100 Years Later: Comparing Impressionists artists to Hip Hop artists of today
Updated: Jul 8, 2020
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.
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.
Full Name: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
B: February 25, 1841 (France)
D: December 3, 1919 (France)
Essential Piece: Luncheon of the Boating Party (painting)
Full Name: Shawn Corey Carter
B: December 4, 1969 (Brooklyn, NY)
Essential Piece: Blueprint (album)
Jay Z, an avid art collector himself (Owning pieces by Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Jean Michael Basquit, Rothco, Derrick Adams, and David Hammonds) has had a career like Renior for a few different reasons.
Vividly depicting their playboy lifestyles through their art:
One of Jay-Z’s biggest hit songs is Big Pimpin’ in which he says:
“We doin', big pimpin', we spendin' cheese. Big pimpin', on B.L.A.D.'s” (BLAD's are large chrome car rims).
All of this was evident by the huge yacht they shot the video on. He also has other fly lyrics in his song such as:
“Ain't no platinum in those Cartiers, switch your frames, Ain't no manicures on board, then switch your plane…” in his song Imaginary Player. And “Viva, Las Vegas, see ya, later at the crap tables. Meet me by the one that starts a G up” in his song Can I Live.
Jay-Z is not shy to talk about his extravagant lifestyle (in one of his first official single, him and his crew went down to St. Thomas and shot the video on a yacht w/ loads of female companions and champagne.
Some of Renior’s most famous works involve his depictions of extravagant parties taking place in the south of France. Paintings such as Luncheon on the Boating Party and Bal du moulin de la Galette showcase his signature audaciously lush aesthetic which separated his work from many others at the time. Renoir had a fascination with showcasing real places where party-goers, businessmen, fashionistas, and artists all co-mingled. He even recruited models from the people that frequented these parties and places.
Keeping their minds on the money
Another aspect these two have in common is their yearn to break away from their partners in order to take their careers to the next level.
Although he was one of the founders of the Impressionist movement, Renior stopped showing with the Impressionists group in 1878 (four years after the groups' inaugural exhibition). In order to sustain himself financially, he once again began submitting his paintings to the Paris Salon (which went directly against the founding principles of the Impressionist movement) and painting commissioned works for patrons.
Jay-Z started Roc-A-Fella records with his two partners Damon Dash and Kareem Burke in 1995, but in 2004 he bought out his partners and stayed on to run the company himself. Roc-a-Fella became Roc Nation as Jay-Z took a step back from rapping in order to be an executive - giving him more longevity and an overall greater impact in the music industry. The label now has hugely successful commercial acts such as Rihanna and J. Cole and they manage some of the most popular up-and-coming acts such as Lil Uzi Vert and Megan thee Stallion.
Both artists have their critics, but in the end, they made their decisions based on longevity and the chance at great financial success - decisions that all artists have to make at some point.
Their careers almost went into a completely different direction
Because these two had other ambitions, their careers almost didn’t happen! Before Jay-Z decided to go full-time rapping he wanted to own and operate a record company. He is on record saying that he was only supposed to create one album and then he was going to be a record company executive. Luckily, for us music fans, that would not be the case.
Apparently, Renoir was an amazing singer and even earned a spot on Charles Gounod’s choir (Gounod is the compose of Ave Maria - internationally/generationally famous composition). He would have pursued singing as a career, but his family could not afford his musical education and, luckily for us, Renior felt that he wasn’t cut out to be a performer.
They both went to school other famous artists.
Jay-Z went to school with fellow hip-hop legends: Busta Rhymes, Notorious BIG, and DMX. They went to George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School (Brookyln, NY) in the 1980s. Renior attend École des Beaux-Arts with fellow Impressionists artists Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, and Claude Monet - you never know who you might meet while in school.
Connection: From their playboy lifestyles to their business acumen, these two are some of the most revered contributors to their respected genres. They are both MAJOR contributors in their field and their respected art forms wouldn’t be the same without them.
4. CeZanne/Gucci Mane
Full Name: Paul Cézanne
B: January 19, 1839 (France)
D: October 22, 1906 (France)
Essential Piece: The Card Players (painting)
Full Name: Radric Delantic Davis
B: February 12, 1980 (Bessemer, Alabama, U.S)
Essential Piece: The Burrprint (album)
“Gucci Mane… Gucci Mane… Gucci Mane” was the answer rapper iLoveMakonnen gave when asked who his largest musical influence was in an interview he did in 2014.
Gucci Mane’s influence in Hip Hop is one of which you can only appreciate once you realize all of the other artists he has helped along the way. The same things goes for Paul CeZanne. When artists such as Pablo Picasso call you “the father of us all”, your influence is undeniable.
These two artists have maybe have the most in common out of everyone else I am comparing this article and here’s how:
1. Influence on generations to come
Both of these artists have impacted their genres in ways that take a little while to truly be felt. In Gucci Mane’s case, from other hip hop artists to producers, the people he decided to shed light on have become some of hip hops brightest stars. For example, he had a direct influence on some of the hottest artists in the rap game right now including Young Thug and Migos – signing them to his 1017 rap label back in 2011.
He also worked directly with artists such as Future and Nicki Minaj before their careers jumped off – Gucci Mane collaborated with Nicki Minaj on numerous tracks including Coca Coca and Slumber party. Popular radio host Charlamagne tha God said in a 2013 interview with Gucci Mane “[collaborating with Gucci Mane is] "what got Nicki hot in the South, really hot period". Gucci Mane also collaborated with Future on an entire mixtape called “Free Bricks” back in 2011 (that was my introduction to Future).
Many other well-known acts can attribute some of their success to being part of the Gucci Mane tree including: producers such as Zaytoven, Mike Will made it, and 808 Mafia, and other Hip Hop artists including Young Dolph, Waka Flocka, PeeWee Longway, and Young Scooter.
Artistically, Gucci Mane is a trailblazer for the modern-day “trap” sound we now hear flooding the Billboard charts. The way he has been able to articulate his trap-star lifestyle while also being whimsical is a style that he essentially pioneered himself. All you have to do is listen to a song like “Nickoledeon” where he’s make interjecting cartoon characters while referencing his lifestyle (such as “Like Bugs Bunny, big money, I got a lot of carats, a shotgun like Elmer Fudd to kill these dirty wabbits”) or “Colors” when he describes a plethora of lavish items he owns and tells you their colors with each rhyme - for example:
"Green and golden Chevy same color as the Packers boots. Dark and patent leather seats, Mellow yellow bezel. Got the ground beef guts painted Hamburger Helper."
Combine this just the pure VAST amount of praised music he has released over his career (well over 1500 songs) and you can start to understand why he is so revered within the genre.
Just like Gucci Mane, CeZanne has been credited as having a huge influence on his peers and those that have come after him. Many of his Impressionist peers considered him a “genius” and many art historians credit him with inventing Modern Expressionism. His use of the palette knife during his “dark period” was monumental at the time, and his choice of color and brush strokes were studied heavily and somewhat birthed the cubist movement. Picasso was quoted calling CeZanne “my one and only master.”
It took me a while to understand why his work was so amazing at the time, but after studying, it makes sense to me now. He was able to depict space, while keeping a certain smoothness (or flatness) to his work – something that was not being done at the time. It’s crazy to think that a concept we are so used to know in contemporary painting at one point was unheard of.
Being considered an "oddball"
From an ice cream cone face tattoo to iced out diamond chains that replicate baking soda and a whisk, Gucci Mane has chosen some pretty outlandish ways to express himself. Gucci is acutely aware of how he’s viewed within the culture proclaiming “[I’m] Abnormal, nothing that I do is normal” on his song Normal and “Weirdo, weirdo, I'm a weirdo” on this song entitled … you guess it: “Weirdo”.
Gucci has referenced how he became a social recluse many times throughout his history for a few different reasons. Sometimes it would be a focus on honing in on skills needed to hustle. Other times it was in an attempt to protest himself from others (or vice versa).
"It's a lot of people scared of me and I can't blame 'em" - Gucci Mane
If you research Paul CeZanne, one characteristic you will always find when others describe is how introverted he was. It’s known that he was always introverted but as he entered into his 40s and into the latter part of his life, he painted mostly in isolation.
After 1877, he moved back to his hometown of Aix-en-Provence, France and would remain there until his death in 1906.
Being in almost complete isolation for over 20 years isn’t what most of us would consider typical. But I guess it helped him to make some of the most important work created in the last 100 years, so I guess he was onto something!