Last week, Jay-Z performed “Picasso Baby,” a track off his new album, “Magna Carta … Holy Grail,” at New York’s Pace Gallery. He lip-synched the song to a small crowd for six hours, part video shoot, part performance art.
Jay has positioned this record as art on par with classical and modern works of all mediums. The cover references a 16th-century sculpture by Italian artist Battista di Domenico Lorenzi, and “Picasso” is stuffed with enough art-world name-drops to surprise me with the rapper’s legitimate passion for the stuff. He’ll also create six works to accompany the record’s release.
This was the first, even if it was kinda stolen. Three hours into Jay’s performance, Marina Abramovic showed up and pressed her forehead to his, as big an art blessing as he could hope for. She invented endurance-as-performance; in 2010, she sat silently for 736 hours at the Museum of Modern Art for “The Artist Is Present.”
Jay-Z has been raising rap’s game since his 1996 debut, “Reasonable Doubt.” He gets respect because he’s real. He hustled hard to get to this place, which could be off-putting in its weird bravado but isn’t. It’s transformation and experimentation. It’s art.