......Fame, symbolized by the crown, is offered as the only possible path to subjectivity for the black male artist. To be un-famous is to be rendered invisible. Therefore, one is without choice. You either enter the phallocentric battlefield of representation and play the game or you are doomed to exist outside history. Basquiat wanted a place in history, and he played the game. In trying to make a place for himself--for blackness--in the established art world, he assumed the role of explorer/colonizer. Wanting to make an intervention with his life and work, he inverted the image of the white colonizer.
Basquiat journeyed into the heart of whiteness. White territory he named as a savage and brutal place. The journey is embarked upon with no certainty of return. Nor is there any way to know what you will find or who you will be at journey's end. Braithwaite declares: "The unfortunate thing was, once one did figure out how to get into the art world, it was like, Well, shit, where am I? You've pulled off this amazing feat, you've waltzed your way right into the thick of it, and probably faster than anybody in history, but once you got in you were standing around wondering where you were. And then, Who's here with me?" Recognizing art-world fame to be a male game, one that he could play, working the stereotypical darky image, playing the trickster, Basquiat understood that he was risking his life--that this journey was all about sacrifice.
In September 2006, I wrote the following in my livejournal:
Niggers be holding them dicks too....white people go, "why you guys hold your things?" say "you done took everythign else, motherfucker" ---Richard Pryor
As painted by Ligon, the raw language and syntax of the joke contribute to a broader sense of impropriety. For starters, the joke was meant to be heard rather than read, listened to rather than looked at. Its humor flows in part from the cadence and logic of Pryor's delivery. Reconstituted as a text painting, the joke is distanced, though not entirely dissociated, from Pryor's voice. It is now the viewer who must mouth these words, whether silently or aloud, and thereby speak the rage barely veiled beneath their humor. The visual form of Cocaine (Pimps)—the tiny flecks of orange paint jumping off the letters, the force of the work's (off-)color—changes and recharges its language. A raunchy joke from an old Pryor album becomes, in Ligon's hands, an intricately painted surface of stencils, strokes, and smudges, a microworld of colored incident and inscription. The picture pays its respects to the beauty of Pryor's obscenity. (article by Richard Meyer for Artforum International, May 2006)
and, after reading it just sat there for a minute or more, frozen, taking in all of what it meant to me and the consequences of it that affect me as a Woman, a Black Woman, and a member of the Black community (all of these being different, having different meanings, but still part of the same...if that made sense anywhere outside my head)
...and i thought about my boys....my boys as in "my boys", brothers, you know, when we sit around playing spades, listening to Black Star or The Roots, quoting Malcolm X, mourning Assatta and Lil Bobby Hutton, renaming ourselves countless times like the day(s) when i was known as Amina Mercuric and it wasn't Shawn Jenkins but Naim Muhammed and we had a new identity, were validated in our recognition of each other by these secret names-- like how i read once how certain African and Native American tribes implemented the use of secret names....they'd have some random name like "Little Bird' or something but then a secret name their personal god only knew that they couldn't reveal or, apparently, would die. And it was the same for us. We couldn't let the world take our secret names, the names only we knew each other by and nodded, smiling...couldn't let them know those names because we knew we would die-- that new person we'd made would die because the world wouldn 't let us be that strong, that bright, that brilliant, shining like Ligon's "negro sunshine", not on the inside at least, though we shine on the outside, greased up, put on display, to be sold to the greedy masses based on their admitted acknowledgement of outer strength-- we can have that as long as they can manipulate it, that outer strength, as long as there's nothing inside, long as everything in there is broken and weak and dull and shitt...... like when it's asked, "why are we always so greasy? why are we always shining?" (and yall know it's true...we stay greasy...and note to [name omitted to protect]-- liek we were talking about yesterday, i think that's why they film those african/south american films [i.e. City of God, Blood Diamond, Amistad, etc.] like that cuz the grease and sweat gotta light up the screen)
...ANYWAY as i was saying....my boys, my "homies", brothas....my boys and my son...and my unborn sons i'll protect and fill with all the strength i've ever had, naming them after gods-- gods liek they are and always were....
and i was thinking about Nat Turner and how i'd read somewhere that they'd cut off his penis as they lynched him and, the myth goes, to this very day, some crusty white man has it preserved in his home, passed down to him or bought some other way. and i'm like "damn, they took that too..."
Jay-Z, in 2006, did a "freestyle" on Hot 97 which was actually five verses-- three of which were part of an unreleased song called "Most Kings", a tribute to Basquiat. The last two verses were supposed to have been on some mixtape. The second verse of this Hot 97 Freestyle ended up being the verse he did for Coldplay's song "Lost"...Interesting that the song/freestyle/whatever alluded to Michael Jackson's murder 3 years before it occurred. It is a prophecy because he speaks of MJ in the same lines as other dead/murdered/"suicided" artists who were ritually taken out. Since MJ was still alive when the freestyle was spit, by putting him in the context of other posthumous artists could only be a retrospectively poignant and/or creepy glimpse of MJ's future-- and his own, as he allegedly considers himself the King of Pop now, as "husband" to Beyonce, Queen of Pop.
Read his verse below:
Inspired by Basquiat, my chariots of fire
Everybody took shots, hit my body up, I'm tired
Build me up break me down to build me up again
They like "Hov we need you back so we can kill ya ass again"
Hov got flow, though he's no Big and Pac, but he's close
How I'm 'posed to win? They got me fighting ghosts...
Same sword the knight you they gon' "good night" [read: execute] you with
Shit, Thats only half if they like you
That aint even the half [of] what they might do
Dont believe me ask Michael
See Martin, see Malcolm
You See Biggie, see Pac, see success and its outcome
See Jesus, see Judas, see Caesar, see Brutus
See success is like suicide
Suicide is a suicide
If you succeed, prepare to be crucified
Media meddles, niggas sue you, you settle
Every step you take, they remind you, you ghetto
So its tough being Bobby Brown
To be Bobby then, you gotta be Bobby now
Now the question is, "Is to have had and lost
Better than not having at all?"
Everybody wanna be the King then shots ring
You layin on your balcony with holes in your dream
Or you Malcolm X'd out, get distracted by screams
Everybody get your hand off my jeans! **
**[an allusion to the infamous cry that interrupted Malcolm X's last speech and immediately preceeded his murder: "Get ya hand outta my pocket, nigga!"]
Everybody look at you strange say you changed
Uhh! Like you work that hard to stay the same
Uhh! Game stays the same the name changes
So its best for those to not overdose on being famous
Most kings get driven so insane
That they try to hit the same vein that Kurt Cobain did
??No dangers, so shameless??
Invited to the intersanctum of yo chambers
??Low chained em as the enemies approach??
So raise ya draw bridge and drown em in the moat
And the Spirit I'm evokin