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Basquiat, hip-hop embraced by Museum of Fine Arts

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Basquiat, hip-hop embraced by Museum of Fine Arts
Rapper Cakeswagg, PHOTO: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston presented the streaming series “Hip-Hop Generations” on June 3 at 7 p.m., part of the Sound Bites: Nancy Lee Clark Concert Series. The concerts were staged in conjunction with the “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” exhibition and are now available on the museum’s new MFA Selects on-demand video platform to rent at $12 per show, with half of the proceeds from each concert going directly to the performers.

The fourth virtual concert features DJ Slick Vick, rapper Cakeswagg, and spoken word artist Bernadine sharing insights into their music and discussing their connection to hip-hop’s transformative power across generations, with host Arielle Gray from WBUR’s “The Artery.”

DJ Slick Vick. PHOTO: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The three previous concerts in the Sound Bites series included performances by rapper REKS, hip-hop recording artist and producer Billy Dean Thomas along with singer/songwriter and emcee RAYEL, and Boston hip-hop legend Edo G and bass player Brady Watt.

“Writing the Future” showcases the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and his peers and collaborators — A-One, ERO, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Keith Haring, Kool Koor, LA2, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee and Toxic — in paintings, sculptures, drawing, videos, music and fashion. Reflecting on that time, Fab 5 Freddy, who called from New York, said, “My intent really was obviously to be an artist myself and to express myself, but also I wanted to open that door and let more folks in coming from where I’m coming from. So that exhibit at the Boston MFA is an example of that.”

Pandemic stops and starts

The exhibition was set to open in April 2020 but was delayed in its opening until last October due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the MFA first closed its doors in March of last year, Makeeba McCreary, the Patti and Jonathan Kraft chief of learning and community engagement at the MFA, needed to figure out two things.

Spoken word artist Bernadine. PHOTO: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Speaking by phone, she explained that her thought process during that time was about, “How do we remain a part of the community and how do we continue to showcase what folks need to be able to see once they come back into the museum?”

After the museum’s reopening and eventual temporary closing, the MFA pivoted to a digital format in its programming, where elements of the exhibition such as images of artworks, wall texts, a curated Spotify playlist and video content were made available for exploration at www.mfa.org.

As a result, McCreary and her team were rewarded with a “Best of Boston” Award from Boston Magazine for digital programming in a cultural institution in Boston. It’s because her team was “willing to learn really fast and they kept to quality,” she said, adding, “Most of the digital programming was free, and it had to feel as rich and as polished as if you were walking through a gallery.”

Inspired by Basquiat

DJ Slick Vick, who had been tapped to DJ at the “Writing the Future” exhibit last May, was asked back to perform and to curate the June 3 concert. Slick Vick’s vision included having Cakeswagg and Bernadine on the line-up as well as using elements of hip-hop and music from the late 1970s and early 80s to create what she calls “an early hip-hop feel that really kinds of gets you into the zone; it gives you that feel, that raw feeling,” said the DJ in a recent Zoom interview with lyricist Cakeswagg.

Vick and Cakeswagg both knew about Basquiat, his artistry and connection to hip-hop. Slick Vick was first introduced to the American artist through the film “Downtown 81,” and was inspired by Basquiat because she felt, she said, “he was unapologetically himself.”

She continued, “He had to break many barriers, coming from a street artist doing graffiti, not necessarily embraced in the fine art realm of the art world. You just couldn’t ignore him.”

Cakeswagg said she appreciates Basquiat’s originality, how he stayed true to himself, and his evolution as a creator. He’s super important, she said, “because it reminds you that people gravitate towards that authenticity, they gravitate towards that raw truth, and it reminds me to be me.”

arts, Basquiat, Hip-Hop, MFA Boston, music

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