VIBE’s own Datwon Thomas shadowed Jay-Z on the “Picasso Baby” music video set and witnessed Rosie Perez, a nearly stolen Roc-A-Fella chain and forehead kisses (not what you think)
On Wednesday (July 10), hip-hop's ruling statesmen, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, conducted one of the best artist/fan interactive experiences ever. The CEO of the Roc held an open video shoot for celebrities and regular folk alike for Magna Carta Holy Grail’s hard-edged homage to high-end art "Picasso Baby," at West Side Manhattan’s Pace Gallery.
After making way through a hectic but organized series of sign-in check-points (at three separate building locations, no less), I was finally inside the spacious white-walled art space. The energy of the crowd was restrained spasticness. Roped off along the wall's edge, the 100 or so rotating group of participants didn't know what to expect from the minimalist set. A single 20-by-20 foot, slightly elevated platform served as a stage and a short wooden bench in front of it were focal points. That is until the man himself emerged from a back door as the deep-toned intro piano loop stabbed the speakers with brute force. Upon viewing the rap God -- dressed in a short-sleeved white shirt buttoned to the neck, the iconic gold Roc-A-Fella pendant resting on top, black slim cut light leather pants and pristine white suede high-top Converse sneakers -- fans beamed smiles and wide-eyed excitement.
In one spontaneous moment, Jay grabs me and fellow scribe Shaheem Reid from the crowd, hands me a super-small video recorder (very espionage-like) and asks me to tape “everything that’s going on. Especially when I wave the crowd in. Get all of that.” Shocked, I oblige and for the duration of the six-hour shoot commence to becoming part video director and part documentarian, as I interview guests and capture all the happenings during, in-between and in the green room where Jay took breaks.
Feeling the energy from the people, Jay preceded to interact with everyone in attendance as he floated around the area, bringing his face inches away from his fans -- he even kissed one woman on the cheek as he rapped. Grabbing shoulders, shaking hands, play-fighting, Diddy bopping, performing Kid-N-Play’s famous kick step dance with a gentleman that forgot to do the spin part at the end (which Jay had to show him), was all part of Jay-Z's fun-loving act in every scene. The most notable aspect of the exhibition is that the as-yet-unreleased video already exists in countless Vines and Instagram video snippets, each in perspectives that varied from guest to guest. In essence, it was a real-time music video.
Celebrities weren't treated any different in this free-wheeling atmosphere. The wooden bench served as the meeting spot for Jay to spit his lyrics directly in the faces of movie producer Judd Apatow (who took a hilarious selfie while Jay rhymed in the shot), famous painters (Kehinde Wiley), respected street artists (Fab Five Freddy) and movie stars (Rosie Perez, Michael K. Williams, Taraji P. Henson). But the most profound moment came when Jay and Marina Abramović -- the visual performance artist who inspired this interactive set with her MoMA residency, The Artist is Present -- had a dance of the minds as Abramović pressed her forehead against Jay’s and lead him around the gallery floor. The spirited waltz was definitely a highlight of the display. “That was intense!” Jay tells me after the showdown, still in his natural cool. “It was like she was about to make me levitate out there. Kinda crazy.”
The scene in his green room, where Jay rested between performances, was cool and calm. He changed into a loose white tee and lounged on a leather sofa with virtually no entourage (save for a cameo by Roc Nation management’s no. 1 seller Wale.) Small talk and quick jokes were rampant, until a five-minute lull in the banter spread over the room like a patch of clouds. Everyone’s beak was in their phones, until Wale jumped up and stated, “No one talks to each other anymore! It’s all about seeing what everybody else is doing on your phone. Until you need a charger…that’s when you’ll talk to somebody that’s in your presence.” And the “Bad” rapper was so right, after his funny mini rant, everyone including Jay started up conversations again.
Since it’s been billed as “Jay-Z performs ‘Picasso Baby’ for six hours straight,” there was never more than a 25-minute or so break in between the tapings. Each time, after two takes, the crowd was replaced with another fevered and diverse group of Jay fans. They screamed things like “Hey Jay!” His response, “Hey to you!” Anything he said back was met with “ohhhs,” “ahhhs” and rounds of laughter. He let one young kid wear his Roc-A-Fella chain (“That little dude almost ran off with it!” he joked), and allowed the antsy crowd to get as close as possible every time Timbaland’s beat switched (“Come on y’all, crowd around… OK, that’s close enough, haha”).
The set was truly this organic community of good vibes and shared enjoyment. There was one unusual pause in the action when the power went down for some of the equipment. To fill the awkward silence of the crowd just looking at Jay like a piece of art for real, he asked, “Does anybody have any cool or unusual talents to do here?” After a brief initial shock, the shouts of “I can dance! I can sing!” all rushed Jay and he picked a beautiful young woman with wild hair to sing. She walked over to the same stage Jay had been on and as Jay watched from the bench she belted out an amazing rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Who’s Loving You.” She was showered with nothing but cheers, claps and praises of acclaim, including a big, approving hug from Hov.
Overall, the throng of fans, friends and famous folks had a gem of an experience as Jay presented himself as a piece of art that was mobile, engaging and energized by their excitement. It’s rare that someone of his status would take the time to have this special connection to the people in this way. Let’s hope that this experience is continued in the other “works of art” he has planned for this album roll out that he mentioned on his Twitter timeline stint last week.