players, 1983

The “ORNITHOLOGY” of Basquiat’s Horn Players references a Charlie Parker composition of the same name, a song that Eric Lott’s has called “the national anthem of bop”. But Ornithology is a reproduction and repetition of the jazz standard How High the Moon, but in its repetition of it and reproduction of it, Parker creates something new, a new sound, a new music born from iteration that is anything but silent.

 
 

Arm and Hammer II, 1984

The one on the right – Warhol’s – is a faithful reproduction of the iconic logo, with a beefy arm brandishing a hammer, while on the right, Basquiat presents Charlie Parker with a saxophone at his lips as the logo’s centerpiece.

 
 

Bird of Paradise, 1984

 
 

Untitled (Estrella), 1985

 
 

Now’s the Time, 1985

 
 

To listen to Charlie Parker’s Now is the Time, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228