Art

An Old Master Spin on Hip-Hop Video Bacchanals

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Naturally Born Strangers, clip from video “Jameson Ave” (2016) (GIF by the author for Hyperallergic)

With their paintings of bacchanalian revelry and swaggery Dionysus, Old Masters like Caravaggio, Poussin, and Rubens were a bit like the hip-hop videographers of their day. At least, that’s what Toronto-based rap trio Naturally Born Strangers suggests in their new music video for the track “Jameson Ave,” a song about getting “drunk and disorderly, chasing ass.” 

Directed by RT!, the video gives a hip-hop update to Old Master artworks: Shots of drunken partygoers are reimagined as Baroque paintings come to life. A scene of a naked woman prone on a crowded table echoes the composition of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”; topless dancers floating among clouds and marble columns recall the “Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel. The hook “Catch me on the corner of Jameson Ave./ Drunk and disorderly, chasing ass” is spoken here by rappers Rich Kidd, Tona, and Adam Bomb, but it could just as easily have been said by this creepy satyr giving a piggy-back ride to a nymph (1627) or wino Bacchus himself. And when the hungover narrator chants, “Bitch, gimme my sunglasses and Advil,” well, it’s not hard to hear those words coming from this pushy nude guy in a wreath

It’s not the first project to connect hip-hop and art history. Designer Cecilia Azcarate, on her blog B4XVI (which stands for “before the 16th century”), pairs pictures of rappers with historical sculptures, paintings, and statues from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. The visual similarities are uncanny: Hot Sugar looks like a baby-faced Jesus, a fur-clad Kanye West clearly copped the style of a young man in a 16th-century northern German painting. 

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Naturally Born Killers, still from video for “Jameson Ave” (2016) (all screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic)

With its tired “bitch/slut” refrain, “Jameson Ave” unfortunately rehashes the misogynistic tropes for which plenty of rap videos have been criticized in the past — but it offers a fresh spin on the genre with its inadvertent reminder that, like it or not, these are tropes as old as time, as pervasive in “highbrow” art history classes as they are in pop music.

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Naturally Born Killers, still from video for “Jameson Ave” (2016)
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Naturally Born Killers, still from video for “Jameson Ave” (2016)
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Naturally Born Killers, still from video for “Jameson Ave” (2016)
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