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Hip Hop and High Art Collide in Jay Z’s PICASSO BABY by Mark Romanek

Jay Z and Marina Abramovic (PICASSO BABY)

Once upon a time Shawn Carter aka Jay Z contacted his 99 PROBLEMS music video director Mark Romanek for PICASSO BABY, the second track from his new album MAGNA CARTA…HOLY GRAIL.

Romanek whose work in the music video realm is the stuff of legend—Nine Inch Nails’ CLOSER and Johnny Cash’s HURT—had not directed a music video in ten years. You see, he’s been busy making feature films (ONE HOUR PHOTO and NEVER LET ME GO) as well as turning them down (WOLF MAN and CINDERELLA which Kenneth Branagh is now directing).

Having reinvented the music video in the 90s and early 2000s (and gotten kinda bored with it since), Mark Romanek was not interested in directing just another music video. But what of his buddy Jay Z’s predicament?

Mark Romanek (director): “When Jay said, “I’d like to do a music video for this song,” my reaction was kind of twofold: I wanted to work with him again, because we had just made the Samsung stuff, but I didn’t want to make a traditional music video because it felt uninteresting to me. So I was trying to think of something that would feel more of the moment—more spontaneous, more uncontrived—and I presented this idea to Jay of this performance-art piece in the mode of The Artist Is Present.

Music video, art film or performance art? 
PICASSO BABY is inspired by performance art pioneer Marina Abramovic’s intense and spiritual THE ARTIST IS PRESENT. Romanek sought Abramovic’s blessing before commencing work on Jay Z’s own performance art. In fact, so flattered was Marina Abramovic that she not only granted her consent but also showed up during the Jay Z shindig, along with a slew of celebrities including directors Jim Jarmusch and Judd Apatow; and actors Alan Cumming, Taraji P. Henson and Rosie Perez.  Continue Reading