Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Hair Legacy
Jean-Michel Basquiat had a professional career that lasted just nine years. Yet during that time he managed to make himself one of the most significant painters of the 20th century and an ever-enduring cultural icon. In many ways Basquiat was the ultimate enigma. The first black artist to ever be internationally acclaimed. Completely unschooled and non-traditional in his approach to art.
Yet he was the epitome of cool. A confident and nonchalant aura. An eccentric wardrobe. And of course, his hair. Basquiat’s hair went through many different stages throughout his professional career. But aside from the time he spent as Samo (immediately upon moving to New York), all of his hairstyles follow more or less the same silhouette: the faux dreadlock that somehow suspends itself straight up in the air.
basquiat as samo in 1980
It’s amazing to me that 23 years after his death, Basquiat is as culturally salient as he is now. Both his art and his fashion sense. He is undoubtedly a cultural icon, but in many ways Basquiat is also a style icon. After all, he is the guy that painted in Armani suits. The one area where Basquiat’s aesthetic seems to be shaping the contemporary fashion scene the most is in the grooming choices of the country’s most artsy urban African American males.
Take a look around you. Peer at the domes of some of the most recognizable young men in today’s street style scene. Joshua Kissi of Street Etiquette. Jean Lebrun and Eaddy from the Jersey Street Klan. Kadeem Johnson of KJohnlaSoul. That steezy model from Très Bien whose name always escapes me. And those are just the dudes we all know about. It’s no coincidence that some of today’s most artsy black males are referencing a haircut very similar to the one Jean-Michel Basquiat sported for so many years.
jean lebrun and kadeem johnson (from the aveder outfit)
It makes so much sense. Basquiat was thoroughly urban (from New York, as many of the folks I mentioned are). In no way was he part of the art establishment. He invaded it. Grassroots everything. The first black artist to ever be accepted by the fine art community. And he didn’t have to sell his soul to do it. He remained completely himself. The same grafitti-driven, break-dancing, and hip hop fiend he’d always been. The fashion of the aughts (the 2000’s) has been very 1980’s reference heavy. It’s understandable that many of today’s art focused African-American men would be influenced by the one figure from the 1980’s art world that was most relatable.
joshua kissi of street etiquette
Do you see the patterns I’m referring to here? All the names I’ve mentioned are afrocentric individuals. Jean-Michel Basquiat, with his influence on urban culture, afrocentric thought, and hip hop/grafitti, set the culture that the Native Tongues would inherit. He conveniently died in 1988 right as the Native Tongues’ most prominent group, A Tribe Called Quest, debuted in hip hop. Q-Tip says in his Post-Tribe solo work, “Don’t you ever forget who put the pep in your step. We made it cool to wear medallions and say hotep.” In other words, A Tribe Called Quest and the rest of the Native Tongues (De la Soul, Jungle Brothers, Common, Mos Def, etc) brought afrocentric thought into the urban mainstream. But of course none of that would have been possible without Basquiat’s prior influence.
très bien’s proprietor of steeze
Of course, whether or not any of these individuals are aware that they’re referencing Basquiat in their aesthetic choices isn’t quite as important. The most important point is that they are influenced by the sartorial and grooming values of the society they currently live in. A society that was indelibly shaped by Basquiat. I’m sure probably all of them know who Basquiat is and probably many of them were consciously alluding to him in their grooming aesthetic. But as I just said, that fact isn’t quite as important.
michael dos santos of an educated guess
In reality, this post isn’t really about Jean-Michel Basquiat hair. It’s rather a testament to how large of an influence he’s had on both the art and urban world. His signature permeates so many things now. The domes of some of our culture’s most notable men is merely a testament to how big Basquiat still is.
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