Tuesday, 23 April 2024

The Story behind ‘Basquiat’ off Asake’s “Work of Art” album

References are made all the time in music, in outright mentions, through similitude, symbolism, or metaphors. References to past things, mainly iconic people, are mentioned in lyrics, or sometimes a song or project is themed after them. A popular example is “23” by Burna Boy, which is themed after the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan.

Basquiat & Asake's 'Work of Art'  cover
Basquiat & Asake’s ‘Work of Art’ cover

Our view on this article is that Asake is theming his new album “Work of Art” around Jean-Michel Basquiat. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was a trailblazing American artist known for his raw, expressive paintings that merged street art, graffiti, and fine art. Rising to prominence in the 1980s New York art scene, Basquiat tackled themes of race, identity, and social commentary in his work. With bold brushwork, vivid colors, and symbolic imagery, Basquiat’s art continues to captivate audiences, challenging conventions and leaving a lasting impact on contemporary art. Despite his untimely death at the age of 27, his legacy as an iconic figure of the neo-expressionist movement and an influential voice in the art world was already cemented.

Beginning with the obvious references, the album cover is based heavily on Basquiat. Asake is dressed formally, a dressing style predominant in pictures of Basquiat, his hair is styled similarly to Basquiat’s, and he is holding a paintbrush; making obvious references to Basquiat as a painter. Behind him are two art pieces by Ayanfe Olarinde (a Nigerian artist): a painting called “Now I know why birds fly” and a portrait of Basquiat. The paintings imitate the style used by Basquiat in his paintings.

Moving on to the title of the album, “Work of Art”, this is another obvious reference, as Basquiat is a renowned icon in the art world worldwide. Track 6 on the album is titled “Basquiat”, where he sings:

“Walking poetry, I am greater

I’m a work of art, Basquiat”

This highlights another part of Basquiat’s life, as many of us know him as a painter, but he was also a poet. Asake’s metaphor comparing himself with Basquiat is notable on many levels. He is known for clever lyrics, which places him on the level of a poet (like Basquiat). He is also known to be a revolutionary artiste, peculiar to his own sound, and carrying it boldly despite critics, again like Basquiat.

Finally, there are more subtle references to Basquiat on “Work of Art”. The placement of the track “Basquiat” on the album is on track six, with the album dropping in June, the sixth month. This might not seem like much, but there are some recurrences of the number 6 in Basquiat’s life. First, Basquiat’s birth year was 1960, which contains a six, or a second six if the 9 is flipped (hypothetically). Also, his recorded number of paintings totals to just over 600, another appearance of the number 6. Lastly, one of his most iconic works is called “6 Crimee”, a painting that is still being interpreted by art critics to this day. Kudos to Asake and his A&R team for this brilliant, subtle Easter egg.

Apart from being immensely talented, Asake is also very clever. This “Work of Art” is a testament to that. Many of us Nigerians have a better knowledge of the legend Basquiat, all thanks to Asake.

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