100 Years Removed: Comparing Impressionists artists to Hip Hop artists of today

Updated: May 6

A few years ago I began intensely studying Impressionists artists, how their movement began, and why it was so groundbreaking. The more I researched the more I began to appreciate not only their artistry, but the ins and outs of the artists themselves, and their life events and experiences. This led me to become infatuated with the scenes they were painting, as they were truly a reflection of these artists’ realities. For a little background, Impressionism is an art movement that came to prominence in the 1870s in Paris. It began as a rebellion of traditional idealized paintings that were popular at the time.

The artists working in the Impressionist genre wanted to use their paintings to describe accurate human perception of movement and light, as well as to depict real-life human subject matters. These artists wanted to paint the world as they saw it – from their physical surroundings (forests, mountains, train stations, etc.) to the people that played parts in their lives (their party-goer friends, children, significant others, common citizens, sex workers, government officials, you name it).

The comeuppance of the Impressionist movement reminded me of why I am infatuated with certain contemporary Hip-Hop artists. From the roots of Hip-Hop (starting in the 1970s in New York City) to the current landscape, I found a number of connections between these two genres and the artists that make them so special. Elements such as their artist influences, interests, life occurrences, and approaches to making art, were all parallel to one another.

I’ll be creating a series of profiles that compare the artists of these genres called: 100 Years Removed.

1. Manet/Nas

Full Name: Édouard Manet

B: 23 January 1832 (Paris)

D: 30 April 1883 (Paris)

Essential Piece: Olympia (painting)

Full Name: Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones

B: September 14, 1973 (New York City)

Essential Piece: Illmatic (album)

Similarities: Both of these artists are trailblazers as well as forefathers within their specific cultural niches.

In Manet’s day, his work was quite the controversy. During a time in which romanticized paintings were the norm, Manet yearned to paint realistic reflections of life. When he submitted his piece Olympia to the Paris Salon, some critics were so offended they almost destroyed it! Talk about a curator’s nightmare… The piece depicted a nude prostitute which was not a very “politically correct” figure to paint, let alone submit with the intent to be displayed at the highest art institution of its day.

After receiving so much backlash Manet became fed up with the establishment and those that played within that arena. One time Manet confronted a journalist about a piece that had been written about his work and shortly after describing his dissatisfaction, he slapped the journalist!

This sort of “outlandish” behavior paired with the subject matter of his work is what drew younger painters at the time to Manet’s work. Artists like Monet and Renior credit Manet for really setting the tone and giving them the confidence to try out their own artistic desires (which led to the Impressionist Movement).

In the culture of Hip-Hop, Nas’ introductory album Illmatic and his following projects, It Was Written, and I Am... helped to re-shape Hip-Hop’s landscape for years to come. His influence on rap music through his vast vocabulary, wordplay, and slower-than-average flow can be heard throughout the genre after his rise. Another aspect that set him apart from his peers at the time were the concepts and themes within his songs.

His raps showcased how extremely conscious he was of his surroundings. His music reflected his views on poverty, religion, internal struggles, and relationships with his peers. The ways in which he paired those subject matters with the vivid depictions of how he was consumed with the anti-establishment "street life", illustrated a duality that was not represented at the time. This is evident is his song “Life’s a B****” in-which in he says:

When I was young, I used to do my thing hard.

Robbing foreigners, take their wallets, they jewelry,

Rip their green cards,

Dipped to the projects flashing my quick cash

and then later in the song says

I switched my motto, instead of saying ‘f*** tomorrow’

That buck that bought a bottle could've struck the lotto”.

Connection: Much like Nas, Manet was influenced by the “masters” that came before him, but it was their desire to add their own touch of reality to their artwork that caused a tipping point in each of their respected art forms. Some of the biggest hip-hop acts from Jay-Z to J. Cole acknowledge Nas as being one of their major influences. After Illmatic was released there was a shift in Hip-Hop that would influence the genre even to this day. Much like Manet’s experience after creating Olympia, sometimes certain artists have to walk so that others can run.

2. Monet/Lil Wayne

Full Name: Claude Monet

B: November 14, 1840 (Paris)

D: December 5, 1926 (Giverny, France)

Essential Piece: Impression, Sunrise (painting)

Full Name: Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.

B: September 27, 1982 (New Orleans)

Essential Piece: Da Drought 3 (mixtape)


Creating art at an early age:

At the age 5, Monet knew he wanted to be an artist and at the age of 11 he was enrolled in art school. Similarly, Lil Wayne began his rap career at the age of 13 when he signed to Cash Money Records. So, from a very young age they were studying and learning from the artists that came before them. For Monet, it was Manet that was one of his biggest influences - for Lil Wayne, it was Jay-Z. By learning from these masters, each Monet and Lil Wayne were both able to craft their own supremely unique style.

Influence on a generation (and generations to come)

Taking a look at the landscape now, we can see the artists that were directly influenced by these two.

Impressionism, in which Monet is credited as the true "founder", had a direct influence on how Modern Art was created, and indirectly still influences how art is made to this day. By shifting from a romanticized view of the world, Impressionism emphasized showing art as a more truer reflection of life. We see that in a number of other movements that brought us artists such as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso.

In Hip-Hop culture: from the fashion to the exorbitant amount of tattoos, Lil Wayne's influence cannot be denied. Just take a look at the Billboard charts - some of the top selling artists including Drake, Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, and Lil Baby have all been quoted claiming that Lil Wayne is either their favorite rapper and/or their style has been heavily influenced by him.

We have seen Lil Wayne's influence go beyond individual rappers and span into somewhat of its own genre and how artists are now releasing music. He was the first artist to drop excessive amounts of music on websites such as DatPiff, LiveMixtapes, Spinrillo, and other platforms that were big at the time.

Long before people were releasing albums that only took them a week to make, Lil Wayne was releasing mixtapes full of "throw away" songs and freestyles over other people's beats. He revolutionized the way artists release music - and he was a bit ahead of his time. Whether commercially or non-commercially released, Wayne realized that it is important to feed fans as much as possible. And we've seen artists such as Gucci Mane, Curren$y, and Future follow suit. Lil Wayne easily has over a few thousand songs floating around on the internet.

Important style of making art

Monet's paintings had very short brush strokes which gave much of his work a "sketch-like" look to them and they were done fairly quickly (comparatively, of course). This style in which he was created was very unconventional at the time.

The styles in which Lil Wayne coined, were also very unconventional at the time of his reign as well. Fresh out of the early 2000s extremely commercial Hip Hop scene, Lil Wayne's "A Milli", the second lead single from his album Tha Carter III, was a "freestyle". For those that aren't aware, a freestyle is a type of Hip Hop song that does not include a chorus, a bridge, or any other conventional rap-song elements besides a consistent beat and an artist rapping non-stop. Prior to this song, no one would have imagined a freestyle being a leading single let alone a song you may hear at a party to this day. Since then we've seen it time and time again - artists' freestyles having HUGE commercial success, such as Kodak Black's "No Flocking", Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow", and Meek Mill's "Intro".

BONUS: Both had a thing for Japanese fashion

Around the time of Lil Wayne's Tha Carter II album, he could be seen wearing lots of A Bathing Ape or just simply "BAPE" clothing - a Japanese clothing brand conceived in 1993. Around 2005/2006 Lil Wayne was known to be seen wearing BAPE constantly and it even started a rap beef that has continued into today's Hip Hop.

Monet has an "impressive collection of Japanese Ukiyo-e wood block prints" and even painted his wife in a Japanese kimono in his 1876 painting, La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume).

Connection: From an early age, both Monet and Lil Wayne knew they wanted to be artists - this played a huge role in their longevity within their respected genres. They both learned from the masters and became forefathers of the generation of artists to come after them.