Album of the Week \\ Basquiat inspired compilation ‘Untitled’ is a piece of art

31st May 2019

Untitled‘ – the new compilation featuring Kojey RadicalShabaka Hutchings, MalaNubya GarciaLord TuskJoe Armon-JonesCoby Sey, LayFullstop and more – would not exist without the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

The combined work of 18 musicians, ‘Untitled’ is a highly original compilation of work that responds to the artwork featured in the Barbican’s ‘Basquiat: Boom for Real’ exhibition (2017-2018). The seven track album is released today (31 May) via Lonely Table, Anja Ngozi and The Vinyl Factory with support from Arts Council England. 

Having never received formal art training, Basquiat’s career began with collaging, drawing and graffiti statements in downtown New York. His stark, colourful expressions were in sync with the post-punk movement – and the relatively early days of hip-hop; Basquiat even produced ‘Beat Bop’, a classic hip-hop record K-Rob and Rammellzee. The album’s name could be a reference to one of Basquiat’s best known creations

Unrestrained by the formal ideals of some of his contemporaries, Basquiat’s work was consistently inspired by music; you only need to look as far as his murals in NYC nightclubs including Mudd Club, Area and Palladium, as well as his many references to musical instruments in his pieces. 

‘Untitled’ is very much a response to Basquiat’s work. Like much of his art, there is a sense of urgency and immediacy running through the album. Art, in the widest sense, holds up a mirror to society. This ambitious release holds up another mirror, back to Basquiat, reflecting the tragedy of painful truths; not a great deal has changed in the thirty years since his death, when it comes to societal equalities. 

The artists on ‘Untitled’ have been carefully plucked by Lonely Table co-founder Lexy Morvaridi from the UK’s grassroots music scenes, namely evolving from jazz, hip-hop, grime and dub. Perhaps its because the conversations on the record are ones that are continually relevant, but the tracks have a sense of timelessness, especially ‘Legend’, the opener provided by Wu-Lu, Lex Amor and Ego Ella May. Driven by chesty vocals and a chugging bass line, it’s a smoky, cinematic and confident launch into the record; ‘I’m not real / I am a legend‘. 

Manchester based rapper LayFullStop shines on ‘Broadcast by Chocolate’; her intelligent prose – ‘how can we overthrow the masks / how can we overthrow the past?‘ – flowing lightly upon orchestral beats and vintage samples. 

wu-lu, ego Ella may, lex amor supreme standards review

Pictured (L-R): Ego Ella May, Wu-Lu, Lex Amor – Photo Credit: Fabrice Bourgelle

What stands out about this record isn’t just the concept that brings it together; it’s the collaborations it has facilitated. Pianist Joe Armon-Jones’ unmistakable dub influences feed into a fruitful partnership with Mala, who is one half of revered dubstep duo Digital Mystikz – Nubya Garcia also joins them for the memorable ‘Scratch & Erase’. 

Many of the artists on this record, from the aforementioned musicians through to Maxwell Owin and Kwake Bass, have been incremental to the elevation of UK Jazz. Perhaps this opportunity to create new music under the concept of an esteemed artist and thinker has been a liberation from the sometimes restrictive ‘UK Jazz’ spin. It has granted invisible permissions on musicians to detach from expectations lead by current music trends. There is true artistic experimentation throughout ‘Untitled’ – which is very much in the vein of Basquiat himself. 

Meanwhile, we see the friendship and appreciation blossom further between saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and rapper Kojey Radical on ‘No Gangster’. Shabaka fans will know that he has developed his craft in part by playing along to rap tunes, and Kojey’s love for Jazz has previously been seen in his playlist selections and collaboration with vocalist Poppy Ajudha on sensual hit ‘Spilling Into You’. This union has been a long time coming and sounds incredibly moorish. Of Basquiat’s work, Shabaka Hutchings says; 

“What inspires me most is his ability to project the idea that aesthetics governing a (maybe imagined) past, whereby artistic endeavour was employed out of necessity and urgency, results in work which resides both in the past and the present. This adherence to a duplicity of mental timeframes is the spirit which I like to inform my own practice.”

Other musicians featured on ‘Untitled’ include AJ Kwame, Lord Tusk, Coby Sey, Confucius MC, Kz, Roxanne Tataei and Moroka.

The project also encompasses a youth project with Ruff Sqwad Foundation, where seven black and minority ethnic young people aged 12-18 were given the opportunity to visit the Tate Modern and create music in response to what they saw.

1 \\ Wu-Lu, Lex Amor, Ego Ella May – ‘Legend’
2 \\ LayFullstop, Moroka, AJ Kwame – ‘Broadcast By Chocolate’
3 \\ Lord Tusk ft. Roxanne Tataei – ‘Know Ways’
4 \\  Kojey Radical, Shabaka Hutchings – ‘No Gangster’ (Produced by Kz)
5 \\ Mala, Joe Armon-Jones, Nubya Garcia – ‘Scratch & Erase’
6 \\ =CoN+KwAkE= – ‘Same Ol Samo’
7 \\ Maxwell Owin & Coby Sey – ‘Response to Michel’

Artwork by Fabrice Bourgelle and Anja Ngozi. Design by Raimund Wong

Words: Tina Edwards

Order ‘Untitled’ here

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