James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, © James Turrell, photo © Florian Holzherr

Rap's Art Connoisseurs

October 27, 2015
Katie Antonsson, USC Annenberg Journalism Fellow

The internet buzzed with speculation when Drake's latest music video for "Hotline Bling" dropped—to many, the multicolored backgrounds that bathe the singer in saturated light looked an awful lot like a James Turrell piece. Drake has drawn inspiration from Turrell in the past and has been vocal about his appreciation of the artist's work. In 2014, Drake rather infamously instagrammed himself in Breathing Light at LACMA's James Turrell retrospective. He's been quoted in Rolling Stone as being influenced by Turrell, specifically the visuals for his "Would You Like a Tour?" tour in 2013.

Last week, Turrell himself put the rumors to rest with a short statement: “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f*cks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the Hotline Bling video.”

Top row and bottom left: Drake in James Turrell's Breathing Light at LACMA; bottom right: still from "Hotline Bling"; all images via @champagnepapi on Instagram

This is just the latest in a series of crossovers between the hip hop and art worlds in the past few years, with musicians and producers drawing inspiration from fine art or even directly collaborating with artists. This overlap of hip hop and art is a rich intersection, one that has been heightening the vision and work of artists on both sides.

Kanye West has been known for his involvement with the art world essentially since his debut. His fascination with art really took off with 808s and Heartbreak (2008) with his album design from KAWS. Next, George Condo created the infamous five separate covers for My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy (2010) and Kanye's been in collaboration with him since the album. Most notably, Ye's latest album Yeezus (2013) was heavily inspired by Le Corbusier's work. He was spotted at the Louvre's furniture show several times in 2013, and has cited a certain Le Corbusier lamp as his main inspiration for Yeezus. In the spring of 2015, Kanye collaborated with Steve McQueen to shoot a nine-minute film of the Grammy winner's "All Day/I Feel Like That." In July, LACMA presented the US premiere of the film, shot in one take, as a pop-up installation that was on view for only four days.

Jay-Z name-drops artists—both contemporary and classic—in his lyrics on nearly every album, and his affection for modern and contemporary art is part of his aura. In 2013, Hova integrated a six-hour performance of "Picasso Baby" at the Pace Gallery in New York, inspired by Marina Abramović's The Artist Is Present at the Museum of Modern Art. He's featured Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami in his music videos and references Rothko, Picasso, and Basquiat throughout his music. 

In 2012, Pharrell started a YouTube show called "ARTST TLK," where he sat down with renowned artists for informal and illuminating discussions about the artists and their works. There were 12 episodes in total throughout the series, featuring artist such as KAWS and Jeff Koons. He's also collaborated with Takashi Murakami and co-curated an exhibition in Toronto on the intersection of toys and art.

While Drake broke nearly every rule for interacting with these immersive piece, we encourage you to come to LACMA and experience James Turrell's Breathing Light, which reopens on October 31. But, please, take off your Timbs first.