Last night on HBO, Jay-Z debuted the short film/video for "Picasso Baby," one of the better tracks on his maligned Magna Carta... Holy Grail, compiled from clips of his six-hour performance art spectacle at a New York art gallery in July, and the rapper's earning equal amounts of praise and scorn for his efforts.
The video, directed by Mark Romanek, was filmed in a single afternoon while Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z, performed "Picasso Baby" at Chelsea's Pace Gallery for six hours straight as part of a performance art piece last month. The move was inspired by Marina Abramovic, who makes an appearance in the video. Dressed in a white shirt, with a Roc-a-Fella chain around his neck and a crowd surrounding him, Jay rapped the song over and over and over again, giving a new performance and spin on the track, to a different person every time.
The video is littered with bold faced names: The Smurfs star Alan Cumming, the godfather Fab Five Freddy, director Jim Jarmusch, and The Wire actor Michael K. Williams all make appearances. There was also a weird connection to HBO's Girls, with Judd Apatow, Adam Driver and Jemima Kirke showing up. And, of course, there were the art world heavy hitters: Lawrence Weiner, critic Jerry Saltz, and the aforementioned Abramovic, to name a few.
Whereas Jay drew some criticism within the music world for his stunt, the video has been warmly received so far. Complex highlighted the spontaneity afforded by the live performance. "Jay is clearly having fun, feeding off the energy of the crowd that surrounds him, writes Dharmic X. "At one point, he even forgets a line, distracted by the woman sitting in front of him on the bench, but manages to play it off smoothly." The Smoking Section's Raj praised Jay for pushing the "new rules" he kept talking about while promoting the album. "Overall, it’s another great step for the genre, as Hip-Hop keeps stepping further and further away from the conventional album release and marketing cycle," he says. The reaction from the Twitter cognescenti was mixed, though:
in the end, jay z's "performance art" is only semi embarrassing, if you ask me. http://t.co/SRv7MeTbkS— brian boucher (@briankboucher) August 3, 2013
Jay Z should've filmed Picasso Baby in the Rain Room and allowed people to kill two birds with one stone.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) August 3, 2013
Jay's Picasso Baby vid is fine? It mostly just makes me feel uncomfortable…like watching yr dad interact with Jay Z http://t.co/UyZuZXEZuh— Lindsey Weber (@lindseyweber) August 3, 2013
Alright, I'll admit it: Jay-Z's "Picasso Baby" video/art-thing is actually pretty cool: http://t.co/ax9sLxymPL— Kenny Hsu (@kennycity) August 3, 2013
The video's most interesting parts come before and after the music video, when Jay is speaking about the similarities between hip-hop and art, and your typical stadium concert and an intimate performance art piece. The lines have officially been blurred, no thanks to Robin Thicke.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.