Yasiin Bey, the rapper and actor formerly known as Mos Def, has surprise-released an experimental new track, “Basquiat Ghostwriter,” inspired by police brutality and the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat. The track finds Bey weaving abstract imagery over noise samples, jazz-punk drums and whirring synthesizers – a sonic collage assembled from recordings made by Basquiat’s band Gray.
The lyrics were taken from the late artist-musician’s “paintings, graffiti and notebook sketches,” Bey notes in a description of the song, posted on A Country Called Earth. Listen below.
“No rap circuses. A Country Called Earth. Free the land. Love and respect to the Basquiat family and Mr. W.F. Flame,” Bey said in a statement. “Let us be reminded of Sandra Bland, Fegurson [sic], Baltimore and all the injustice of the world, as well as the beauty. Respect to the family of Sean Price and Brooklyn, from which I and Jean-Michel are from. Eternal love to my city. God bless the soul and keeping living, even when we die, we won’t stay dead.”
“Basquiat Ghostwriter” is filled with intriguing verbal streams – “Hollywood, Africans, popcorn, sugarcane, tax-free, heroism, 200 yen” – and refrains like “A lot of Bowery bums used to be executives.” Okayplayer reports that Bey recorded the track in Paris on Thursday, one day after the 27th anniversary of Basquiat’s death.
In 2013, Bey participated in a graphic video raising awareness for the force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoners involved in a hunger strike. The performer retired his former stage name, Mos Def, in 2011, after building his career as a rapper and actor under that moniker.