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10 Rappers Who've Dipped Their Toes In The Art World's Waters

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This week the internet was all "whaaaat?" when rap royalty Wu-Tang Clan announced their plans to release a new album. Allow us to clarify, by "release an album" we mean actually release a single album, with only one copy in existence, entitled "Once Upon A Time In Shaolin." To top it off, the secret double-album comes encased in an engraved silver and nickel box by British-Moroccan artist Yahya.

"We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music," Robert “RZA” Diggs told Forbes. "We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king." The album, which is expected to sell for millions, will travel to galleries and art museums including the Tate Modern before the big sale. Basically, Wu-Tang is transforming their work from a commercial good into a priceless objet d'art up there with the likes of Monet and the gang.

Wu-Tang's experimental and controversial foray into the realm of fine art made us think about rap's other titans who've similarly taken a dip in the art world's waters. Perhaps surprisingly, there are a lot of them. While the big names on top seem to dabble in art as a means of proving their prestige, the newer emerging talents more organically meld art and rap, turning the two disparate fields into a hybrid form of expression. Take a look at our primer below.

1. Kanye West. The polyglot.

kanye west

Recently dubbed a "creative polyglot" by Vogue, West has been at the forefront of art and rap's love affair for years. From his 34-minute music video for "Runaway" to his stunning moving painting of a music video for "Power," a collaboration with Marco Brambilla, West's works often dabble in the sphere of visual art. This year at Art Basel Miami Beach he took his creative caché to the next level, both engaging in a design dialogue with Jacques Herzog and not showing up for participating in a performance piece with artist Vanessa Beecroft. To top it all off, art critic Jerry Saltz dubbed him the face of the "new uncanny."


2. Pharrell Williams. The honorary art darling.

pharrell williams

Pharrell loves the art world so much he made his own YouTube show about it, interviewing art world heavyweights like David Salle and KAWS on his series ARTST TALKS. He's also collaborated with Takashi Murakami on a jewel-filled sculpture depicting simple pleasures like Pepsi and Doritos, and co-curated "This Is Not A Toy," an exhibition exploring the intersection of toys and art. Also, his obsession with large hats has got to be some sort of artistic statement, right?


3. Jay Z. The mogul.

jay z

After rapping about how much art he owns over and over and over again, Jay Z shoved his way into the art world by gathering most of the New York art scene to dance with him in his "Picasso Baby" video. Jay rapped for six hours with the likes of Jerry Saltz, Lawrence Weiner and Mickalene Thomas, and engaged the almighty Marina Abramovic in an epic dance-off resulting in a pretty boring music video.


4. Yung Jake. The net artist.

yung jake

Yung Jake is probably the only person on this list who considers himself a visual artist first, rapper second. The Cal Arts grad wowed the internet with his 2011 video for "Datamosh" which featured video art glitches in all their oozing, pixelated glory. A year later he killed it with "E.m-bed.de/d," a music video experience that's as meta as it gets, taking over your browser, bombarding you with virtual visuals and namedropping insider art lingo like Ryder Ripps and Art F City. The video was featured in Sundance's New Frontier Art Festival this year. Also be sure to check out "Unfollow" on MOCAtv!

5. Chris Brown. The rabble-rouser.

chris brown

Brown has had his highs and lows in the art world circuit. On the bright side, he collaborated with Ron English on a New York exhibition described as "parodic postmodernism" inspiring "an entire culture." Yet his artistic ventures took a dark turn when he painted a bizarre and frightening street art mural in front of his L.A. home, which an angry neighbor described as "devils on the wall –- big scary eyes and big scary teeth."

6. Riff Raff. The unexpected critic.

riff raff

The neon-happy rapper added a surprising hyphen to his repertoire when he improvised some pretty impressive art criticism at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2012 in a video called "Art Ballin'". With a beer in hand, Riff Raff dishes out some unusual artistic interpretations while providing fellow fairgoers with some handy fair etiquette like, "Don't pick your nose, don't pick your butt."

7. Zebra Katz. The performance artist.

zebra katz

The identity of Zebra Katz was conceived of by Ojay Morgan as part of a senior thesis project at Eugene Lang College at The New School for Liberal Arts. His song "Ima Read," which served as the soundtrack to a Rick Owens fashion show, is an homage to the cult voguing doc "Paris Is Burning." Katz was also featured at Art Basel Miami Beach in a performance piece hybrid opera called "Love Focused Like A Laser Beam" alongside Matthew Stone, Andre J and Kelala.

8. Brooke Candy. The futuristic feminist.

brooke candy

Brooke Candy -- yes, that's her real name -- first caught the internet's attention by appearing in Grimes' "Genesis" video. Her personal style, which Vice described as "post-apocalyptic Lil' Kim," is basically an artwork in itself, and her power anthem "Pussy Make The Rules" was released on MOCA's YouTube channel.

9. Die Antwoord. The freaks.

die antwoord

The South African rap-trio, known for its intense cocktails of nasty Afrikaans lyrics and hallucinatory imagery, was first introduced into art world circles when their video "Zef Side" landed at the Guggenheim in the exhibition "YouTube Play." The rappers later collaborated with super creepy photographer Roger Ballen on their horrifying music video for "I Fink U Freeky;" photos from the shoot were featured in a show at Stills Gallery. There's also some pretty heady stuff going on in Die Antwoord's bizarrely constructed performative identities, leading the L.A. Times to ask "Is Die Antwoord punking the world à la Ali G? Or worse, is it conceptual art?" We may never know...

10. Death Grips. The maniacs.

death grips

The Village Voice described listening to experimental hip-hop duo Death Grips as the "sensation of ramming your head through a plaster wall while on bath salts and blue meth, then flailing around for 45 minutes." Their performances are so seizure-inducing they have audiences thinking this must be art. But the group took their artsiness to new heights with their NSFW album art for "No Love Deep Web," which was a straight-up grainy photo of a penis. "U.S law states you must be 18 years of age to view graphic sexual material. We consider this art," they wrote on their website. On a more family-friendly note, they collaborated with animator Galen Pehrson on an awesome music video released on MOCAtv.

Who'd we miss? Let us know your favorites in the comments.