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By Christine Obiamalu


Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. he first achieved fame as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s, where rap, punk, and street art coalesced into early hip-hop music culture. By the 1980s, his neo-expressionist paintings were being exhibited in galleries and museums internationally. Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a tool for introspection and for identifying with his experiences in the black community of his time, as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism. Basquiat's visual poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.

Basquiat has long had hip-hop ties. In 1981, he popped up at the turntables in the first rap video to air on MTV, for Blondie’s “Rapture.” In fact, he appears at Debbie Harry’s lyrical mention of Fab Five Freddy as a prominent graffiti artist, and also the primary curator during hip-hop’s formative days. By 1983, when MTV introduced the world to hip-hop with its movie Wild Style, Fab Five Freddy had orchestrated events that featured Basquiat alongside formative hip-hop artists like Afrika Bambaataa — having New York’s arts and music worlds collide.


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