3 Times Jean-Michel Basquiat Intersected With Hip-Hop

3 Times Jean-Michel Basquiat Intersected With Hip-Hop

Published Fri, March 31, 2023 at 11:41 AM EDT

Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the world's most acclaimed artists.

Originally a Graffiti writer, his works have fetched hundreds of millions of dollars, and he is infinitely more popular today in death than he was in life. He's regularly name-dropped by some of Hip-Hop's wealthiest artists and MCs, and owning Basquiat's work is a status symbol. A music lover, producer, arranger, and DJ (at New York's famed Mudd Club), Basquiat was at the intersection of Downtown's art and punk rock scenes and Hip-Hop's burgeoning art and music movements Uptown. He was friends with Andy Warhol and Fab 5 Freddy. He hung out with MC and graffiti artist Rammellzee, and he dated Madonna. He had an eclectic taste in music and enjoyed and participated in many genres.

Here are three times that Basquiat intersected with Hip-Hop.

Beat Bop

1983's "Beat Bop" credited to Rammellzee VS K-Rob was released on Jean-Michel Basquiat's Tartown Records with an extremely limited run of only 500 copies. "Beat Bop" which is considered a holy grail rap record was produced and arranged by Basquiat. He created the iconic artwork for the record cover which is more sought after than the actual vinyl record.

A sealed copy of the original Tartown pressing fetched $126,000 at Sotheby's first Hip-Hop themed auction in 2020 after being estimated to fetch between $2,500-$3,500. The copy was owned by Profile Records co-founder Cory Robbins, who was given the record personally by Basquiat. According to Spin Magazine's "Basquiat's 'Beat Bop": An Oral History of One of the Most Valuable Hip Hop Records of All Time," "Beat Bop" was originally intended to be a rap battle between Jean-Michel and Graf writer Rammellzee. Because Jean-Michel's lyrics were less than satisfactory, the song "evolved into an experimental slow and spacey 10-minute track with Rammellzee and K-Rob on vocals.

Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the world's most famous artists. He had a painting that was auctioned off for $110 million a few years ago.

- Cory Robbins, Profile Records co-founder, to Rock The Bells

Profile Records reissued "Beat Bop" in 1983 (without the artwork) and Cory Robbins the label's co-founder told ROCK THE BELLS that the song didn't do well originally.

"It's worth a lot of money now, both the original Tartown pressing and the Profile pressings, but it didn't do well originally," he said. "Jean- Michel Basquiat is one of the world's most famous artists. He had a painting that was auctioned off for $110 million. Monica Lynch [former President of Tommy Boy Records] curates the Sotheby's auctions and she asked did I have anything that I'd like to put in, and I told her that I had one thing. Since we signed "Beat Bop" back in 1983 I have several sealed copies of the Tartown pressing that Jean gave me just to give DJs and for promotion, while the Profile Records were getting pressed up."

Robbins then goes on to reveal that he didn't want any money from the auction, he instead wanted the proceeds to be donated to one of his favorite organizations. "All the money that I received I wanted it to go to The Archive of Contemporary Music which is an organization that houses every record ever recorded. It's a nonprofit organization and the world's biggest record collection. They were in New York City and they recently lost their lease and had to move upstate. Their aim is to have two copies of every record ever recorded, and anything that they get over two is sold to help fund them."

The nasal delivery and nonlinear style of the late Rammellzee (who also appeared in Wild Style) on "Beat Bop" has greatly influenced many MCs, from the Beastie Boys to B-Real of Cypress Hill. The slow tempo and random echoes on the vocals of the song have been described as "dusted."

Beat Bop Rammellzee VS K Rob Beat Bop Rammellzee VS K Rob

Blondie's "Rapture" Video

Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and the members of Blondie all hung out with Graffiti artist Fab 5 Freddy, who like Basquiat, had one foot in the Downtown world and another in Hip-Hop. Freddy met Chris Stein, the guitarist for Blondie, through a public access television show called TV Party. Freddie was an ambassador of sorts just like his character Phade in Wild Style. The inspiration for "Rapture" was sparked when Freddy took Debbie to Webster Gym to see Grandmaster Flash spin. Flash told the New York Post, "I saw Freddy coming from the rear with somebody with blond hair. I just kind of froze."

Flash remembered his encounter with Debbie. “I’ve been staring at you for the past 20 minutes or so, and I must say, you are quite incredible on those turntables. I’ve never seen anything like that before,” he recalled her saying. “You know something? I feel so good about this, I’m going to make a record about you.”

Sixth months later, "Rapture" complete with its "Flash is fast Flash is cool" homage, was hitting the airwaves. Flash was unable to make the video shoot for the song, so Jean-Michel Basquiat plays the DJ in the video. Grandmaster Flash revealed that Sugar Hill Records prevented him from participating in the shoot.

"I wanted to be in that video so bad,” he said. “But the record label I was at wouldn’t allow me to appear in it... I was so angry … I was supposed to be in the video with Fab. Like, that was my moment. But my replacement was pretty good.”

Jean Michel Basquiat, Debbie Harry Jean Michel Basquiat, Debbie Harry

Debbie Harry, Jean Michel Basquiat

Downtown 81

Downtown 81 is a feature film starring Jean-Michel Basquiat and Anne Carlisle. The film, which was recorded in 1981, was released in 2000 and directed by Edo Bertoglio. The film's writer, Glenn O' Brien, was the producer of TV Party, the public access show where Fab 5 Freddy met Chris Stein and Debbie Harry of Blondie. Downtown 81 has been described as an "urban fairy tale" that chronicled the real-life subcultures taking place in New York's boroughs. In the movie, Jean-Michel has been evicted and is struggling in the streets of New York trying to sell his artwork. Along the way, he encounters Graffiti artists Fab 5 Freddy and Lee Quiñones as well as Debbie Harry. O'Brien called the film "an exaggeration of real life." Jean was actually homeless at the time of the movie's production, and proceeds from the film afforded him his first real supplies and an art studio that became his housing.

Production on Downtown 81 was abandoned due to financial problems, and Glenn O'Brien secured the rights to the film and released it in 2000. There were issues with the film's audio and Basquiat's voice had to be overdubbed after the completion of the film. There are many visuals of Hip-Hop in Downtown 81 including a scene where Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5's front man, Melle Mel, is rhyming over an instrumental of Blondie's "Rapture."

Graffiti artist and MC Kool Kyle The Starchild appeared as the MC in the scene, while DJ Sinbad mans the turntables. Kool Kyle told Rock The Bells that Fab 5 Freddy invited him to participate in the film.

"The movie was supposed to come out 5 months before Wild Style, but there were financial issues," he said. "A decade later when the digital age is here right before the internet blew up, they were re-doing the audio and the filmmakers couldn't find me. That's why I'm in the movie and they got Melle Mel to do a different set of vocals."

Check out the scene below.

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