Basquiat in the Place to Be
Def Jef on Jean-Michel Basquiat
by Peter Relic
Ever since Jean-Michel Basquiat created the cover art to Rammellzee and K-Rob’s immortal 1983 Tartown single, “Beat Bop” (the theme to the movie Style Wars), his place in hip-hop’s hall of ball has been secure. But as a friend of Delicious Vinyl’s Matt Dike, Basquiat was also around during the creation of some of the early DV records, making the scene at Dike’s Santa Monica Blvd. apartment/studio, where he painted the studio’s bathroom door in his indelible graf-glyph style. Rapper Def Jef remembers meeting him.
Def Jef: It was early 1988, and I was recording my first album, Just a Poet with Soul. I had the singles done. One day, as we’re working, Matt Dike goes, “Hey, this friend of mine is coming up here, he’s kind of a pain in the ass, but don’t let him annoy you too bad.” Nothing annoyed me back then, because I was so happy. So Matt’s friend came in and said, “I’m Jean-Michel.” And I was like, “Hey, Jean, I’m Jef.” He sits on the floor and takes his backpack and dumps it out on the floor, and pens and paintbrushes and all type of shit falls out. It didn’t look like a painter’s backpack—it looked like a homeless dudes backpack! Twinkies and pennies and screws, and he fishes through all the shit and comes up with a sack of weed. He’s sitting there Indian style and rolls it up. We’re smoking and talking; I’m playing my music for him. He’s like, “You cool.”
So he comes up a couple other times to hang out, and one night he’s there, and Matt had this one big sheet that was tacked up over the window for insulation. I could draw Fred Flintstone really fast, I always loved Fred Flintstone since I was a kid, so I drew it on a piece of paper. Jean saw it and gave me a black magic marker and said, “Draw it up there,” meaning on the sheet, so I did. He said, “That’s really good!” Then he drew a figure. Then I drew a man laying down from the front perspective where you could see his feet and his nose sticking up. He drew something else. Then I started writing graffiti a little bit, and he started writing. We were just high as hell, marking on the whole thing. Then he said, “Sign it.” So I signed it. Now, I did not know this was Basquiat. I thought he was just some cool dude.
A short time after that, we had dinner at Mr. Chow’s, all Delicious Vinyl artists and the Beastie Boys too. The Beastie Boys were smoking weed in the bathroom. Jean-Michel said to me, “I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a painter. Mr. Chow loves me, and I can get anything I want at this restaurant.” And he started pointing to all his paintings on the walls. Pretty ugly paintings, if you ask me. Ha! I was somewhat impressed, but I thought graffiti was better. I thought Dondi or Phase 2 was better than the Mona Lisa, because she was just a fat chick to me. So, Jean-Michel was like, “Let’s go smoke weed in your car.” So we went out, and we were smoking in my car, and I was like, “You a cool dude, man. You gonna be around?” And he said, “I’m gonna be around forever.” And I think he just meant, “Yeah, I’ll be there tomorrow.” But time has created another resonance to his statement.