Posted in Art by akacocolopez on December 8, 2011

Rashaad Newsome’s latest solo exhibit, Herald, at Malborough Gallery
drops the word “swag” in quite a few titles, but the aesthetics of the
show celebrate an audacious consumption of excess which is certainly
part of a different moment in the timeline of hip hop that included
blinged out rap fashion. Swag is something almost undefinable, whereas bling is loud and willing
to swallow every instance of pop-wealth around it as a statement of
having. The term bling hit millions with the release of  B.G.’s album
“Chopper City in the Ghetto” in 1999, and these new collages from
Newsome share the same iconic images that Cash Money Records used to
decorate their previous album covers: diamonds, gold, cars, cash, as
well as unnamed black male and female figures and other tools of
desire all colliding in a contemporary rococo neo-baroque explosion.
Newsome and the rappers from Cash Money Records all originated from
New Orleans, Louisiana.

Any follower of hip hop culture can immediately grab the shallow
symbolism apparent in his collages such as “37th Chamber” which
references the Wu-Tang Clan with it’s bejeweled killer bees pulled
from magazine images as well as a pagoda housing a Buddha figure and
an ornate arrangement of wild necklaces or “Black Barbie” which speaks
to a feud between trail blazing rapper Lil’ Kim and newcomer Nicki
Minaj underneath a custom made pink frame. In an attempt to fulfill
his self appointed position as an officer of arms Newsome
unintentionally further exoticizes the already exoticized image of
black culture as represented by hip hop in an arts setting without
batting a critical lash at the implicit misogyny that occurs and
reoccurs in these images and what it means to repackage and sell it
again. His appropriation of capitalist consumption and use of the body
is exploitative in juxtaposition to the subtle arrangements created by
his earlier “Shade Compositions” performances from 2009 which
referenced the act of throwing “shade” or indirectly insulting someone
as well as the idea of a represented skin color since these
performances were usually done by a cast of black women.  Through the
use of logos and pendants on chains or hats the hip hop style that
Newsome alludes to has already been established from the first moments
of commercial rap music when Slick Rick and Eric B. and Rakim donned
thick rolled chains. What he does in videos like “Swag the Mix Tape”
that are filled with haphazard motion graphics and costumed female
leads rapping or dancing is try to rework a new paradigm of rap music
that brings hip hop culture into the art world and vice versa.

In “Blending Hip-Hop and Heraldry,” published October 20, 2011 in the
New York Times, writer Melena Ryzik also glazes over the same issues
that Newsome addresses without analyzing them. Possibly, this can be
due to the fact that there is not yet an artist that has captured the
hip-hop niche in the way that Newsome is being marketed and sold as an
artist that reflects so called urban life. She describes his studio as
being filled with “booties and gems” and discusses the involvement he
would like between the art scene and hip-hop culture, most notably the
fact that his reference point is not being reflected in the collectors
he meets. Maybe one day these heraldic images will transform
themselves into the mark of wealth glamorized by the rappers Newsome
emulates and lead to another opportunity for appropriation.

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