JAY Z IS FEATURED on the latest cover of T magazine, the New York Times style publication. A painting by Henry Taylor, the portrait of the rapper, music mogul, and business man illustrates a wide-ranging interview conducted by Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times.

The newspaper’s top editor doesn’t often stray from his leadership duties to contribute content. Beyond Baquet’s journalistic skills, the pairing was described by T magazine as “exceptional,” a rare dialogue between two black men who have proven superior in their respective fields, spaces dominated by white men. “Their conversation was, therefore, as much an interview as it was an exchange between peers…,” Hanya Yanagihara, wrote in her editor’s note for the issue.

Jay Z spoke to Baquet following the release of “4:44,” his recent album that just received eight Grammy nods, the most nominations for the 60th annual awards. With Baquet, he talked about exploring his life experiences in his music, being a black man in America, therapy, his marriage to Beyonce, raising children in a privileged environment, his mother’s sexuality, President Obama’s tenure in the White House, the impact of the Trump presidency on racial dialogue, politics in sports, O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, and more.

Asked whether having more money has changed his politics or made him more conservative, Jay Z says “No,” twice.

“No. No, because I believe in people. I want what’s best for people. I love people. You know, so I don’t have that sort of thing, like, I want to vote Republican just to save more money,” he says.

“That’s not the endgame. It’s not about who got more money and who got more houses. Yes, you know, you’ve earned it, buy what you want. …You know? But don’t forget what’s important. Without people, being rich would be very boring.”

“I believe in people. I want what’s best for people. I love people. You know, so I don’t have that sort of thing, like, I want to vote Republican just to save more money. — Jay Z, T Magazine

 

THE INTERVIEW IS ACCOMPANIED the cover portrait and a second painting by Taylor, and two others by London-based artist Chantal Joffe, who captured Jay-Z with his daughter Blue Ivy.

“I couldn’t stop painting them,” Joffe said in the caption for the painting. “There was something about the juxtaposition of their two heads that was so beautiful; I don’t paint men very often, and his face — it was like a Picasso, full of planes.”

The magazine talked to Los Angeles-based Taylor about the portrait in October. He was in a hotel room in Madrid, using his iPhone to search the Internet for images of Jay Z that might inspire the painting. He said one of his lyrics, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.,” kept coming to mind, a reference to O.J.’s misguided view that his fame eclipsed his race.

Featuring bold blocks of color, Taylor’s loosely rendered figurative paintings depict his family, friends, historic figures, and periodically, circumstantial newsmakers. Two of his works featured black men killed by police—Philando Castile and Sean Bell.

Over the course of the conversation, Taylor spoke candidly to T about poverty, police brutality, and incarceration, issues that haunt black men—issues the artist said he knows first hand.

“C’mon. I’m black,” Taylor says. He later continued: “Artists sometimes, we have to be the ones to speak out, and we talk about what we know. …Let’s be real: There’s a re-enslavement of black people on and off the court. Every successful black person has 18 members of his family living in the projects, and we all know someone who’s in the system.”

“Artists sometimes, we have to be the ones to speak out, and we talk about what we know. …Let’s be real: There’s a re-enslavement of black people on and off the court…” — Henry Taylor, T Magazine

These themes inspired the second painting he created:

    Titled “Go Next Door and Ask Michelle’s Momma Mrs Robinson If I Can Borrow 20 Dollars Til Next Week?” the work, Taylor says, references Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Shields Robinson. A figure wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey peers through a fence onto the former homes of two of the most powerful black men in America: the White House and the Marcy projects, the Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn public housing complex where Jay-Z grew up. Through the trees in the foreground, there are men boarding a bus to the county sheriff’s department, overseen by a menacing black horse.

He never found the right reference image online. In the end, he painted Jay Z from memory. For the title of the portrait, Taylor used a symbolic, historic reference that has also inspired works by Glenn Ligon and Hank Willis Thomas. Alluding to the 1968 strike in which Memphis Sanitation workers held signs asserting their dignity and humanity in the face of discrimination and oppression, he called his painting of Jay Z, “I Am a Man.” CT

 

READ Jay Z interview with Dean Baquet

 

EXPLORE IMAGES of Henry Taylor in his studio

 

UPDATE (12/02/17): READ MORE about how Jay Z was paired with Times Editor Dean Baquet and the choice of artist Henry Taylor to paint a portrait of the music mogul.

 

BOOKSHELF
“Henry Taylor” was published to coincide with the artist’s show at MoMA PS1 in New York. Taylor was in residence at the museum for months preceding the show, creating the paintings that appeared in the exhibition, portraits of ordinary and extraordinary people.

 

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