Posted Aug 19th, 2015 (10:19 am) by Addison Herron-Wheeler
Yasiin Bey
Yasiin Bey

Yasiin Bey, the rapper formally known as Mos Def, has released a stunningly visual music video that simultaneously touches on current social issues and includes a lavish tribute to one of the world's finest artists.

Yasiin Bey's video for "Basquiat Ghost Writer" was recently dropped into the ether of the internet as a surprise release for our viewing pleasure. "Basquiat Ghost Writer" is abstract in nature, featuring a more beat, stream-of-consciousness style, paired with visuals of the famed artist Jean-Michel Basquiat working, politically charged imagery of violence and police brutality, and other abstract flashes - all rendered in an odd photo-negative style. The music is an off kilter mash of samples and beats, and the lyrics are more abstract than most would expect from a hip-hop track.

Of the video, which debuted today at A Country Called Earth, Bey stated: "Good tidings in this season of the lion. Black August action. Peace. Happy Wednesday morning. In commemoration of the birth week of one Marcus Garvey, herein is an arrangement of visuals for the sonic composition 'Basquiat Ghostwriter,' directed and produced by A Country Called Earth. Special thanks to I. Attallihi, J. Cuba and S. bin Sharifu. FREE THE LAND. We are already in outer space. The local time is always now. Free Shmurda. If you are reading this, you are already reading. We appreciateyuh. Negus. Eternal pedigree. Noble Empire. So real. Surreal. L T P F J. peace."

Right off the bat, I love Basquiat - one of my go-to films as a teen was the classic biographical picture Basquiat, so it's awesome to see the odd and tortured artist get his due in a rap video. For those who don't know, Basquiat was one of the great graffiti and street artists to make it big in the '80s when new wave, Andy Warhol, and other modernist forms of expression were big. His famed tag, SAMO, was seen all over the streets of New York. His politcal relevance cannot be overstated in this context, because he was African American who worked in a scene where most were white, yet many of his pieces dealt with the oppression of his race in America since the onset of slavery.

Bey works the themes that Basquait touched on into this video with grace, pairing them with more modern visuals of today and avant-garde lyrics such as, "Most young kings get their heads cut off," and "A lot of Bowery bums used to be executives." The resulting combination of these William S. Burroughs-esque lyrics, the strange, stop-start noise influenced beats, and the accompanying imagery, create a new art instillation that appears to be a continuation of Basquiat's work.

This creation is extremely notable for its style - I have always loved hip hop, but Mos Def and other political rappers were often too obvious for me. Directly stating social justice ills in literal English feels a bit cheesy in the context of hip-hop, and much of it ends up sounding the same. What Bey is doing now is taking all those ideals and instead presenting them as a work of art.

In light of recent protests and police brutality, this seems all the more topical. Basquiat's work was all about NOT sweeping the injustices done to African Americans under the rug as he operated in primarily white spaces and worked with artists who were ironically chiding consumerism and other social ills without touching on racial injustice. This ties directly to rap, and the work that politically current rappers do. They operate in an industry where hip-hop sells, but rather than sell out, they try and use their platform as a place to give voice to what they oppose.

Bey's latest video is as relevant as it is artistic, and pushes the boundaries of sound, art, and poetry. If this is any indication of the kind of hip-hop releases we will be seeing in the future, as the artistic and political sides of the genre collide, then we are in for one of the most interesting times in hip-hop history.

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