'Now Royalty', Rappers Portrayed as Kings and Queens by Street Artist Kay

Written by | May 6, 2012 0:09 | No Comments

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If Velazquez were alive today, whom would he be painting? We don’t have kings and queens anymore (I am talking about the US), and obviously our new royalty consists of Jay-Z, Kayne, Drake, Notorious BIG, Tupac, P Diddy… At least, this is the idea behind this new exhibit ‘NOW ROYALTY’ by street artist Kay Aspire, at Guetta Gallery in West Hollywood.

I had the chance to take a look, and it is some impressive work, with large Renaissance-style oil-paintings portraits, exactly like the ones you see in art museum, except that you can recognize your favorite rappers in each of them. They are all there, in the most classical positions, proudly riding a horse, holding a big sword, the right hand on the stomach or on the hips, wearing armors or big velvet clothes with puffy sleeves and giant collars, like royalties…

I recognized Kayne West on his horse, Ice Cube, pink-hair Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dog with an enormous sword, Little Wayne, 50 cents, Tupac with a giant sword (may be to kill whoever murdered him) and surrounded by three minstrel women holding triangle and tambourine, Jay-Z and Beyonce ignoring each others on the same big piece and looking more king-queen-like than the real ones (and this is a hard thing to accomplish), Will Smith and his wife, Run DMC, still wearing their gold chains and signature hats, Drake, P. Diddy, Rick Ross, Eazy E with his Crompton cap…. All looking magnificent. The only exception was Eminem dressed up like a monk with an awful beard and a saint aureole! Eminem must have a special place in the painter's rap pantheon.

And yes, there was another big exception, in fact, what was Michael Jackson doing in the middle of all these rappers? The King of pop (kind of redundant considering the theme) was the subject of a great piece, actually featuring seven Michael at different stages of his ever-changing physique, and I found he was the only one who did not look like an anachronism,… wasn’t Jackson dressing like this in real life anyway?

They didn’t let me take photos unfortunately, but I found some pictures on line nevertheless. I know very little about Kay, who is famous for street art hijacking brands in order to carry a strong anti-smoking or anti-drinking or anti-consumerism message (Malboro/Morons, American/Bankruptcy express, Camel/cancer, Absolute/Abysmal vodka).

But why these portraits now? This is what Kai had to say to the OC Weekly about it:

These artists were an inspiration for me. When I started making street art I was listening to them, listening to their lyrics and a lot of them fight for the people. And, so they just became an inspiration to me, just being them [in the musical context]. But as I started to study them, and understand who they were [and are], I realized that the way they walked, the way they spoke, the way they dressed, and the way they paraded around town, they paraded like kings and noblemen, so I decided to portray them that way.’

‘I'm hoping people will see the strength in them and want to know more about them. I know why they each were an inspiration to me, but you can't see what's in my mind and I can't see what's in yours. So, this way people can see what's inspiring about them and want to learn more.’

Funny, I was seeing this more like a mockery than anything else, but what do I know, his Eminem piece was just bought by,…. Marshall Bruce Mathers himself! Kai, painter of the kings, selling to the kings, a very Velazquez thing to do indeed.


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