- A genre-hopping tribute to Jean-Michel Basquiat.
- There's a phoenix-like quality to how Jean-Michel Basquiat gets continuously revived in the art of others. The New York painter and graffiti artist died in 1988, just as hip-hop was getting its footing in the mainstream, but rappers—Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Nipsey Hussle—drop his name more than any other visual artist. Basquiat was embedded in the freewheeling music scene of '80s New York. There was his cameo appearance as a DJ in Blondie's 1981 "Rapture" video, the first hip-hop video to ever be shown on MTV. Fab 5 Freddy apparently taught him the art of sampling. He started a noise band called Gray, which didn't release a debut album until their reunion, after Basquiat's death. Whatever the medium, Basquiat incorporated underground aesthetics with biting political commentary and a wink of humour.
Untitled is a new compilation featuring seven songs inspired by Basquiat's legacy. Jointly released by the DJ and radio producer Anja Ngozi, the music outreach platform Lonely Table and The Vinyl Factory, the producers took a community-oriented approach without compromising on quality. Every track is a collaboration between artists from the London underground. The meeting of so many different perspectives could have turned out an eclectic and unfocused body of work, but it mostly isn't. That might've been the case if this was just a bunch of odes to Basquiat. Instead, the musicians use his life and myth as an opportunity to comment on enduring struggles for artists on the edge of society. The compilation feels like a well-executed collage, the different source materials falling into just the right places.
It opens with the neo-soul track "Legend," with lyrics exploring the space between man and myth, with the chorus: "I'm not real—I am a legend." When artists start getting attention, how do they find inspiration free from the hype? The rapper Lex Amor serves up a few acerbic verses as counterweight to Ego Ella May's smooth crooning. The dub-and-jazz "No Gangster," produced by Kz and featuring Kojey Radical and Shabaka Hutchings, gets how a meteoric rise to fame will inevitably attract negative energy, from critics to leeches: "They gonna hate me when I'm here, they gonna hate me when I'm dead. Take, take, take, but there soon be nothing left."
"Know Ways" sees Lord Tusk and Roxanne Tataei riffing on the no wave sound, with retro synths, a growling bassline, and banshee-like vocals. It's such a good impression that it sounds a bit dated, making it less coherent with the rest of the more contemporary tracks.
There are other genre jumps. The compilation finishes with an ambient track by Maxwell Owin and Coby Sey. Without lyrics or clearly identifiable instruments, it's hard to find a direct reference to Basquiat's life and work. Its repeated themes do recall the way Basquiat worked—repeating visual motifs and (often obscured) words on his paintings that come off as a code that needs to be cracked. Its whispering layers sound ghostly. Perhaps the best way to conclude a tribute, it's a nod to how the work of one can outlive its maker and echo in the minds of so many.
01. Wu-Lu, Lex Amor, Ego Ella May - Legend
02. LayFullstop, Moroka, AJ Kwame - Broadcast By Chocolate
03. Lord Tusk - Know Ways feat. Roxanne Tataei
04. Kojey Radical, Shabaka Hutchings - No Gangster
05. Mala, Joe Armon-Jones, Nubya Garcia - Scratch & Erase
06. =CoN+KwAkE= - Same Ol Samo
07. Maxwell Owin & Coby Sey - Response To Michel